Golden Gate Park: Virtually Celebrating 150 Years

April 23, 2020, Department, by Lindsay Collins

2020 May Park Bench Golden Gate Park 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

Saturday, April 4, 2020 marked the 150th birthday of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, a landmark “affectionately known around here in San Francisco as ‘everybody’s park,’ because it literally has something within its 1,017 acres for everyone — for people of all ages and all walks of life,” says Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, in an interview for NRPA’s Open Space Radio.

The day of the park’s sesquicentennial was also intended to be a day of gathering to celebrate through music, entertainment, food and the launch of a 150-foot observation wheel that offers riders sweeping views of the park and beyond. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans changed, but the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department staff were determined to host a celebration to honor the monumental event. “Ironically, we wanted the exact opposite of what we can all do now, which is to have at least 150,000 people in this park, all arm-in-arm, shoulder-to-shoulder, celebrating the park and celebrating the community that the park invites,” says Ginsburg. “We couldn’t do that, so we took it online.”

The now virtual commemoration features events and activities, such as a virtual concert series, live webcams showcasing penguins and a coral reef tank at the California Academy of Sciences, videos of the bison of Golden Gate Park and the National AIDS Memorial Grove, virtual tours of some of the park’s most beloved sites, photo albums of the park’s history and lesser-known treasures, and more.

Though the COVID-19 situation has forced the department to change its plans, the celebration is far from lost. In fact, Ginsburg is able to find a silver lining for his agency in these challenging times. “Usually, I like to joke that I have 880,000 bosses and they all have an opinion about how our park system should be run,” he says. “During this response, what we’re now hearing from people is just how much they appreciate their parks and the work that my staff does. It has really kept us going.”

Golden Gate Park has an expansive and fascinating history that begins with its inception only five years after the Civil War and includes the first playground in America, a buffalo paddock, a role as sanctuary after the devastating 1906 earthquake, and Twitter’s first tweet, among much more. And, Ginsburg is certain the park will continue to make history. “Golden Gate Park will never be done. It’s 150 years old, and it continues to evolve,” he says. “It’s been built and reinvented over generations and generations. We’ve had all this innovation and all this remarkable history, and Golden Gate Park is the keeper of those stories.”

Take part in the virtual celebration of Golden Gate Park’s 150th anniversary.

Lindsay Collins is the Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.