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Dolores Park HRER Draft 2011-08-12

Dolores Park HRER Draft 2011-08-12

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As previously discussed in Section II., Mission Dolores Park has already been determined eligible as
a contributing resource to the Mission Dolores Neighborhood 1906 Fire Survivors and
Reconstruction Historic District, adopted by the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission
(HPC) in 2010. The HPC further clarified the park’s status by adopting additional findings explicitly
stating that Mission Dolores Park, as well as the Dolores Street Median between Market Street and
20th Street, were included as contributors to the identified historic district. As a result of these
actions, the San Francisco Planning Department considers the historic district (which includes
Mission Dolores Park as a contributing element) as a historic resource for the purposes of the
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Mission Dolores Park’s status as a contributing resource to the historic district is not contested by
this report. However, research conducted for this study indicates that Mission Dolores Park also has
individual significance, and thus the following is an evaluation of the park’s potential eligibility for the
National Register of Historic Places as a designed historic landscape. As defined by National Register
Bulletin 18: How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic Landscapes
, the National Park Service defines
such landscapes as follows:

For the purposes of the National Register, a designed historic landscape is defined
as a landscape that has significance as a design or work of art; was consciously
designed and laid out by a master gardener, landscape architect, architect, or
horticulturalist to a design principle … Although many historic landscapes are
eligible for the National Register primarily on the merits of their historic landscape
design, a substantial number also possess significance in other areas. New York’s
Central Park, for example, has significance in social history and transportation,
although its primary significance is landscape architecture.150

The National Register Bulletin indicates that designed historic landscapes include features
such as local, state and national parks; grounds designed or developed for outdoor recreation
and/or sports activities; botanical and display gardens; and plazas or other public squares.
Because such spaces typically include a number of distinct elements, individual features that
“contribute to the overall identity and character of the landscape … should be considered, in
most instances, not individually but in terms of their relationship to the totality of the
landscape.”151

NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s most comprehensive inventory of historic
resources. The National Register is administered by the National Park Service and includes buildings,
structures, sites, objects, and districts that possess historic, architectural, engineering, archaeological,
or cultural significance at the national, state, or local level. Typically, resources over fifty years of age
are eligible for listing in the National Register if they meet any one of the four criteria of significance
and if they sufficiently retain historic integrity. However, resources under fifty years of age can be
determined eligible if it can be demonstrated that they are of “exceptional importance,” or if they are
contributors to a potential historic district. National Register criteria are defined in depth in National
Register Bulletin Number 15: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation
. There are four basic

150 J. Timothy Keller and Genevieve P. Keller, National Register Bulletin 18: How to Evaluate and Nominate Designed Historic
Landscapes
, (Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior National Park Service Interagency Resources Division), 2.
151 Ibid: 4.

Historic Resource Evaluation

Mission Dolores Park

Preliminary Draft – Subject to Revision

San Francisco, California

August 12, 2011

Page & Turnbull, Inc.

- 87 -

criteria under which a structure, site, building, district, or object can be considered eligible for listing
in the National Register. These criteria are:

Criterion A (Event): Properties associated with events that have made a significant
contribution to the broad patterns of our history;

Criterion B (Person): Properties associated with the lives of persons significant in
our past;

Criterion C (Design/Construction): Properties that embody the distinctive
characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the
work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant
distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction; and

Criterion D (Information Potential): Properties that have yielded, or may be likely to
yield, information important in prehistory or history.

A resource can be considered significant on a national, state, or local level to American history,
architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. A property that is eligible for listing in the
National Register is automatically eligible for the California Register of Historical Places. Below is a
discussion of how all four National Register Criteria apply in the case of Mission Dolores Park.

Criterion A (Event)

Mission Dolores Park appears individually eligible for listing in the National Register as a designed
cultural landscape under Criterion A (Event) for its association with events that have made a
significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. Mission Dolores Park is associated with
a variety of historic tends and events that have all played a role in its development. First and most
prominent is its association with Progressive Era ideals in park planning which led directly to the
acquisition and development of small neighborhood “reform” parks and playgrounds in San
Francisco around the turn of the twentieth century. In particular, amendments to the City Charter
ushered in by San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan in 1900 placed the Board of Park
Commissioners under the control of the mayor, while also allowing the city to issue bonds for park
development. Within a very short period, voters in 1903 approved a bond measure to acquire
Mission Dolores Park, develop Dolores Street as a boulevard, create a Park Presidio extension, and
expand Pioneer Park. Together, these marked the first major park development projects in San
Francisco since 1868, and Mission Park became the first new neighborhood park created under the
revised City Charter. Elsewhere, many of San Francisco’s smaller squares and public reservations
were improved for the first time since the 1850s.

In this sense, the park is also strongly associated with the rising political power of the Mission
District, which began to assert itself quite prominently at the turn of the century. Mayor Phelan was a
resident of the Mission District, and helped found the Association for the Improvement and
Adornment of San Francisco, which was a prominent City Beautiful organization. After leaving
office, Phelan served as a member of the Board of Park Commissioners between 1908 and 1912, a
time frame that brackets the crucial period when Mission Dolores Park was formally developed
following its use as an earthquake refugee camp. Another Mission District resident, James Rolph,
was elected mayor in 1911 and held that position until 1931 when he became Governor of California.
During his tenure, the city undertook a number of key improvements, including the reconstruction
of City Hall and the development of the Civic Center, as well as the inauguration and extension of
the city’s Municipal Railway. The playground movement also gathered considerable momentum in
San Francisco during Rolph’s tenure as mayor, as did the acquisition of further areas for parks.

Historic Resource Evaluation

Mission Dolores Park

Preliminary Draft – Subject to Revision

San Francisco, California

August 12, 2011

Page & Turnbull, Inc.

- 88 -

Several other historic events and trends contribute to the significance of Mission Dolores Park under
Criterion A. This includes its use as the first site in San Francisco where refugee cottages were
constructed after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, as well as its use as one of eleven formal refugee
camps built by the San Francisco Relief and Red Cross Fund Corporation. While the camp buildings
were later removed, the line of the sidewalks originally constructed by the Red Cross along Dolores
and 18th streets remain as a reminder of the camp’s existence.

The park is also associated with the development of the Municipal Railway (MUNI), which was
inaugurated in 1912 as a Progressive Era response to control of the city’s transportation networks by
private corporations. Soon after its formation, MUNI began a rapid period of expansion which
included the development of the Church Street extension and its associated right-of-way through
Mission Park.

Finally, Mission Dolores Park is strongly identified with the increasing Hispanic character of the
Mission District during the mid-twentieth century. This was given tangible recognition through the
installation of the statue of Mexican War of Independence hero, Manuel Hidalgo, at the top of the
19th Street pedestrian boulevard in 1962, as well as the installation of the Mexican Liberty Bell and
plaza at the base of the boulevard in 1966. The park was also the site of the city’s first annual “Latin-
American Fiesta,” which took place only four months before the Liberty Bell was formally unveiled.

The period of significance established under this Criterion is 1905 to 1966. This period brackets the
formal acquisition of the park by the City and County of San Francisco, through the year the
“Mexican Liberty Bell” was installed in recognition of the Mission District’s prominent Hispanic
identity.

Criterion B (Person)

Mission Dolores Park does not appear eligible for listing in the California Register under Criterion 2
(Person). While the park was associated with several prominent individuals, including former San
Francisco mayor, James D. Phelan, and Revered Dennis. O. Crowley, the “father of the playground
movement,” their association with the park does not appear sufficient to list Mission Dolores Park
under this criterion.

Criterion C (Design/Construction)

Mission Dolores Park appears eligible for listing in the National Register under Criterion C
(Design/Construction) for local significance as a property that embodies the distinctive
characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; that represents the work of a master; and
that represents a significant distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.

Mission Dolores Park is an excellent example of the so-called “reform” or “rational” parks that were
developed in San Francisco around the turn of the century. These parks included landscaped areas
that provided relief from urban congestion, while also incorporating various specialized activity or
recreational areas that appealed to different constituencies of park users. According to San Francisco
park historian Terrence Young, Mission Park “… emphasized rationalistic concerns. Its vegetation
was arranged in a formal geometric fashion, rather than the flowing, naturalistic style of the romantic
era, with terraces, grassy borders, shade trees, and groups of palms and flowering shrubs … Mission
Park also incorporated a number of areas for active recreation, including two tennis courts, a wading
pool, and an athletic field.”152

152 Terence G. Young, Building San Francisco’s Parks 1850-1930, (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 189.

Historic Resource Evaluation

Mission Dolores Park

Preliminary Draft – Subject to Revision

San Francisco, California

August 12, 2011

Page & Turnbull, Inc.

- 89 -

As Mission Park accreted new features, most were also in accordance with reform/rational concerns.
These included the installation of a convenience station/viewing platform, a children’s playground,
and tables for chess and checker players. Two prominent park features, the convenience station and
the MUNI pedestrian bridge/passenger platform, also show strong influences of the City Beautiful
Movement, which was rooted in Progressive Era reforms. The park’s formal landscaping plan has
been largely retained, including the installation of formal rows of Magnolia street trees during the
1950s. Despite strong pressure, Mission Dolores Park never evolved into a purely recreational park.
Following World War II, area residents strongly resisted the installation of a recreation building in
the park, and were frequently critical of efforts to convert landscaped areas into additional activity
areas.

The design of Mission Dolores Park is also the work of master gardener John McLaren. Best known
for his role in coaxing the verdure of Golden Gate Park from shifting sand dunes, McLaren earned
the enduring respect of his contemporaries to the extent that he served as Superintendant of Parks
from 1890 until his death in 1943, a period which includes the installation of the vast majority of
Mission Dolores Park’s extant features. Known for exercising tight control over his work, McLaren
completed the initial design of the park in 1905, and was responsible for supervising the crews that
landscaped the park following the removal of the refugee camp. He also designed the convenience
station installed in the park circa 1913, and almost certainly was consulted on the design of other
park amenities such as the wading pool, tennis courts and playground. Although Mission Park
accreted various new features and landscape plantings over the years, McLaren’s initial design for the
park remains readily identifiable.

The period of significance established under Criterion C is also 1905 to 1966. This period brackets
the year that John McLaren submitted the first formal plan for the park, and ends with the
installation of the “Mexican Liberty Bell” plaza as the gateway to the 19th Street pedestrian boulevard.

Criterion D (Information Potential)

The analysis of Mission Dolores Park for eligibility under Criterion D (Information Potential) is
beyond the scope of this report.

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