Abandoned SF Russian Hill reservoir to become 4.5 acre park

For more than 60 years it’s been empty, but now an abandoned San Francisco reservoir will soon be the site of a brand new $25 million, 4.5-acre-park in the city’s Russian Hill neighborhood.

On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that gave SF Recreation and Parks Department and conservationists alike, the green light to work together on the project.

Right now, "Keep Out" signs, scraggly barbed wire, dried out pipes and overgrown weeds litter the dilapidated landscape at Hyde and Bay Streets.

"It's concrete and chain-link fence, "said Supervisor Mark Farrell, "It's ugly. It's horrible. The city hires goats to mow the grass there once in a while." Ever since Farrell took office in 2011, it's been his dream to morph the site into a citywide park.

"You don't get an opportunity in San Francisco to build a brand new 4.5 acre park anywhere, let alone in a very dense part of our city so that's why this is so exciting."

The Francisco Reservoir was the city's first reservoir, built in 1859. It lies on the outskirts of Chinatown, sandwiched between North Beach and Cow Hollow.

"It's beyond picture postcard perfect, it's beautiful," boasted Jan Blum with the Francisco Park Conservancy, who has been spearheading fundraising efforts for the project. So far, the FPC has $10 million in pledges. On top of the $25 million construction price tag, it will cost $150,000 a year to maintain the park.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized the FPC to enter into an agreement with the Rec and Park Department to transform the reservoir into a park.

"There's nothing east of Van Ness Avenue in terms of this size of an open space at all,” said Blum, pointing to the vast brick and concrete structure, outlined by tangled brush. Rec and Park was able to purchase the land from the Public Utilities Commission and is now working with neighbors to bring the park to life.

"They picnic there and watch the Blue Angels during Fleet Week," said Marston Nauman, whose home is perched above the reservoir. He showed KTVU the sweeping views from his living room window of the Bay from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz and the sailboats. But when Nauman looks down, all he sees is concrete. "You see an empty reservoir which is not very attractive" he admitted.

Nauman and other neighbors have been pushing for the park for years. They told KTVU that ever since the 1950s, neighbors have been panicked that high-rise condos would be built in place of the reservoir.

"The woman who used to live in that house over there, Marianne Henman," said Blum, "used to call up (then Mayor) Willie Brown and say to him, 'Willie, over my dead body are you going to develop that park!'"

Farrell hopes to have the park design complete by the end of this year, which will include a children's playground, a dog park, wide open spaces and stunning vistas. He hopes it will be complete by the 2019.

"I'm sure it will be the site of 10 million photographs," said Blum, "This is a miracle. This spot is a miracle. We're really lucky to have it."