What would John McLaren think of his statue at the entrance to the newly renovated rhodendron dell? By all accounts he was opposed to cluttering up the park with statues and monuments; thought the funds would be better spent on enhancing the park landscape. But maybe in this case he would appreciate the gesture?
McLaren, a tough Scotsman, served as park superintendent from 1887 to 1943, weathering countless changes in city government and protecting the park against repeated threats to the bucolic vision he had for it. He was such a strong advocate for the park and left such an indelible mark, that his successors have been hard pressed to fill his shoes. Since McLaren rode around the park in his chauffeur-driven Cadillac, popping in on work crews unexpectedly and leaving red-faced foreman in his wake, the job has gotten harder and more complex, although many of the core issues remain the same. Most great city parks have historical ghosts like McLaren, that haunt the grounds.
Comparing the kindly gentleman depicted in the statue with a photograph from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection of the S.F. Public Library, perhaps provides a better (more complex) sense of this “Boss Gardener,” not an easy man to work for, heralded by gardeners with the cry: “wild game is coming.”
For more about McLaren and statues in the park go to The Encyclopedia of San Francisco section on Golden Gate Park: