Recollections of a 50-year love affair with Golden Gate Park

I can’t resist posting this lovely recollection of Golden Gate Park written by Roselyn Rich Smith, printed in the Marin Independent Journal on June 6, 2024 (to see the original article follow the link at the end).

Japanese Tea Garden (photo by Heath Massey)

Japanese Tea Garden (photo by Heath Massey)

“I have bicycled through some grand public parks of the world — the Parmenio Pinero in Buenos Aires, the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, the Westpark in Munich, the Parc de la Granges in Geneva. None have been grander than the Golden Gate Park.

It all began five decades ago at the end of a road trip in a Chevy convertible from Boston to San Francisco with a dark-eyed, dashing lover, a king of romance and surprises. Before entering the historic City by the Bay, which I had never seen, he blindfolded me and drove to the highest peak. As the blindfold flew off, I could scarcely breathe. It was love at first sight; the pastel city, with her Victorian houses draped in soft powder blues and creamy whites, surrounded by the silver sheen of ocean and bay. High-spanned bridges glittered in the morning sun like necklaces tossed across the water. The emerald city’s golden park shimmered below us with five lakes and 1,000 acres of forests, meadows and flower-filled gardens that spilled for miles eastward from the ocean. At that moment, my life turned from black and white into technicolor.

This wild introduction to the new city of my dreams was only beginning. My pied piper had more tricks up his sleeve. From our wrap-around hilltop view, he whisked me down to the Golden Gate Park. After renting bicycles, we began an all-day magic carpet ride through a lovers paradise. O Fortuna, to be introduced to this city sanctuary on a clear, sunny day in April!Our bike tour began amid a Cirque du Soleil cast of bicyclists, roller skaters, parents with strollers, street musicians and bench warmers. For an East Coast girl used to drab, grey skies, who had never laid eyes on a eucalyptus, redwood or date palm tree, I was dizzy with pungent smells and vibrant colors. “We’re not in Boston anymore, Toto.”

Our first stop was at the Japanese Tea Garden. We sipped jasmine tea served by geishas in red silk kimonos in an open-air teahouse. We breathed in the scents of pink cherry blossoms and white magnolias while crossing arched bridges over curving ponds with golden fish.Next, a ride on a turn-of-the-centurey carousel with old fashioned organ grinder music and fanciful ponies handpainted with metallic blues and golds. Later, a picnic on the lush green grounds of the glass Conservatory of Flowers amid a sweep of 10,000 gold poppies, lavender primroses, scarlet azaleas and white rhododendrons.

If I could bestow a gift to city dwellers everywhere, I would travel the world like Johnny Appleseed and cast seeds for public parks. Then, I would seek out master gardeners like John McClaren, the original landscaper for the Golden Gate Park, who dedicated 70 years of his life as the first superintendent to bring the park to its full glory.My dark-eyed, dashing lover is long gone, but 50 years later I still bicycle in the Golden Gate Park every week. Who says that a love affair has to come in human form?”

via How it is: A 50-year love affair continues – Marin Independent Journal.


About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
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