West Sunset Playground Historical Background
By Christopher Pollock, Historian-in-Residence, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department
Long before children soared in the swings of the West Sunset Playground, an 1868 city map showed the San Francisco’s west portion known as the Outside Lands with numerous lots reserved for public purposes such as parks and school buildings. Only two plots were reserved for parks in the Sunset District; what became McCoppin and Parkside Squares. The rest were purchased over time.
A New Playground
Land for a playground was proposed to be purchased in the Playground Commission’s meeting of April 2, 1930 in the blocks between 41st and 43rd avenues, just to the west of the future playground, but this simmered for years. The project was spurred on when a loan from the Federal Works Agency in the amount of $24,640 was approved. Planning for the playground started in earnest in 1946 when William G. Merchant was identified as the project’s architect. He would work with the Board of Education’s architect to design a complex, which included co-located schools. The playground was built on land contiguous to the Sunset Elementary and A. P. Giannini Middle Schools. The master plan of schools and playground was by the architectural firm of Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons. Construction on the playground site included a one-story recreation building by Merchant. Another was a concrete bleachers building in the ball field, which could accommodate 1,750 spectators. In 1953 William McIntosh and Sons was awarded the contract for construction of the concrete bleachers, which cost $181,222. Landscape Architect Watkin and Sibbald was awarded a contract for $14,373 in 1954. The playground and schools were opened in 1954.
In 1979 the Recreation and Park Department applied for Land and Water Conservation funding that required a 50 percent matching funds component. This was for three park areas, one was for $50,000 to fund a new soccer field in this playground.The next year the department applied to the State of California Parks Bond Act for field funding in the amount of $750,000. The field was designed by Pak Choi of the department’s engineering team and the construction project awarded to Watkins and Bortolussi for the sum of $712,500. On May 30, 1986 the soccer field was dedicated with soccer great Ernie Feibusch in attendance. The Board of Supervisors, on December 17, 2001, recommended that the soccer field be named for James Lucey who was a nurseryman, gardener, sub-foreman, and supervisor for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department for 37 years.
The baseball diamond was named for Al Erle, first president of the Old Timers Baseball league, by the commission in 1979. Later, on April 15, 2004 the Recreation and Park Commission named baseball diamond number three as Grant’s Field; this for a gift of $20,000 to renovate the field.
At the Ortega Street entrance to the playground is a painted, two leaf steel gate at the Ortega Street entrance features a cut-out rising sun motif painted in yellow and gray. A bronze plaque, dated 2011, is inset flush into the playground’s pavement that notes the contribution of the Friends of West Sunset Playground and other families and groups, who helped the renovation project come to fruition. All new equipment and paving were installed at this time.