Golden Gate Park

City Paves West End of Polo Field in Golden Gate Park

By Thomas K. Pendergast

Anyone using or walking past the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park recently has probably noticed that the west end of the field is now encased in a huge slab of concrete.

Judging by social media posts, this caught many people by surprise and most were not pleased.

Speculation for the reason has included the music festival Outside Lands, which has been using that field every year. 

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department confirmed that, indeed, the concrete cap is there because of the festival. 

Bicylists riding on the oval track surrounding the Polo Field ride past the west end  of the grass area which has been encased in cement in order to support performance stages for the Outside Lands music festival and other events. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

Rec. and Park Communication Manager Daniel Montes said the Polo Field’s “improvement project” cost about $400,000 and was funded by Another Planet Entertainment, the organizers of Outside Lands, as part of its agreement with the City.

According to Montes, damage to that area caused by the music festival in October, 2021, combined with heavy rains, resulted in the department having to close the field in November for extensive repairs.

“This year’s Outside Lands Festival – which welcomed 250,000 people to the City and supported our hotels, restaurants and small businesses – generated an estimated $4 million in revenue for Rec. and Park,” Montes said. “Prior to this improvement project, the area at the far western Polo Field was very easily damaged, resulting in soggy conditions, broken irrigation and costly repairs that delayed re-opening the area to the public after big events. We listened to extensive feedback about this issue over the years from our soccer community as well as feedback from our staff on solutions that would minimize closures and repairs following events.

“The Polo Field improvement project serves to strengthen this area, which is outside of the field’s playing area and is highly vulnerable to damage due to its high-volume use, coupled with the damp and foggy weather conditions.” 

Montes explained that the project consists of mostly decomposed granite (with reinforced concrete in areas especially prone to damage) and will benefit field users at sports events throughout the year, providing a place to stage check-in tents, referee areas and food concessions. In addition to Outside Lands, each year the field hosts two lacrosse tournaments, one soccer tournament and an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. 

“We’re also anticipating holding a Gaelic football tournament in the summer of 2023,” he said. “The improvement lessens the load-in and load-out phase for large events and ultimately saves water, which is used to regrow grass in the area following big events, and also means less maintenance for park staff. 

“The Polo Field usually remains locked when not being used, and ensuring the grounds stay damage-free ahead of permitted events is a priority of Rec. and Park.”

But never underestimate the power of the masses to cause destruction. A recent visit to the field showed damage to the slab itself along its eastern edge, with crumbling concrete already visible. 

Montes acknowledged that and had an explanation for it as well. 

“The damage to the concrete was caused by the Outside Lands’ mats, which were placed at the edge of the new concrete and caused extra pressure,” he said. “The damage is only at the edge of the reinforced area and didn’t cause any structural damage. Outside Lands will cover the costs of repairing the concrete reinforced area, although the cost of the repairs hasn’t been determined yet, and moving forward, Rec. and Park will work with Outside Lands to ensure mats are placed accordingly to minimize damage.” 

The first polo match at the Polo Field was on Nov. 11, 1898.

The Polo Field was originally called the Golden Gate Park Stadium and opened in 1906 as a velodrome. It has been used by bicyclists ever since. 

On Jan. 14, 1967, the Human Be-In, which set the stage for the famous “Summer of Love” that made the Haight-Ashbury district a symbol of American counterculture, was held there. 

It was also the home field for San Francisco-based rugby clubs in the Northern California Rugby Football Union from the 1960s through the early 1990s. And it was the site of the Golden Gate Rugby Tournament during that time.

A free memorial concert for the legendary rock promoter Bill Graham (for whom the Civic Auditorium is named) drew a crowd estimated at more than 300,000 music fans to the Polo Field on Nov. 3, 1991. After Graham died in a helicopter crash, some of rock’s top acts performed to honor his memory. On the long list of entertainers were: Carlos Santana; Jackson Browne; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Journey; and the Grateful Dead. Robin Williams was the emcee. 

2 replies »

  1. With this logic, Rec and Park will continue to pave Golden Gate Park in order to save it from damage. Is there anything we can do to stop them?

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  2. This is so typical of Ginsburg’s administration of GG Park. Close JFK to cars because you want a “natural” experience – except you let VIP Outside Land ticket purchasers park in GGP on JFK, let them bring in heavy equipment, allow damage to park property, and now pour concrete to “prevent future damage”. All part of monetizing GG Park and paying to play.

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