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Sand Dunes to a City Park

October 22, 2005 - 90th birthday photo -

Originally appeared in author's self-published work, "Collected Writings", Copyright 2006

By Rosemarie Marshall Green

As I was growing up in San Francisco, Golden Gate Park played a major role in supplying much of my entertainment and education. We lived within daily sight of the park and only a few short blocks from one of its inviting eucalyptus tree-lined entrances.

This entrance led up a gradual easy rise to the beautiful and popular Stow Lake. It was here that I was taken in my baby carriage to see and feed the quacking ducks. I also watched intently the long necked black swans as well as the downy white ones glide along without causing a ripple in the shallow water.

My mother loved the park. She often recounted its fascinating history to all who would listen. It had once been a great sand dune. Farsighted city fathers laid out plans to develop this windswept desert-like area into an attractive park for all to enjoy. When in grammar school, she went there with her teacher and classmates to plant a tree. In this way, the youth of San Francisco were given an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to future generations. Later on, as a fifteen year old, she was delighted to attend the Mid-Winter Fair of 1894. At that time, the central area now referred to as the Concourse was developed. The most noteworthy remaining reminder of that fair is the Japanese Tea Garden. Artifacts in the present De Young Museum and many of the outdoor statuary in the park are also of that era.

When I was a child there was still some remaining evidence of the sand dunes to be seen in our immediate neighborhood. There was quite a long barren, sandy stretch of undeveloped land paralleling the park border for a mile or so to the ocean. The undulating sand changed its contours daily, swept by the capricious west wind. Here and there on our street between existing houses were vacant sand lots. These became wonderful natural play areas. There was no need for parents to build sand boxes. My brother Phil and I spent hours of summer vacation playing with other children in the clean fine-grained sand, which we had to empty from our shoes before entering the house.

Postcard published by the O. Newman Company, 1915 - WNP collection

These lots always had a seasonal display of native wild flowers. It was from Phil that I learned their names. He pointed out Lupin, Indian Paint Brush, Baby Blue Eyes and Beach Apple or Ice Plant. The Ice Plant was to be avoided as its juices stained our clothing permanently. As a five year old, I described the colorful blossoms of these flowers as red, yellow or blue, my familiar primary palette. My brother though, always dazzled by vibrant colors, used no such simple appellations. They were always Vermilion, Magenta, Cadmium yellow, Prussian blue, violet, purple and variations of all. He liked to instruct his little sister and I enjoyed his company very much. He was three years older than I.

He did not have to convince me that one of the loveliest flowers to be seen was the brilliant California Poppy. He would hold it under my chin and show me how it would make a golden glow on my skin. The botanical name for this outstanding floral beauty is Eschscholzia californica.

When our sand lot was carpeted with these lovely symbols of our Golden State in full bloom, we would, in happy harmony, chant our favorite song, "Poppies," that he had learned in school and taught to me:

Poppies Golden Poppies gleaming in the sun,
Closing up at evening when the day is done,
Pride of California, flower of our state,
Growing from the mountains to the Golden Gate.

Early day writers were truly enraptured and inspired by a sight never encountered anywhere else. Poets, especially, extolled the beauty of the California wild flowers that painted the landscape in a vivid unforgettable profusion of living color. Because of changing times with the building up of crowded cities and an overpopulated state, there is regrettably little open space today.

It is rarely ever, but sometimes, if one just happens to be traveling on a spring day close to the California foothills, one may capture the essence of what it must have been like once upon a time. A lone hillside, bathed in golden rays of sunshine, is suddenly spotlighted in the distance and displays a glorious isolated patch of blue and gold.

I feel fortune to have grown up close to such a wonderful park with all it offered to those who lived nearby. I am glad too that I was able to see and enjoy remnants of those windswept dunes on which it was built.

(Rosemarie Marshall Green was an active WNP member who passed away on June 17, 2007. She was born in 1915 and grew up on the 1200 block of 16th Avenue in the Sunset District. Read about her first dance in Forest Hill.)

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Page launched 2 July 2007; Updated 25 October 2007.

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