Esmeralda Slide Park is a destination in San Francisco. Featured in Adah Bakalinsky’s book, Stairway Walks of San Francisco, the park was special from the beginning. At its ribbon cutting ceremony in 1979, Mayor Di Fi slid down the twin slides. Born from Bernal Heights community activist roots, this park has survived various and difficult transitions. Today, Bernal neighbor Joan Carson is mostly responsible for its recent renovations. She has a working relationship with the Dept. of Public Works and has the City’s ear. Joan talked to us about how much effort it takes to maintain communal spaces.
When did you and your husband move to Bernal Heights and how did you start maintaining the park?
In the late 1970’s Esmeralda was created by a strong neighborhood movement. At that time Precita Park and Holly Park were the two main playgrounds. The community partnered with the city to create a place in this area. Wayne and I bought our house in 2001. When we got here, the park was in need of repair and most of the area had gone fallow. Because our house was so close to the park my husband and I started making improvements. Beginning with the Northwest slope adjacent to our house, we removed bags and bags of weeds, terraced the hillside and began to plant. Neither of us had much gardening experience but I’m a woodworker and sculptor and Wayne and I are both builders.
What have you planted over the years?
When we got here, the only provision we had for working on a city site was access to the water meter on Prospect and Esmeralda. We had a 100-foot hose we would attach across the sidewalk into the park. We planted in areas we could reach with our hose.
Wayne and I planted succulents and drought-tolerant plants as much as possible. All drought-tolerant plants need a good full cycle of water to be established, then you don’t have to water so often;we came out three times a week.
How has the Department of Public Works been involved in maintaining the park?
At first we took the initiative and planted. A termite infestation in June of 2015 got the city involved. Wayne and I didn’t have much contact with our neighbors until that point. Then, it became more of a community effort. My neighbor, Nancy Windesheim, who’s a graphic designer, made some flyers and together we reached out to Dave Campos’ office (District 9 Supervisor at the time). Within six weeks we had a termite-free seating area! We received $20,000 from Campos’ office which encouraged Public Works to also contribute money. When that came through we held a volunteer day and painted the new structures.
What Came Next?
Nancy and I submitted Esmeralda Slide Park as a nominee for a San Francisco beautification award. Esmeralda won the 2015 Seven Hills Award in recognition of its contributions to our unique neighborhood character.
How did the community support the project?
After the plaza rebuild and SF Beautiful Award, I was contacted by Josh Arce on behalf of the Labors Union 261. Josh arranged for a meeting with the Director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru and myself. Director Nuru asked me what I wanted for the park and I said irrigation. He agreed and then the real work began. I spent two years, in a combined effort with the city, to complete the projects.
I designed a new terraced planting area on the north side of the slide and a hillside step trail on the slide’s south side. The city provided the wood and about 40% of the money for the plants. I reached out to the community again and was able to get donations to make the park look even better.
Originally, irrigation was the big issue. I was told to “think bigger”, so I did. We started to create a tile design in the plaza, to orient visitors. It was a beautiful compass. As is often the case, the city ran out of money mid-project. Nancy and I did a “Go Fund Me” campaign to raise the rest of the money for the tile installation. We raised $14,000 in a month and hit our goal. It was non-stop. On June 24, 2017 we had a small celebration for mosaic installation.
Editors Note: Joan is a testament to how much hard work, dedication and tenacity it takes to maintain a communal space.
Stairway Walks of San Francisco, Adah Bakalinsky
Bernalwood -Remember When: The Day DiFi Laughed Her Way Down the Esmeralda Slides