In the 1860's, San Francisco was a booming city fueled by the Gold Rush and the first transcontinental railroad. Civic leaders envisioned a large park and arboretum similar to those in European cities and the eastern United States. Skeptics argued that the proposed location in the western part of the city consisted mainly of windswept, shifting sand dunes and was therefore an unwise choice. Planting San Francisco Botanical Garden
(Photograph captions across the top)
1870 to 1879 William Hammond Hall made a strong beginning. The job of making a detailed site survey went to Hall, a twenty-four-old, Army-trained engineer. He completed the survey and a preliminary design for the Park in only six months.
Leveling the Dunes Hall was promptly appointed Engineer of the Park. Over the next five years, he leveled and stabilized the sand dunes and established a nursery to supply the first 60,000 trees. Curved roads and tree plantings were designed to temper the ocean winds and provide a natural, rustic, and informal appearance. Golden Gate Park rapidly became a great success with the public.
1887 to 1943 John McLaren was superintendent and developed a world-class park. John McLaren was trained as a landscape gardener in Scotland. Early in his 56-year career in the Park, he built up a worldwide network for acquiring promising
plants for trial. An increasingly variety of shrubs and trees became skillfully arranged in naturalistic landscapes. McLaren dedicated his life to the Park. Above all, he was determined to make at the Park relaxing and enjoyable of the public, and the public showed its appreciation. When he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1916, pressure from voters resulted in a city statue giving him life-tenure. He died on the job at the age of 96.
(Timeline across the bottom)
1889 Anticipating an arboretum, John McLaren, superintendent of Golden Gate Park, selected the present location for a future arboretum.
1926 Helene Strybing provided the necessary funds in her bequest to the city to establish an arboretum and botanical garden in Golden Gate Park. The funds gradually became available in the 1930s.
1935-37 Eric Walther, the Garden's first director, was appointed by McLaren and remained in this position for 20 productive years until his retirement. Walther experimented with a variety of plants from many parts of the world.
1940 The Garden opened officials as an arboretum and botanical garden.
1959 Landscape architect Robert Tetlow prepared a master plan, including features such as the great meadow, the fountain, and the basic layout of the present gardens. Plants were placed in naturalistic arrangements and were more distinctly grouped according to the parts of the world where they originated.
1972 The Library of Horticulture opened and soon becomes Northern California's largest horticultural library. You are invited to use this excellent facility to learn more about the history and plants of Botanical Garden and Golden Gate Park.