Golden Gate Park is the main urban park of San Francisco, California. At 1017 (1013?) acres, it is a long rectangle, similar in shape but considerably larger than New York's Central Park. In the 1860s, San Franciscans began to feel the need for a spacious public park like the one that was taking shape in New York. Though Frederick Law Olmsted was asked to present a plan in the 1860s, it was not implemented. Golden Gate Park was carved out of unpromising sand and shore dunes that were known as the 'outside land.' The tireless field engineer William Hammond Hall (1846 - 1934) prepared a survey and topographic map of the Park site in 1870 and became commissioner in 1871. He was later named California's first State Engineer and developed an integrated flood control system for the Sacramento Valley when he was not working on the Park.

The actual plan and planting were developed by Hall and his assistant, John McLaren, who had apprenticed in Scotland, the source of many of the 19th century's best professional gardeners. The initial plan called for grade separations of transverse roadways through the park, as Olmsted had provided for Central Park, but budget constraints and the positioning of the Arboretum and the Concourse aborted the plan. In 1876, the plan was almost exchanged for a racetrack favored by "the Big Four" millionaires, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker. Hall resigned and all the park commissioners followed him. Fortunately for the city, the original plan was soon back on track. By 1886, streetcars delivered over 47,000 people to Golden Gate Park on one weekend afternoon; the city's population at the time was about 250,000. Hall selected McLaren as his successor in 1887.

The first stage stabilized the ocean dunes that covered three-quarters of the park area, with tree plantings. By 1875, about 60,000 trees, mostly blue gum eucalyptus, Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress were planted. By 1879, that figure more than doubled to 155,000 trees over 1,000 acres. Later McLaren scoured the world through his correspondents for trees. Only Bolivia escaped his net. When McLaren refused to retire at age 60, as was customary, the City government was bombarded with letters: when he reached 70 a charter amendment was passed to exempt him from forced retirement. He lived in McLaren Lodge in the Park until he died at age 90, in 1943.

Major features

The Japanese Tea Garden, an immensely popular feature, was originally built as part of the sprawling Midwinter Fair. Begun by an Australian in 1894, the first Japanese garden in the U.S. this intricate complex of perhaps too many paths, ponds and a teahouse features native Japanese and Chinese plants. Also hidden throughout its five acres are beautiful sculptures and bridges. Makato Hagiwara, a Japanese gardener whose family took over the garden from 1895 to 1942, was also the inventor of the fortune cookie. A persistent legend records that the Japanese ambassador after being shown its features, and asked his opinion, gasped, "We have nothing to equal it in Japan."

The M.H. de Young Museum was opened January 1921. Its original building had been part of an 1893 exposition, the Midwinter Fair, held within the park.

The California Academy of Sciences, a complex of a library, a research lab, a planetarium, an aquarium and a natural-history museum, is also sited in Golden Gate Park.

The Strybing Arboretum, was laid out ijn the 1890s, but funding was insufficient until Helene Strybing willed funds in 1926. Planting was begun in 1937 with WPA funds supplemented by local donations. This this 70-acre arboretum contains more than 6,000 plant species.

A paddock corrals a small herd of bison, captive here since 1892.

The "Conservatory of Flowers" is one of the world's largest built of traditional wood and glass construction. It has suffered a checkered career. It was was pre-fabricated for local entrepreneur James Lick for his Santa Clara, California, estate, but was still in its crtates when he died in 1876. A group of San Franciscans bought it, offered it to the city, and it was erected in Golden Gate Park and opened to the public in 1879. But in 1883 the boiler exploded and the main dome caught fire. Charles Crocker restored it. It survived the earthquake of 1906 only to suffer another fire in 1918. In 1933 it was declared unsound and closed to the public until 1946. In 1995 a severe storm with 100 mph winds shattered 40% of the glass damaged it and it had to be closed again, and cautiously dissected for repairs and was finally reopened in September 2003.

The AIDS Memorial Grove has been in progress since 1988 and is still the only national AIDS memorial in the U.S.. "Part of the beauty of the grove is that as a memorial which receives no federal money, it is blessedly removed from the fight over the controversy of AIDS," said Thom Weyand, the Grove's executive director.

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