San Francisco’s Sunnyside Conservatory (236 Monterey Boulevard) is an extraordinary gathering space and botanic jewel, set off by a hundred-year old palm grove and the dramatic foliage of its surrounding gardens. Owned by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, the garden is open everyday dawn to dusk, for everyone’s enjoyment.
English inventor and stargazer William Augustus Merralls originally built the Conservatory c. 1898 on his estate, then a remote part of the City. Over its hundred-year life, the Conservatory passed from private to public hands, and despite its city landmark status (and efforts of an earlier generation of activists), ended up in need of stewardship and bereft of its windows, east wing, and accompanying observatory.
The Friends of Sunnyside Conservatory began, in 1999, with a few neighborhood residents, each discovering the Conservatory and having that Alice-in-Wonderland feeling of entering another world. Arnold Levine officially organized the group with a notice in the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association newsletter, and he and Stacy Garfinkel have served as Friends’ Co-Chairs since the group’s founding.
After ten years of advocacy, fundraising, and design, the Friends’ dream was realized: the $4.2 million renovation of Sunnyside Conservatory and grounds (in conjunction with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and Department of Public Works) opened to great fanfare on December 5, 2009. Our success could never have happened without a dedicated steering committee: Chester Harstough, Andrea O’Leary, Sally Ross, pro-bono landscape architect Vera Gates @ Arterra, and press photographer extraordinaire Bill Wilson. Collectively the Friends leveraged ingenuity, pluck, and professional skills to make our neighborhood better: design, writing, public relations, lighting, cost estimation, teaching, photography, and gardening.
Thank you to all of our volunteers and to the neighborhood for embracing the project. And to William Augustus Merralls who dreamt up this place, we say thank you for making the Conservatory special enough that it has survived against all the odds and brought our community together.
Credits: Content + Art Direction: Stacy Garfinkel; WordPress Production: Evelyn Barash; Custom Coding + Technical Expertise: Merrill Komai.