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Building San Francisco's Parks, 1850–1930

In 1865, when San Francisco's Daily Evening Bulletin asked its readers if it were not time for the city to finally establish a public park, residents had only private gardens and small urban squares where they could retreat from urban crowding, noise, and filth. Five short years later, city supervisors approved the creation of Golden Gate Park, the second largest urban park in America. Over the next sixty years, and particularly after 1900, a network of smaller parks and parkways was built, turning San Francisco into one of the nation's greenest cities.

In Building San Francisco's Parks, 1850-1930, Terence Young traces the history of San Francisco's park system, from the earliest city plans, which made no provision for a public park, through the private garden movement of the 1850s and 1860, Frederick Law Olmsted's early involvement in developing a comprehensive parks plan, the design and construction of Golden Gate Park, and finally to the expansion of green space in the first third of the twentieth century. Young documents this history in terms of the four social ideals that guided America's urban park advocates and planners in this period: public health, prosperity, social coherence, and democratic equality. He also differentiates between two periods in the history of American park building, each defined by a distinctive attitude towards "improving" nature: the romantic approach, which prevailed from the 1860s to the 1880s, emphasized the beauty of nature, while the rationalistic approach, dominant from the 1880s to the 1920s, saw nature as the best setting for uplifting activities such as athletics and education.

Building San Francisco's Parks, 1850-1930 maps the political, cultural, and social dimensions of landscape design in urban America and offers new insights into the transformation of San Francisco's physical environment and quality of life through its world-famous park system.

About the Author

Terence Young is an associate professor of geography at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


"An excellent study... If anything could possibly improve an outing to Golden Gate Park, a copy of Building San Francisco's Parks looks just the ticket."

- San Francisco Chronicle

"Terence Young's Building San Francisco's Parks is part of a rather impressive Johns Hopkins University Press 'Creating the North American Landscape' series and covers the period of expansion from 1850-1930, tracing park system history and the key individuals responsible for its development."

- Bookwatch

"Young does a splendid job detailing the political intricacies and the physical difficulties in the formation of San Francisco's park system... His distinction between the 'romantic' and the 'rationalist' approaches to the formation of the city's parks is illuminating."

- Newsletter of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society

"Written in a clear and fluid style... the book contributes a cogent examination of how landscapes are altered, land use conflicts persist, and changing expectations of nature impact park management."

- Elizabeth A. Watson - CRM: Journal of Heritage Stewardship

"Through his engaging account of San Francisco's park system. Young illustrates the dynamic relationship between nature and society and the expectations of parks in urban social and physical planning."

- Laura Lawson - Journal of the American Planning Association

"This comprehensive book offers fascinating insight into the process of creating and designing places for nature in the city of San Francisco, California... Reading this book will lend a new understanding of how recreational spaces such as Golden Gate Park have been strongly influenced by social ideals during the first third of the 20th century."

- Shawna J. Dark - Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers

"Mixes a nicely paced narrative with an effective analysis of the geology, climatology, botany, politics, and building of San Francisco."

- William H. Wilson - Pacific Historical Review

"We certainly benefit from the marshaling of evidence from a surprisingly understudied city, and urban and environmental historians will find much to appreciate."

- Carl Abbott - Journal of American History


"Visitors attracted to urban parks for their tranquility, simplicity, and offer of temporary escape seldom consider the complex of cultural ideals and visions of the good life that go into their creation and design. Terence Young offers fascinating insights into the imaginative process of making places for nature in the city. As a one-time horticulturalist turned cultural geographer, Young combines his understanding of plants as cultural artifacts with historical research into the urban reformers dreams and hopes for the socially meliorative qualities of nature and recreation as sources of civic harmony. His consideration of one of the most beautiful and storied of urban parks, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is an added bonus."

- J. Nicholas Entrikin, UCLA

"Triumphing over astounding physical environmental challenges and surviving often jagged and barbed public dialogue, local politics, and financial hurdles, San Francisco's beloved Golden Gate Park blossoms in Terence Young's comprehensive study of the genesis and flourishing of the city's parks. Young lays out stories of sand, wind, and horticultural diversity together with inspired devotion and application of seminal figures such as William Hammond Hall and John McLaren. These are balanced with underpinnings of landscape theory, recreational idealism, and tales of class interest that serve as foundation for a work that will be appreciated by scholars in history, geography, political science, and urban planning—as well as lovers of gardens and lovers of San Francisco of all stripes."

- Janet R. Fireman, Curator of History, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Editor, California History

"Building San Francisco's Parks studies the construction of recreation space and its links to social philosophy and political forces. Although the case study is San Francisco, Young frequently identifies connections to other cities that were simultaneously developing parks. A fine book on a topic of considerable importance to geographers, historians, landscape architects, scholars of American studies, and those in planning and urban studies. I know many people will enjoy and learn from this book."

- Lary M. Dilsaver, University of South Alabama

"Building San Francisco's Parks is an important contribution to the history of parks in North America and provides a thorough case study of one of the continent's major urban park systems."

- Sean Kheraj - H-Net Reviews

9780801874321 : building-san-franciscos-parks-1850-1930-young
280 Pages
$57.00 USD
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Paperback / softback
280 Pages
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