Winds of Progress Power Old Windmill

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Monday, Sep 12, 2011  |  Updated 5:10 PM PDT
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Golden Gate Park Windmill Gets a Cap

Windmill and floating cap; A crane lifts the 64 ton copper dome onto the windmill base in Golden Gate Park.

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As a crowd of several dozen spectators raised their cameras in salute, a massive crane gingerly lifted the Murphy Windmill’s 64-ton cap off the ground. The newly-restored copper dome seemed to hover in space as the crane guided it over the waiting windmill base, and lowered it down.

Mariska Henneberque nearly shed tears of joy at the sight.

“We can’t believe it happened,” Henneberque, a Dutch immigrant who helped organize the campaign to save the windmill, said. “We waited so long.”

For Henneberque, the capping ceremony marked a significant milestone in the 15 year odyssey to save the 106-year-old windmill, which was once slated for demolition. But it wasn’t an easy journey. In fact, if this was a soap opera, it’d be called “As the Windmill Turns.”  

“It’s very emotional,” said Henneberque. “It’s been many, many years.”

It was 15-years-ago, when another Netherlands native, Mark de Jong, spotted the rotting Murphy Windmill near Golden Gate Park’s Southwest tip.  As a native of a country that prizes its windmills, he was shocked by the disrepair.

“The old parts were sitting down in overgrown grass, overgrown trees” de Jong remembered.

De Jong helped called the Dutch consulate which got behind the restoration effort. A citizens group called The Campaign To Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills began raising money for its restoration.
 
But problems with early contractors, along with a shortage of funds put the effort on the slow track. Nine years ago, the windmill’s dome and gears were shipped to the Netherlands for restoration by fourth generation windmill restorer Lucas Verbij. It wasn’t until Monday that the pieces were reconnected. 

“To see this in its full glory with many, many years to come I think is a huge achievement,” said de Jong, as he watched the newly crowned windmill.

The land-marked Murphy Windmill, and its sister, the Dutch Windmill, were built in the first decade of the 1900s as a means to irrigate the park. At one point, the pair delivered more than a million gallons of well water every day.   

“This was a working windmill that powered Golden Gate Park and did irrigation here,” said Karen Kidwell of the San Francisco Parks Trust. “So I think this is an example of a technology we ought to be returning to”
  
With the massive dome finally at rest, workers were expected to begin installing the windmill’s massive blades. Parks and Rec expects to finish the $5 million dollar project by next summer. A motor will eventually assist the wind in turning the blades, though water delivery isn’t in the cards as of yet. Instead the structure will sit as a monument to park history, and the people willing to fight to save it.

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