Maria Rodriguez cast a discriminating eye across the brand new landscape of grassy lawns, sculptures and basketball court - processing the images as only an eloquent elementary school student could do.
“I would like to just sit here when it’s around six or five,” Rodriguez said, “and just sit here and watch the sky.”
As San Francisco peeled the wraps off a two-year restoration of the Tenderloin’s Boeddeker Park, it was clear how much people had missed this urban oasis in one of San Francisco’s most gritty neighborhoods.
“A lot of people in this area live in very small units,” said Tenderloin resident Hannahmariah, “and they don’t have any accessible means of coming outside.”
Boeddeker was carved into the neighborhood in 1985, providing a well-needed place for recreation in an area rampant with crime and drug deals. But numerous makeovers left it like a warren of metal fences within fences, so much so that some nicknamed it “prison park.”
But a nearly $4 million grant from the Trust For Public Land ignited a $9.6 million makeover - where every inch of the park was leveled and re-imagined.
The work added a basketball court, a spacious clubhouse, planter boxes, sculptures, benches, and a play area - stripping away layers of fencing to form a wide-open space amid the fortress of residential hotels.
“A lot of these kids here down here,” said neighbor Kenney Williams, “they’re trapped indoors because it’s not a safe place.”
This week, the park gates finally flung open and children began to explore their new digs. It immediately saw a steady flow of kids through programs provided by the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club.
“So the sounds of a neighborhood are the most healthy when you have the sounds of children laughing and playing,” said Esan Looper, of the Boys and Girls Club.
But the park wasn’t just intended for children - adults living in the area’s numerous residential hotels have been excited for the chance to stretch out on benches, or tend to the park’s elaborate flower gardens.
“When you have people playing backgammon, playing cards, playing Frisbee,” said Hannahmariah, “that gives you the feeling of community.”
Elementary school student Kenny Vuong watched as a group of kids played a basketball game, and another group tossed a tennis ball back and forth across the lawn.
“It’ll get kids out of the house more often,” Vuong said.
Williams left his bird’s eye hotel view of the park, to meander down for opening day. He leaned against a sculpture and watched children climbing on every surface.
“You can see the joy on their face,” Williams said. “And it really makes me feel good.”