SF’s Newest Park was Originally built by prisoners from Alcatraz : A History of Black Point Gardens
It’s not everyday that our little peninsula gets a new piece of public land, but for the last four years the Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, and a team of volunteers, have been restoring the gardens, walkways, stairs, and terraces of The Historic Black Point Gardens.
The Black Point Gardens are located at the base of Van Ness Avenue, on the steep east-facing bluff of Fort Mason overlooking Aquatic Park.
The park development dates back to the 1850’s and was a sister park to the Gardens of Alcatraz just across the water. In 1861 a military prison was established on Alcatraz Island, and soil was carried over from Angel Island in order to create gardens to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Alcatraz Island Garden
Military prisoners were used to make the gardens and to create their walls and pathways on both Alcatraz and Black Point. Back then it was mostly Civil War prisoners or citizens convicted of treason. (read about the Alcatraz Island gardens history here.)
Black Point Gardens Development 1870
Before the US military began developing the point, interestingly enough, The Online Archive of California, describes Black Point Beach as the housing place of a beached ship called Euphemia that served as an insane asylum for the city in the early 1800’s.
Black Point pre military, pre 1850
In 1867 the Pioneer Woolen Mill dominated the landscape near the area we call today Aquatic Park. The Woolen Mill was later taken over by the Ghirardelli Chocolate makers, some of their big brick buildings are still there.
Woolen & Ghirardelli Building
In the 1860’s five large houses were built on Black Point overlooking the bay. (presumably after a proper insane asylum could be built elsewhere). John C. Fremont and his wife Jessie Benton Fremont, lived at Black Point between 1860 and 1861. (And took the picture bellow) The Fremonts moved back east with the start of the Civil War when John was appointed Commander of the Department of the West in 1861. – Shelagh Fritz describes in detail in an article in Pacific Horticulture.
Black Point Estate 1860’s
Black Point military railway 1918
According to an article by Brian Stokle in FORGOTTEN HILLS: FORT MASON’S BLACK POINT, “The name Black Point comes from the dark laurel brush on the east side of the bluff, facing modern day Aquatic Park. The top of Black point was where Fort Mason built its final cannon position 100ft above the bay in the 1860’s.
Now back to present day! The good news is that the park is rapidly approaching completion and it’s scheduled to be reopened August 25th 2021! It’s definitely worth a stroll given that it has great views of the bay and it’s sandwiched between aquatic park, and all the good stuff happening at Fort Mason.