Golden Gate Park Stadium, aka POLO
Field of Screams
In the past few months there has been an alarming increase in knee and
ankle injuries to youth and adult soccer players at the Polo Fields
in GGP. Not particularly a new issue, but reaching a crisis point again.
Most disturbing is word that for want of a part to repair a critical
piece of machinery, the 2 month scheduled restoration period, to begin
June 12, can do little to remedy the problems of collapsing gopher runs,
warn out areas, inconsistencies in soil compositions and irrigation.
I’ve been told that RPD can’t or won’t find the money
to pay for the part.
The problems at the Polo Field are chronic, but without an institutional
memory, the same mistakes can only be repeated. Mayor Newsom’s
“cleaning house” and bring in “a new guard”
to manage Rec and Park, has retired or chanced off most if not all of
the staff that could have spoken to the chronic problems and maybe lead
to positive solutions.
A little history:
area known as the Golden Gate Park Stadium originally, and now called
the Polo Field, was part of Speed Road;
a under privately funded 1890 attempt to create a race course for the
wealthy to show their thoughbred horses. But after 15 years, John McLaren
choose to take the race track back, creating upper and lower Speedway
Meadows and opening the Stadium Grounds in July of 1906.
The 16.5 acres of central lawn were to be used for field sports –
rugby, soccer, lacrosse, football, and the like. That was ringed by
a bicycle track, which was eventually banked for motorcycles. Beyond
that is an embankment, which is today home to a thousand gophers, and
that is ringed by a horse and carriage racetrack. In its day it was
not uncommon to have all these activities going on at one time, therefore
two pedestrian tunnels were provided to access the center with the horses
1912 the Park Commission approved the beginning of a grand grandstand
that would ring the entire complex, making it the largest stadium in
the world. A first section was constructed, but after the Park Commissioners
stood at the top and realized how far they were from the field, one
exclaimed that binoculars would have be issued to patrons and the project
stopped there. Of note, this remenant of a bad idea was briefly used
to store miniature boats for Speckel’s Lake, and then used as
temporary stalls when the stables were added. As they are very small
stalls, only small horses or ponies fit.
Recently the stables were closed and as work was to began to restore
them, and demolish the grandstand, preservationists raised a claimer
and have forced an Environmental Impact Report on the historic significance
of the structure. When noted that this is a grand example of man’s
folly in the Park, a friend noted that we have much more recent and
grander examples of non-conforming use of the Park in the Easter end.
Rec and Park are being forced to find $60,000 to fund the EIR before
repairs to the stables can began and horses return to the Park.
The “Stadium” has served as a venue for special events throughout
it’s history. In 1915, the Ground Breaking for the Pan-Pacific
Exposition were held at the Polo, but only the by valiant efforts of
John McLaren was it bared from the western end of the Park and moved
to the Marina. It found usas an early runway for early flight.
During the Second World War, citizens of San Francisco lined up at the
Polo to walk before a movie camera. The film was then distributed to
the troops oversees and solders could have a brief glimpse of family
back home. This event almost didn’t happen as the Red Cross requested
permission to change admission to the event, but this violated a park
code baring such collections in the Park. Times have changed.
Most remember the Polo serving as a venue for large outdoor concerts.
The grandest of course the memorial for Bill Graham drawing well over
field and track have received maintenance and renewal throughout it’s
history, BUT with Prop 13, “The Tax Payer’s Revolt”
all it received for 20 years was minimum mowing and watering. By the
early 1990’s the condition had deteriorated to the point that
it became too dangerous for competitive sports or polo. But these were
the days of the explosion in youth soccer and the weekly media reports
on “soccer mom’s”.
An adhoc committee of adult and youth soccer coaches formed to decry
the conditions our players faced at Polo and every SF field. A
under-funded attempt at restoration was begun in 1995, but without
funds for even grading, it wasn’t going well. That August a 12
year old player severally broke his ankle. I took his picture along
with a picture of the hole he had stepped in and had it placed under
Mayor Brown’s nose at one of his Saturday one on one’s.
A week later, money for our fields began to rain down. The merger attempt
at restoration was sprayed with herbicide then the entire field scrapped
and graded and an entire new surface of sod applied. Cost about $400,000.
In the spring of 1996 “Polo” reopened as the best complex
of soccer field anywhere in the United States.
The ground sports community were in heaven. But as was screamed from
the rooftops, MAINTENANCE, maintenance, maintenance. To this end Rec
and Park purchased a device called a top dresser. Basically they fill
it with sand or dirt and pull it around the field and it spreads the
material evenly. At the same time, the gopher population that had left
the field proper during restoration, moving in mass to the banks surrounding,
lust after the new lawn. They cross the bicycle track and start digging.
For a few years after sodding, maintenance staff would inspect the field
and as all gopher activity was new, they would immediately trap or pesticide
the individual gophers who weekly with attempt to move back. Additionally,
irrigation at Polo has always been difficult due to prevailing winds.
What would be “head to head” coverage on calm days, missing
large areas on typical windy days. This requires gardeners to drag water
lines sometimes hundreds of feet if adequate watering is to be effected.
All of these efforts require diligence from a consistent staff and even
greater support from supervisory staff. Both of which have been in very
short supply at Rec and Park.
late Fall, some of us in the soccer community again started screaming
about conditions. A meeting was held out on the fields at Polo, promises
made, and a private firm hired who trapped 300 gophers in a few weeks
time. But the damage is done. The complex of tunnels these varmints
have dug continually collapse, creating a minefield of holes waiting
to turn ankles, or worse, knees. Additionally, the network provides
ready “housing” for the thousand or so gophers that reside
on the banks around the fields. Only by repeated top dressing and rolling
can these be fully collapsed and filled. Such restoration can only be
affected over an extended closure as grass needs time to re-grow, particularly
when started from seed as required for all the bare areas.
Such a closure is scheduled to began June 12th throuth August 5th. But
without the part for the top dresser that Rec and Park can’t afford,
little can be done.
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of the shoe the horse was lost.
For want of the horse the battle was lost.
For want of the battle the nation was lost.” Shil Silverstein
In late April, RPD could find $153,415 for cost overruns on the Harding
Golf Clubhouse to chase the $395,000 in overruns already paid out.
Priorities, priorities, priorities!
And compounding all of these problems at Polo and now the Concourse
and all of Golden Gate Park, the new huge reservoir located at Overlook
and Crossover Drives, has snails. So? These snails are then being pumped
out throughout the Park, clogging the sprinkler heads and requiring
staff to dismantle each head. That is, once a solution for screening
the snails is found. Until then “Let the people eat escargot.”
A note just received from RPD'S Dennis Kern:
I have confirmation from
Central Shops that the Top Dresser belt has been purchased and air freighted.
Estimated arrival date is tomorrow.
In anticipation of the belt arrival, the Top Dresser is in the equipment
bay in the Structural Maintenance Yard today being prepped for the belt
Turf Management will need the Top Dresser to be operational no later
than Monday, June 19. We feel very confident that we will meet that
schedule. Once the field is closed (next week), the field will be irrigated
and then aerated.
The repaired Top Dresser will commence laying down new soil (approximately
150 cu. yds) and up to two tons of new seed for overseeding. In particular,
the new soil application will improve the grade differential throughout
the field surface.
We have also scheduled fertilizing (up to two tons) and we may install
a limited amount of newsod as well.In a coordinating piece, we will
try to schedule core aeration of Monster Park turf so that the hybrid
Bermuda Grass aerated cores can be trucked to Polo Field and applied
with the above top dressing.
Our gopher eradication
efforts have been aggressive and, to date, we have removed well over
300 gophers from the playing field and surrounding banks.
SO NICE TO
June 1, Inner Sunset
Community Meeting on Homeless
31, The Public/Private Partnership in Public Parks
28, Art coming to a meadow near you.
THE FOG or Homeless in Golden Gate Park
23, Those That Ignore History...
of the Bay to Breakers 2006
20, An Open Letter
to the Mayor: How can we take back our Park?
MUSIC IN THE MUSIC CONCOURSE
18, DEDE to allow some
of her Oscars to be viewed by visitors to her museum.