October 25, 2000|By Tom Zoellner, Chronicle Staff Writer
A San Francisco urban park, once infamous as a drug gallery and open-air toilet, was rededicated yesterday as a children-only playground, complete with plastic choo-choo train and iron fence.
City officials pledged never again to let Sgt. John Macaulay Park in the Tenderloin fall into squalor and decay.
“What is truly beautiful about a park is not what gets built there but what happens there,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, general manager of the city Recreation and Park Department. “What was horrible about this place is all those beautiful moments were chased away.”
The park used to be an open space with benches, but had no play equipment. It is now off-limits to all adults who are not accompanied by a child under 12.
Police from the Northern Station said they will keep an extra- diligent watch on the park, which is named for a popular sergeant who was shot to death making a traffic stop in 1982.
The new swing sets and jungle gyms, paid for by a $620,000 grant from the city Open Space Committee, are representative of a gradual demographic change in San Francisco’s toughest quarter.
Once the home of cheap hotels for itinerant merchant seamen, the Tenderloin in recent years has become a starting place for immigrant families with children, mostly from Southeast Asia.
There are now an estimated 3,500 children in the neighborhood, who exist uneasily alongside the neighborhood’s human tableau of crack dealers, homeless alcoholics and recent parolees. An adult theater directly across the street from Macaulay Park advertises a “Live 2 Girl Show” on its marquee.
City officials hope the reborn park will serve as a psychological detergent for the surrounding blocks, in much the same way that new family housing projects at 111 Jones St. and 211 Turk St. have helped change the unsavory character of their respective corners.
Also, some of the hard-core homeless of the Tenderloin seem to have a certain street-level morality about keeping illegal activity away from youngsters, said Midge Wilson, executive director of the Bay Area Women’s and Children’s Center.
“There’s a respect for childhood here,” she said.
Sgt. John Macaulay Park first opened in 1983 among hopeful intentions that the fifth of an acre at O’Farrell and Larkin streets would become a Tenderloin oasis.