Situated as it is in the city's densest, seediest neighborhood, Boeddeker Park is not much to look at — 2 and a half acres wedged between two of the Tenderloin's roughest blocks, surrounded by a spike-topped fence. The park's fortresslike atmosphere and the constant presence of drunks and drug users were oppressive enough to land it on urban-design nonprofit Project for Public Spaces' Hall of Shame list. Still, Boeddeker Park is a refuge for many in the neighborhood.
The good news for park lovers in the TL is that city officials are optimistic that the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that has fixed up other city parks, will get $4.5 million from the state for a drastic remodel. The aging clubhouse would be demolished and replaced and the playground equipment updated — there's even room in the budget for "dream" features like 6-foot metal wind chimes made to look like blades of grass. Not bad for a park that, only months ago, was nearly closed entirely, a would-be casualty of the city's budget nightmare. Construction could begin as early as the spring if funding is secured (city officials hope to get an answer from the state by November).
The bad news is that despite the park's facelift, the city has no plans to increase its limited operating hours. The Ellis Street gate has been permanently locked since the mid-1980s to keep out the riffraff who congregate outside Glide Memorial Church, while the other entrance on Eddy Street is open a total of six hours on weekdays only (and only three hours each day for adults without kids, i.e., all the people who live in nearby SROs). On weekends, the park is closed.
The Recreation and Park Department refuses to open the gates unless a staffer is on hand, according to Dina Hilliard, a neighborhood activist, and with a $12.4 million budget deficit, there's no guarantee that anything will change. Those millions would be spent to remodel a park intended for poor residents, who can then use it only sparingly, strikes some as patently offensive.
"It's a slap in the face," says Hilliard, who taught school in the Tenderloin for a decade and brought her pupils to Boeddeker for recess. "It doesn't solve anything by closing down the park. My personal feeling is that we should just leave the doors open."
Rec and Park spokesman Elton Pon defended the wisdom of spending millions to fix up a park while restricting its hours. "It's rather shortsighted to ask whether this is a worthwhile project or not," he says. "The big picture is that this renovated facility will serve the children of the Tenderloin neighborhood for years to come."
Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the area, says he wants to liberate the park from its restraints. "One of these days I'm going to take boltcutters [to the gate] and open the damn thing. I should have done it a long time ago."