Barnyard Golf or Love Making?

After my City Grazing double-take last week, I wouldn’t have guessed another groovy neighborhood discovery was lurking so closely. Having lived in my hood for about 15 years, it’s rare to come upon something entirely fresh, within a few block radius…let alone something on a grand scale. The northeastern tip of Golden Gate Park alone is rife with history, but I thought I had covered pretty much every path. El wrongo!!!

Well, around noon today, I headed out on my lunch break to practice a monologue for my callback in the out-of-doors. What other show is better suited to a rustic park setting than Hair? Me thinks there isn’t one. I knew it would help put me in the right state of mind, and help my characterization of hippie leader Berger take flight (hopefully).

I wandered onto a narrow dirt path just off the paved walking path winding down from the intersection of Fulton and Stanyan, and hung my jacket on a eucalyptus branch. Just as I was preparing to start, I discovered someone sitting quietly on a nearby bench and writing, so I continued my search for an empty glade. Our homeless neighbors also love this region of the park, so I figured I would likely have a few of them as an audience. Maybe they could even offer some hippie tips?

Photo by Octoferret/Flickr

Photo by Octoferret/Flickr

I walked up a dirt path that branched off to the left of the main path, where I had never gone before. It’s always looked like a vehicle path for the park worker’s use. As I came around the bend, a stone wall and some steps became visible. Once even closer, a huge cement courtyard opened up before me, with a giant 20-or-so foot wide horse sculpture on the opposing wall, formed by a natural cross-sectioned hillside about 50 feet high. The inside of the horse sculpture had crumbled away, leaving only the outer features and details. This gave it a real feeling of antiquity…although, I was pretty sure I hadn’t just uncovered a lost ruin.

Horse Sculpture: Before & After

Horse Sculpture: Before & After

Frankly, it was the perfect site not only for my personal run-through but would be just right for an entire production of Hair (I’ll get on that)! It became clear from multiple vertical metal rods (and the horse sculpture sealed the deal) that it was for horseshoeing. However, it was in such shambles and disrepair, it felt haunted. I could easily imagine countless romantic trysts, late-night drug-induced adventures, and homeless encampments here. In fact it’s been counted as the Number 18, in “Best Place to Make Love in Golden Gate Park”. A “For Screamers” category is even included…although this locale didn’t make that list.

Horseshoe Pits: 1930s

Horseshoe Pits: 1930s

These “Horseshoe Pits“, as they are called are also on the National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco, noted with the year 1922. And, to be exact, there are 16 pitching courts of this largely out-of-fashion game, also referred to by the nickname “Barnyard Golf”. I’m hopeful for the sake of this landmark alone that there is a burgeoning horseshoe following. The Golden Gate Horseshoe Club website reveals that this court is used for periodic special annual events, but most likely not regular weekly or even monthly use. Since there is a well kept, grassy horseshoe court down near Stern Grove, it doesn’t appear the city can fill up and upkeep more than one court, with its largely aging fan-base.

Aerial MapNot surprisingly, I discovered online that a skate park had been proposed for this area, a perfect usage of the space, in my mind. But, apparently the poor site lines, thanks to surrounding hills and trees, were deemed less than ideal, since it would be inhabited largely by youth. That park has instead been (or will be) built at an Upper Haight, Waller Street site.

The book “San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: A Thousand and Seventeen Acres of Stories” by Chris Pollack & Erica Katz helped the big picture of this locale’s history come together. The courts construction was in 1926 (later than the National Register record above), and the GGHC tended the courts. Previously it was a rock quarry, from which San Francisco streets were built.

The Horseshoe PitcherThe two concrete bas-reliefs, created on the face of the largest rock formations, include the horse, but also “The Horseshoe Pitcher”, a sculpture by Jesse S. “Vet” Anderson, who was a member of the GGHC, and a cartoonist and caricaturist for the Detroit Free Press.

“The sculptures had been overgrown and long forgotten but were revealed in 1968 by Youth Corps volunteers…The hill above the courts rises 384 feet above sea level to what was once a 100,000-gallon water reservoir that doubled as an aquatic garden for irrigating the Panhandle and nearby park areas. This hill has been known by many names: Mt. Lick, Plateau Hill, and Reservoir Hill.

The site was further developed, in 1934, as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration venture; hand-hewn stonework was laid to define the court area. The work included a raised gallery for spectators and a star lined with large red rustic boulders from Conservatory Drive East.”

Hmmm, a game of Barnyard Golf anyone?! I’ll leave the GG Park lovemaking to you and yours!

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