Beloved Sunset District park to make way for teacher housing

‘I think there is sadness and a sense of loss but we all knew it was coming’

Playland, the Sunset park built by neighborhood residents, will bid a bittersweet goodbye in the spring as it makes way for affordable housing for teachers and other educators.

A park like no other, Playland at 43rd Avenue and Judah Street is complete with a skate park, basketball court, community garden, event pavilion, art-adorned shipping containers and other unique installations.

A farewell event is underway for May.

Construction of the Shirley Chisholm Village, a 135-unit building of affordable housing for educators, is planned to begin at the site in the summer.

Some features of the park are slated to relocate in the Sunset. Others, like the skate park, will take more time to find a new home.

“I think there is sadness and a sense of loss but we all knew it was coming,” said Dawn Stueckle, executive director of Sunset Youth Services, a founding partner of Playland. “From the moment we opened it, it’s just been full of life. It was kind of magical. I can’t really explain it.”

The park, an homage to the former amusement park at Ocean Beach, Playland at the Beach, was known to be a temporary space from the beginning. The San Francisco Unified School District-owned parking site for the Francis Scott Key Annex had long sat vacant until May 2016. Then-Supervisor Katy Tang is widely credited with spearheading partnerships to activate the lifeless space with the school district and community organizations.

Despite the interim use, the neighborhood poured in countless volunteer hours to design and build the space. Youth played a big role in contributing ideas and they were eventually paid to help keep it clean and locked up after hours, Stueckle said. Playland later hosted gardening events, art workshops, performances, sports games and holiday gatherings.

Supervisor Gordon Mar, who represents the Sunset, called the closure “bittersweet” at a community meeting in December. “I’m deeply committed to preserving and expanding community space in the Sunset,” he said.

One of those spots, Sunset Mercantile at 37th Avenue and Pacheco Street, will host the shipping containers and a sculpture known as Peak Experience that’s used as a play structure by kids. The skate park and pavilion are bigger endeavors to relocate and sites are still being identified. Murals on the ground, rocks and some plants will not be able to be relocated.

“It’s not going to re-create Playland,” said Ilaria Salvadori, senior urban designer at the Planning Department. “It’s about making sure we donate something in a successful park to another area in the neighborhood. (Playland) could be a great model for other sites in The City because we have so many vacant sites that have no life. It’s a very easy way to create community.”

Stueckle, too, acknowledged Playland would not be what it once was or have the same feel. But the potential for creating outdoor gathering spaces has grown since the pandemic.

“(Playland) was everyone coming together to say what would be exciting,” Stueckle said. “Little did we know COVID was going to come along and create an even bigger need for outdoor space and gathering. Now that we’ve done Playland, people can see what can happen.”

A community meeting will be held at Playland in March to provide an update on relocation and programming for the future housing site.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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