Erica Marquez/special to the s.f. examinerThe Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground reopened on a full-time basis Tuesday

Chinatown playground clubhouse reopens full-time, enhancing area’s limited open space

With the help of a Chinatown neighborhood nonprofit, the Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground clubhouse is bouncing back from its underutilized state to the busier days of its elevated past.

The clubhouse on Sacramento Street, beneath a basketball court and partially tucked below ground level, until its reopening Tuesday was only open for recreation on an on-and-off basis.

It had been operated that way since 2008, when the recession cut $12 million in funding from the Recreation and Park Department, forcing staff to manage only full-service recreation centers, leaving community partners to oversee the smaller clubhouses like the one at Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground.

Those short-staffed days might be a thing of the past.

The Portsmouth Plaza Parking Corp., a community-based nonprofit that runs the Portsmouth Square Plaza Garage, through its lease with The City funds programs and other needs at open spaces in Chinatown.

The nonprofit's original 50-year lease with The City in 1958 included a $10,000 set-aside to fund other nonprofits in the community. Under a new lease negotiated a few years ago, an additional $60,000 was secured to go toward community open space. That includes $50,000 that has helped the clubhouse reopen this week in its full capacity.

With the newly added funding, the clubhouse will be fully staffed from now on from morning until early evening by staff from the Recreation and Park Department and Community Youth Center.

“Our next goal is to work with all the Chinatown-area nonprofits to provide additional funding to put high school and college students to work here as interns and give back to the community,” said Jerry Lee, president of the Portsmouth Square Plaza Parking Corp. board.

More staff at the clubhouse will ensure that the playground, which years ago had youth gang activity, stays safe, said Eddy Zhang, project director with the Community Youth Center.

“This upstairs basketball area, it's a blind spot,” he said. “A lot of times, a lot of young people up there are drinking alcohol or there's substance abuse, so we need to renovate it so we have more visibility.”

The playground has a $6 million capital improvement budget from the Recreation and Park Department, for which the community process over its design is just starting.

The clubhouse reopening is a product of advocacy work from the Asian Pacific Islander Council, which released a report, “Asian and Pacific Islander Health and Wellbeing: A San Francisco Neighborhood Analysis,” in May revealing Chinatown's open space makes up only 5.8 percent of its land, compared to the citywide average of 22.8 percent.

“We will continue to work hard to make sure Asian and Pacific Islander families in The City have everything they need,” said Jon Osaki, co-chairman of the council.

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