Fay-Berrigan gardens open to the public

For 25 years, Lucretia Rauh has been watching tourists try to scale the walls around the Fay-Berrigan House, located near the crooked part of Lombard Street, to take pictures of its famed gardens.

Now, after eight years of work, one of The City’s most celebrated gardens is becoming its newest public park.

“Now they can go into the garden and not only take pictures but smell the roses,” said Rauh, who has lived across the street from the house for the past 25 years and knew its last owners.

The City inherited the Fay-Berrigan House, located at 2366 Leavenworth St., along with the gardens in 1998 after Mary Fay, a descendent of the original homeowner who first built on the land in 1869, and her husband, Brigadier General Paul Berrigan, both passed away. Fay had bequeathed the land to The City to be turned into a park.

“She just loved San Francisco and they had no children to leave it to,” Rauh said. “And she was just a very social-minded person.”

The house was once home to famous soap manufacturer David Fay and the daughter of the owner of the San Francisco Seals. World-renowned landscape artist Thomas Church designed the yard with its row of trees, gazebos and gardens. Its beauty was so revered that is was featured in several magazines in its glory days during the 1950s.

“(Church) designed this at the peak of his career in 1957 and even though he has done a lot of gardens in San Francisco, this will be the only Thomas Church-designed garden that will be opened to the public in the Bay Area, if not in the United States,” Rauh said.

The City spent several years improving the gardens to their original glory and making it handicap-accessible, according to Recreation and Park Department Spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis. The gardens officially opened last week.

“It's like a little place to sit and read the newspaper and clean up after yourself,” Dennis said, stressing the importance of protecting the historic site.

The adjoining mansion was not restored during the makeover because The City did not have enough money. In 2000, it was estimated that it would take $2 million to restore the home and make it ready for public viewing, according to Dennis. She said The City still plans on fixing the home and opening it to the public when money becomes available.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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