Visitors to Golden Gate Park can take trip back in time

Golden Gate Park turned a whopping 140 years old this year, and to celebrate, the Conservatory of Flowers is revamping its third annual Garden Railway display into a miniature tour of the open space.

In a special anniversary edition of the holiday Garden Railway, opening Friday, the conservatory is re-creating the gardens, lakes and architecture that have made the park famous since the 1870s.

“The Garden Railway is a magical way to celebrate a park that generations of San Franciscans have come to love,” exhibit spokeswoman Ninah Sazevich said. “Not just tourists but locals probably don’t know a lot about the park. This exhibit is designed to help people not only leave delighted, but also knowing something new they didn’t know before.”

Most people probably have no idea that Golden Gate Park was home to a grizzly bear until 1911, or that there was a casino before it was forced out by critics, Sazevich said.

Families and children can experience a taste of the park’s history as G-gauge model trains and trolleys weave around replicas of 10 of the park’s landmarks created by local trash-to-treasure artist James Sellier.

The artist has creatively transformed recycled materials into environmentally conscious works of art. The blades of the Dutch windmill are made from discarded rulers, and the park’s carousel spins around on an old record player.  

“It’s kind of an only-in-San Francisco kind of thing to do. As a city, we pride ourselves on our environmental focus,” Sazevich said. “As an environmental institution, we felt it was important — especially for children — to showcase what you can make from all these old things.”

Other refashioned landmarks are the Japanese Tea Garden, de Young Museum, Music Concourse Bandshell, California Academy of Sciences, Stow Lake boathouse, Chinese Pavilion, McLaren Lodge and Conservatory of Flowers.

To pay tribute to William Hammond Hall and John McLaren — who were responsible for creating the park’s specialty gardens — the conservatory’s horticulture staff is planting miniature versions of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Fuschia Dell, Rose Garden and Rhododendron Dell using living dwarf plants.

“This paints a wonderful picture of how The City has used the park over the years,” Sazevich said.

The Garden Railway is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays until March 13, and is included with admission to the conservatory.

shaughey@sfexaminer.com

 

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