Julius Kahn Playground could soon be renamed ‘West Pacific’ or ‘Presidio Wall’

Ever heard of West Pacific Playground? How about Presidio Wall Playground?

No? That’s OK — no one has, yet.

Those are the newly proposed names for Julius Kahn Playground, which is losing its former moniker after Chinese community groups highlighted Kahn’s racist legacy last year.

The newly proposed names were revealed publicly Wednesday night.

“San Francisco and progressive California led anti-Asian efforts,” said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. “It’s an important reminder that we need to continue to advance ideals of inclusion, given our history.”

Just over a year ago, members of the Chinese community, Rec and Park officials and members of the Board of Supervisors, announced the effort to remove Kahn’s name from the 92-year-old city playground.

It came amid a bevy of civic changes to address problematic histories: like the renaming of Justin Herman Plaza, or the removal of a statue depicting violence against Native Americans at Civic Center.

After various brainstorming sessions, struggles and a vote sent to Presidio Heights Association of Neighbors — which represents those who live near the playground — potential names for Julius Kahn Playground have finally been selected.

The Association of Neighbors board narrowed down the options and its 2,000 members were given an opportunity to vote on the final choices.

About 150 people voted on three names: Presidio Wall Playground, West Pacific Playground, and Rhoda Goldman Playground.

Presidio Wall led the pack by far, the Association of Neighbors confirmed. The park is located in the Presidio by a long wall that borders homes along the national park’s edge.

It also runs along Pacific Avenue, hence the second name. Goldman, who is deceased, was a local philanthropist who donated to many city causes, including the playground.

Those names have not yet been set in stone, but will be forwarded to the Recreation and Parks Department Commission for a future vote, Rec and Park Commission Vice President Allan Low confirmed.

Neighbors may still suggest other names for the park, Low said.

At Julius Kahn Playground’s clubhouse, Wednesday, neighbors were set to discuss the final proposed names.

The sun was already setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge when the neighbors arrived. The sound of kids playing outside could be faintly heard as just over a dozen San Franciscans gathered inside to determine the playground’s new name.

Despite despite serene setting, tensions were high among some in attendance.

“It will always be Julius Kahn to me,” said one woman who left the meeting early before she could be identified. “He was my hero.”

But the renaming itself is already in motion.

Chinese groups like the Chinese Historical Society cited Kahn pushing for the Chinese Exclusion Act to become permanent in 1902, which barred Chinese laborers from entering the United States, as their chief motivation to rename the playground. The act was finally repealed in 1943.

Chinese people are “morally the most debased people on the face of the Earth,” Kahn publicly said.

One person who had played in Julius Kahn Playground as a child, Jessica Cole, rebutted the neighbor’s defense of Kahn.

Cole said she saw Asian and African American kids face discrimination at the park when she was a child. As for Kahn,”I feel what he stood for is repugnant.”

Matt Rhoa, a neighbor from the Inner Richmond whose children had played at Julius Kahn when they were young, voiced logistical concerns.

Rhoa pointed out that Presidio Heights neighbors alone should not be responsible for new names from the park, since children from many surrounding neighborhoods, like the Marina and Richmond, play at Julius Kahn.

“This is a huge family park,” he said. “Why wasn’t this discussed with all those neighbors?”

Low, who was at the gathering, said he’s now considering another community meeting in another neighborhood.

Presidio Neighborhood Association of Neighbors’ Board President Charlie Ferguson told the crowd numerous names were considered, including “Just Kidding,” to preserve the park’s J and K initials.

Ultimately, he said, the two geographic names were chosen to avoid any more heated debates.

“The message is, this is for kids. Leave the controversy aside,” he said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

 

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