The Last Flower Children Guard San Francisco’s Most Secret Garden

Posted on September 19, 2010 by

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The roses are going wild. Their blooms stick out through glittering tents. The broken greenhouse makes up one entire city block, a jagged surf of canopies ensnared with flowers and fallen glass.

In a city of recognizable trifles, San Francisco’s most undiscovered landmark is locked away next to a reservoir and between two forking highways, a tumbledown glass fortress at the centerpiece of a neighborhood most city residents have never been.

University Mound Nursery is a jumble of overgrowth and contradictions in universal ruin. The place is so remote, when Fader took local band Girls there the magazine mistakenly identified it as “outside of town.” But the greenhouse is in San Francisco, look it up on Google maps (“770 Woolsey,” you’ll be delighted).

The building is the last shattered artifact of a neighborhood that once was all greenhouses, all flowers. The only remnant of a community which gave birth to the city’s celebrated flower culture — a 90-year legacy abandoned and at once fiercely protected by the nursery’s reclusive heirs. Inside its walls, brackish weeds go up, the roof comes down. A battle between entropy and life forces. Surrounded by residential homes, two blocks from a school, the nursery presents a wonderland of contaminants and broken glass; a sanctuary to feral animals, nocturnal addicts and mischievous artists.

Some neighbors say this is a blight. One parks advocate calls it “the biggest, coolest piece of art in the city.” Now urban farm activists say the site could be key to the future of sustainable city living, or at least a model for a district looking to escape its history of waste. For now the greenhouse is a secret of orphaned beauty, a glimpse into an uninhabited future and back at an unremembered past. A mystery waiting to be unearthed and ripened to its final promise.

And this too will pass.

continue to part 2 +

photo credit HENRY DOMBEY/FACE COLLECTIVE


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