Burrows Pocket Park Beautifies Portola Neighborhood

By Dana Harrison

Parks can have a transformative effect on our urban landscape. A patch of nature softens the hard edges and calms the chaos. One small example is trash-strewn embankment at the end of Burrows Street, just off bustling San Bruno Avenue, that has morphed into a boulder-strewn garden of vibrant colors.

The idea of creating a park here has been a passion of Ruth Wallace’s for over four years, she says. A board member of the Portola Neighborhood Association, Wallace was horrified at the unsightly dead end at Burrows and four other streets in the area.

“We were seeing dumping everywhere,” Wallace said, “and calling 311 (the City’s service line) all the time.”

Over the years Wallace and the Neighborhood Association, with help from the Mayor’s Office and other agencies, cobbled together a number of grants from sources as disparate as Universal Studios and a Community Challenge Grant.


Armed with that combination of private and City funding, and a dedicated group of volunteers who showed for street cleaning events, street trees and other amenities began to appear in the neighborhood. An outfit called Architects For Humanity stepped to do the design work.

Now, looking down Burrows, a passerby will be drawn by small wooden bridge (thanks to Architect Reaz Haque) and a patchwork of pavers that replaces the typical concrete sidewalk. Probably unnoticed is a grass dotted “bio-swale” at the bottom of the slope that will collect runoff from the hillside and street and deposit it into the earth below.

SF Landscapes happily took the opportunity to work it’s magic on this hardscrabble patch of rocky hillside. The week-long project involved moving in the heavy boulders (several a hefty two-tons), stretching jute netting to hold the soil, planting hundreds of plants, and covering the hillside with thick mulch from nearby Bay View Green Waste.

Wallace chose the plants, a mix of hardy trees, shrubs and grasses like Monkey Flower, California Poppies, Pacific Coast Iris, Blued Eyed Grass,  California Fushia and many others. In full bloom, the hill will dazzle with bright yellows, deep blues and vibrant reds.

The pocket park movement in recent years has prompted little oasis like this popping up in tonier neighborhoods like Cow Hollow and Valencia Street’s restaurant row. Here, Four Barrel Coffee is now nearing completion of a shop next to the park. Wallace says she most likely couldn’t have convinced the company to take a chance on this space without the new park environment.

Michael Anthony, who has owned for 20 years the building housing what will become Four Barrel coffee and a Subway sandwich store, says he’s delighted with the changes on the street. He and his wife Vivian gazed at the now verdant hillside and back at the future coffee shop and smiled. “Maybe we’ll get this space a new address, like One Burrows,” they mused.

Ruth Wallace is just happy to see the garden come to life. “I’m hoping the rest of the neighborhood is as happy with it as we are,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the time when everyone just assumes it’s always been there.”

This is the before pic ^


Installing the boulders ^

The first visitors seem right at home ^