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Joe DiMaggio Playground To Celebrate Opening Nov. 14th

Joe DiMaggio Playground To Celebrate Opening Nov. 14th
An earlier walk-through of Joe DiMaggio Playground. (Photo: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline)
By Geri Koeppel - Published on November 05, 2015.

The highly-anticipated opening of the new Joe DiMaggio Playground (651 Lombard St.) is coming up on Saturday, November 14th, and Recreation and Park will celebrate with a reopening party from 11am–3pm.

Activities will include RecPark's mobile recreation, Zumba, a smoothie bike, food trucks and a free swim at the North Beach Pool. Afterward, the adjacent North Beach Branch Library invites kids in for a spread of toys, Legos, games and more in the upstairs meeting room.

The 2.5-acre playground boasts new children’s play areas, including a turreted play structure with slides, and a resurfaced and renovated sports court area with basketball hoops, tennis courts, volleyball courts and softball diamonds, as well as a mini fitness area and bocce courts with an adjacent olive grove-shaded picnic area. Donor tiles should be mounted by the opening, and they're still for sale through the end of the year.

Photo: Lizzy Hirsch/Friends of JoeDiMaggio Facebook page

This occasion has been a long time coming, because two other projects as part of a master plan needed to be completed first. Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground was founded in 1998 to push for renovations, but soon realized the North Beach Poolbuilt in 1910—started sinking due to the weight of water in the deep end and couldn’t properly filter. (That was renovated in 2005.) Meanwhile, the North Beach Branch Library needed more space, and it took time (and political wrangling) to find a site and build it. It opened May 10th, 2014.

Blacktop going on. (Photo: Jacqui Bos Gina Cibruzar)

Now, the final fruits of the group's labors will be on display and neighbors can join in the fun. "The whole neighborhood’s been really excited about this," said Jacqui Bos, with Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground. "Everyone I talk to says it’s a wonderful thing and it looks great. And the neighborhood needs things like this at the moment to bring it together.”

Julie Christensen agrees, saying the playground is "the new nexus of the neighborhood" and added, "Hopefully it's going to be the start of a new chapter." The supervisor, who has conceded Tuesday's contentious election to challenger Aaron Peskin, was one of the driving forces in renovating Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground.

"I'm proud of my role in that process," Christensen said, "but at the same time acknowledge that this has been the work of hundreds of people over a long period of time. I’m grateful to Phil Ginsburg and our friends at RecPark for sticking with us. It’s been challenging for them, but their commitment has been strong the whole time."

The old Joe DiMaggio Playground. (Photo: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline)

Christensen said this is the first renovation the park has had in 58 years, and shared some interesting nuggets of history about it. "Up until the end of the 1800s, people did not build parks for children, for the most part—they built parks for adults to parade around in or ride their horses," she said. "The idea of cities getting congested and children needing a place to play picked up in the 1880s."

In the early 1900s, she continued, the city formed its first playground commission with the idea of carving out space for recreation areas specifically for kids. The first playground commission picked two sites, including what was then the North Beach Playground.

They gradually amassed the land and built what was then an outdoor, saltwater pool in 1910, so the park was in full swing about 1910-13, she said. (The pool was enclosed in the 1950s shortly before the original North Beach Branch Library was built; the library was dedicated on February 5th, 1959.) More on all of this is on the Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground history page.

North Beach Library dedication/SF Public Library Photo Archives

Christensen hopes this new version of the playground will unify the community as it has for more than 100 years. "It’s been the center of the neighborhood for a long time, and I'm pleased our generation could revitalize it," she said.