San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to debut observation wheel, renovated attractions for 150th anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An attraction built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park will finally open to the public. A giant observation wheel that was frozen in place by the COVID-19 shutdown. And park officials say the wheel's first spin is a story of rebirth and even rejuvenation for one of the most famous parks in the country.

For now, it sits shrouded in the morning fog, like a performer waiting for the curtain to lift and the show to begin. But when the giant observation wheel begins to whisk visitors into the air, they'll be looking down at a Golden Gate Park that has literally been transformed.

San Francisco Recreation and Park director Phil Ginsburg says the projects stretch the length of the famous park.

"This isn't the 150th anniversary we had hoped or planned for, but very quietly while the park has been open to San Francisco over the past seven months we've gone about the business of one hundred and 150 park improvement projects," says Ginsburg.



Some happened in plain view, like the new multimillion dollar tennis center and club house, which crews are working to finish.

Others, were like waving a wand inside a castle wall. At the Japanese Tea Garden, typically open 365 days a year, gardeners used the temporary shutdown to work magic on ponds and walkways.

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"Words can't describe, from the day we shut down, they were here every day," says general manager Tak Matsuba

Crews at the Conservatory of flowers used the time to reshape the stunning canopy.

"So, we're seeing things bloom that maybe wouldn't have before. We're seeing our banana tree produce tons of fruit," says chief nursery specialist Kristen Natoli

While at the nearby San Francisco Botanical Gardens a mix of new pathways and exotic plants greeted returning visitors remembers executive director Stephanie Linder.

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Spring is here and the flowers at the San Francisco Botanical Garden are in full bloom, but no one can see it because of the stay-at-home order. But don't despair, our cameras were allowed inside to capture the colorful splendor of spring.



"I was here at 7:30 in the morning, June 1, along with the birders who were so excited to have the gates open," she remembers.

At Stow Lake, families can glide across the water again on a fleet of brand new boats. While a few hundred yards from the Observation Wheel, strains of classical music drift from the newly refurbished band shell, we're a young musician was practicing. A small but joyful symphony for a public ready for a rebirth after so many months. Even it's just watching a sleeping giant spin back to life.

"It no longer is a symbol of hope, it actually becomes like a wheel of hope," says director Ginsburg.

And he says it's important to keep in mind that park workers have accomplished all of this with a 600% increase in pedestrians and bike riders using the park since many of the streets were closed to traffic during the crisis.

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