Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Only in San Francisco!

Grace Marchant Garden
Tumbling down the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, the
Grace Marchant Garden (off Filbert Street) is one of the most beautiful spots in San Francisco. Marchant, who embarked on her labor of love when she was 63 years old, groomed this hillside retreat for 33 years. Offering views of the bay, the two-acre plot is cared for by a cadre of neighbors and volunteers. The climb is sweetened by fragrant wisteria vines, hydrangeas, roses, masses of foliage and a bench to catch one’s breath along the way. Settle in with a good book. Perhaps David Bittner’s “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” which documents his “love story … with wings,” or David Goodis’ thriller, “Dark Passage” which featured Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart taking refuge in a nearby home.

Filbert Steps from Sansome, December 14, 1952.

Grace Marchant Gardens, 2009.
Photo: Chris Carlsson

The spectacular public garden along the Filbert Steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill is known as the Grace Marchant Garden. As the story goes, Grace Marchant moved to the corner of Napier Lane and Filbert Street in 1949, when the Filbert Steps was a pathway through an informal garbage dump. She began cleaning up the slope herself. She petitioned City Hall for permission to burn the trash that was many feet deep, and it is said the fire burned for three days. Making a garden there was a passionate embrace of public space, as Marchant spent the next few decades creating it as a public corridor.
In creating her garden Grace Marchant was very casual about property lines. One large section extended into the yard of a cottage whose owner wanted the land back in 1989 to build a larger house. When a permit for construction was granted, neighbors founded Friends of the Garden and took the issue of its preservation to City Hall and the Trust for Public Land. The Trust developed a plan to buy the cottage property and resell it with deed restrictions protecting the garden. To cover the different between the purchase price and the much lower resale value of the restricted property, donations came in from garden lovers. With additional gifts from local corporations, foundations, and benefit events, the Trust exceeded its fundraising goal, enabling it to buy the cottage and create an endowment to support the garden. Friends of the Garden have since taken over the maintenance of Grace Marchant's gardening vision. (excerpt from Gianni Longo in A Guide to Great American Public Places, courtesy of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association)  

-Chris Carlsson

This part of Filbert Street was too steep to be used, and was a trashy, weedy waste until Grace Marchant moved to the area in 1949, and stepped forward to clean up and begin gardening. She died many years ago, but the gardens continue to be maintained by volunteers. 

The apartment house used in the filming of DARK PASSAGE was on Montgomery Street in San Francisco.   Directly near Filbert Street.

The apartment house used to film DARK PASSAGE was formerly the residence of the late Hiram Johnson - 

He was generally known as the best trial lawyer in California. 

He lives in a beautiful home on top of Russian Hill in San Fran- 
cisco, set on the summit of a literal cliff, up which one clambers 
by zigzag stairways set against the rock. From the windows 
or from the terraced Italian garden, which Mrs. Johnson with 
infinite patience has caused to grow on top of that rocky cliff, 
one looks down on San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, and 
across to Mt. Tamalpais and the shore opposite. There is no 
finer view in the world. 


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