The site was meant for a hospital. The Van Ness Ordinance designated it a ‘public reservation,’ and an engineer’s map in 1861 labeled it ‘hospital site.’ In the 1880s and ‘ 90s, it was leased to the San Francisco Female Hospital for an edifice that was never built. Colonel Victor D. Duboce, who served with the First California Volunteers in the Spanish-America War, was elected to the Board of Supervisors on his return. Shortly thereafter he died, on August 15, 1900 and was buried in the National Cemetery at the Presidio. In passing a resolution extolling his ‘high character, loyalty, and amiable disposition,’ the Supervisors changed the name of Ridley Street to Duboce Street and turned the old hospital reservation into Duboce Park.
Source: The Duboce Triangle of San Francisco by Alexander S. Bodi, 1983.
‘Duboce Park Is Now For The City’ declared the San Francisco Call, reporting the dedication on September 9, 1900. Amid the boom of a cannon and cheers of the crowd, the president of the Duboce Park Improvement Club introduced Mayor James Phelan who complemented the club for its work in securing the old hospital lot and spoke with feeling of the late Colonel Duboce, saying that the park was ‘a fitting tribute to the hero’s memory.’ The Mayor promised to expedite the $5,000 appropriation requested by the Improvement Club, and in 1901, Duboce Park was under construction with a budget of $4798.56.
Originally bounded by Steiner, Ridley-now-Duboce, Waller and Scott Streets, the three-block-long, one-block-wide park acquired its irregular shape when a District Court awarded portions of it to two claimants in the late 1880s. (In the 1850s, the Van Ness Ordinance attempts to straighten out San Francisco’s confused land titles sometimes resulted in litigation.)
In 1906, the park became ‘Tent City’ for earthquake refugees, and thereafter it stayed out of the news until the July, 1969 Examiner story headlined ‘Duboce Group Raps Inaction on Park.’ The Fair Play Association for Duboce Park, headed by Mrs. Betty King and joined by then-Assemblyman Willie Brown Jr., accused city officials of giving low priority to their issues: a full-time playground director, new playground equipment, a safety fence between the park and Muni’s Sunset Tunnel, and greater community access to the Recreational Art Building at 50 Scott Street. Thirteen months later the Recreation and Park Commission voted to erect a safety fence.
On May 26, 1979, the Recreational Arts Building was renamed the Harvey Milk Recreational Center in honor of the slain supervisor. One year later, after controversies about its placement were resolved, Johanna Poething’s famous Harvey Milk Mural, faced Duboce Street when it was unveiled and dedicated.
– Jeanne Alexander, Neighborhood Parks Council