San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today announced the opening of the Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground—a center for community engagement and recreation for all ages in the heart of Chinatown. The playground recently completed a top-to-bottom renovation that includes an expanded children’s play area, new clubhouse featuring public art, and improved access to the park. In March, the City will open a new Community Hub at the clubhouse, which will provide approximately 12 students with in-person support for distance learning, healthy meals and snacks, and recreation opportunities.
The playground, serving families in one of San Francisco’s densest and most culturally celebrated neighborhoods, now features custom designed play equipment inspired by Chinese mythology. A huge, climbable water dragon sculpture wraps itself around a two-level tower and slide. A fiery phoenix sculpture bridges the separate zones for tots and school age children.
“I am so excited to open this playground and beautiful community space in Chinatown just in time for Lunar New Year,” said Mayor Breed. “Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground has been reimagined as a creative, accessible place for children, seniors, and everyone in between to connect and play. Parks and playgrounds make cities livable, particularly in dense areas, and investing in neighborhood spaces and projects like this are critical for San Francisco’s wellbeing and our recovery.”
The reimagined half-acre park features new bridges and pathways that connect into a cohesive design. Renovated sport courts accommodate basketball, badminton, volleyball and pickleball players. A new plaza with fitness equipment and resilient surfacing opens to the newly improved Hang Ah Alley. The property also includes new landscaping, irrigation and stormwater infrastructure.
The clubhouse and its rooftop athletic court have been renovated as well. The clubhouse now includes a large multi-purpose room with bleacher seating, kitchenette, elevator, expanded bathrooms, office space, and storage. Each feature of the park is connected and ADA-accessible, with improved lighting and pavement.
The $14.5 million renovation was funded in part through the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. Funding also included $4.5 million from the Downtown Park Fund, established in 1985 to collect fees from commercial developers in the downtown area. Additional funding was provided through the City’s Open Space Fund.
“The incredible work of Chinatown stakeholders over the last decade to push this project over the finish line is a testament to the importance of this unique public playground and park for seniors and families living in cramped conditions,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “The Committee for Better Parks and Recreation in Chinatown led robust outreach to identify culturally significant design elements and community programming needs. As we ring in the Year of the Ox, nothing makes me happier than knowing that Chinatown youth will soon be shooting hoops on a new basketball court named after a Chinese American legend, seniors will have a safe respite to practice outdoor tai chi, and children will be able to use the Clubhouse as the newest Community Learning Hub.”
“We’re thrilled to unveil Willie ‘Woo Woo’ Wong Playground’s beautiful new design that honors its deep historical roots and reflects its beloved status in the community,” said Phil Ginsburg, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager. “It is fitting that it was completed in time for Lunar New Year, when we celebrate new beginnings.”
Community Youth Center (CYC), which encourages high-need young people to explore their full potential through academic, career, family, and community life, will provide a Community Hub in the clubhouse starting in March. In September, San Francisco created the Community Hubs Initiative to provide in-person support for distance learning and out of school time activities for San Francisco’s highest needs children and youth. Since then, the program has served 2,000 students at 80 locations throughout the city. The new Hub will serve 12 middle and high school students, with a focus on those who live in public housing and SROs, as well as English language learners. The playground will remain open to the public while the Hub is in session.
“This is a big day for the Chinatown community because it not only marks the start of the Lunar New Year, but also the opening of Willie “Woo Woo” Wong playground,” said Sarah Wan, CYC Executive Director. “The new playground and clubhouse resulted from a collaborative effort by the community partners. The design of the playground incorporates many iconic elements from Chinese culture and is based on months of solicited feedback given by Chinatown residents. This makes Wille “Woo Woo” Wong playground an open space that is truly unique as it reflects the culture and needs of its citizens. CYC is excited to be the anchor tenant of the clubhouse where we will support the Community Hubs Initiative to provide a safe and stable learning space to youth in Chinatown who need it the most. Eventually, our goal is to open up the clubhouse and playground areas to provide holistic community programs that promote physical fitness, mental wellbeing and healthy lifestyles.”
“Maiden’s Dress,” a mural by San Francisco artist Julie Chang, stretches across an interior wall of the clubhouse. Inspired by both classic Chinese iconography and San Francisco Chinatown’s rich cultural heritage, Chang consulted with Chieh Tzu Yuan Hua Chuan, or The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, as she illustrated the Maiden’s Dress peony—signifying abundance and honor. The grid pattern of the concrete blocks is painted with traditional design elements—a red knot symbolizing good fortune, the green bamboo lines signifying integrity and resilience. All these intersecting moments reveal more intimate patterns and shapes, weaving together the existing historical site with the newly renovated center.
“The public art commissioned for this Chinatown playground is the best example of how art can shape the everyday urban experience,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco Arts Commission Director of Cultural Affairs. “Julie Chang’s mural is bold and rich in symbolism, reflecting principles and values meaningful to the community. And it was created in close partnership with neighborhood organizations, allowing for a deep sense of ownership of these cultural assets for everyone who enjoys the playground and clubhouse.”
The redesign of the park and clubhouse was shaped by the Chinatown community. The culturally nuanced outreach was carried out in English, Mandarin and Cantonese and included surveys, meetings with community leaders, and focus groups of seniors, teens, and daycare providers.
Working with the Chinatown Community Development Center, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department organized neighborhood organizations and introduced members of the public to the plan, inviting them to provide critical feedback that influenced the final design. Additionally project advocacy was provided by the Committee for Better Parks and Recreation in Chinatown; CYC; local daycares including Kai Ming Head Start, Wu Yee Family Center and True Sunshine; the Chinese Culture Center, Chinatown YMCA, and San Francisco Recreation and Park Commissioner Allan Low.
The Recreation and Park Department project was also made possible by numerous other city departments, including the Arts Commission, Planning, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Public Utilities Commission.
San Francisco Public Works provided environmental services as well as construction management for the project. The construction team included CLW Builders Inc. and Cal Pacific Carpentry. The design team was led by CMG Landscape Architecture and included Jensen Architects, InterEthnica, Urban Design Consulting Engineers, Pivot Structural Engineering, HRA Consulting Engineers, McGinnis Chen Associates, Inc. and M Lee Corporation.
Formerly called Chinese Playground, the park opened in 1927 with swings, slides and sport courts. Its last major renovation was finished in 1980. In 2006, it was renamed to honor Willie Wong, a Chinese American basketball star who played at the University of San Francisco from 1948-50. Wong earned his nickname due to crowds shouting “Woo! Woo!” every time he scored.
Photos of Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground and Clubhouse (photo credit: Jim Watkins) available here.