The Portola District has a unique history of growing flowers and produce for San Francisco markets.
Originally, the Portola District was populated by the native people of the Ohlone tribe. In the early 1900s however, Jewish, Maltese, and Italian immigrants began moving to the Portola (they called it the Por-da-lah), constructing greenhouses, and cultivating the sunny suburb of the city.
By the 1920s the Portola was home to dozens of family-owned nurseries, which covered upwards of 30 blocks in the neighborhood and grew produce and the great majority of flowers sold in San Francisco. For over 70 years, the neighborhood was overflowing with azaleas, carnations, orchids, roses, snapdragons, and many other flowers and crops grown for sale at the San Francisco Flower Mart. The SF Flower Mart has been recognized as one of the only grower-owned wholesale flower markets in the U.S. and as a site of inter-ethnic cooperation. No neighborhood outside of the Portola hosted such a dense concentration of commercial flower operations.
The iconic University Mound Nursery, located at 770 Woolsey Street, encompass a full city block, including 18 redwood and glass greenhouses. The greenhouses were constructed by the Garibaldi brothers, who immigrated in the early 1900s - a period when more than 20,000 of their Italian countrymen immigrated to SF and when residential settlement gradually increased in the Portola. Remarkably, while the majority of greenhouses in SF had closed by the 1960s, the Garibaldi family continued to grow roses for sale at the SF Flower Mart until 1990. For the past 25+ years, the site has sat unused. Original rose bushes continue to grow amongst the broken glass and weathered wood, their brilliant blossoms reminding neighbors of the beauty the site once held, and may again offer.
Today, the Portola is a convergence of diverse residents and natural assets located outside of the city center. Predominately a residential neighborhood of single-family homes, activity centers around its commercial spine on San Bruno Avenue. Surrounded by McLaren Park, the University Mound reservoirs, and the Alemany Farmer’s Market, Portola residents transcend cultural and lingual differences through sharing their unique communal spaces. Recently, an outpouring of green efforts is coming from the community, bringing new life into the neighborhood and reconnecting it with its past. From school garden lots, the Goettingen Community Garden, the Portola Garden Tour, new murals, the Burrows Pocket park and outreach from the Portola Neighborhood Association and the Portola Urban Greening Committee (PUG), the neighborhood is breathing life into its vibrant urban agricultural heritage. These efforts led former District 9 Supervisor, David Campos, to introduce a resolution officially naming the Portola San Francisco's Garden District in 2016.
Photos courtesy of Gerald Garibaldi and Rayna Garibaldi