Northside SF  

Publisher's Note
Two Jersey girls and a crawfish

By Susan Dyer Reynolds

After I was burglarized in February, I struggled for days just to leave the house. Feeling traumatized and violated by the experience and overwhelmed with insurance paperwork created the perfect excuse to stay in with the doors locked and the alarm on. It was awful. I was at a meeting when the burglary occurred, but my pit bull, Jasmine Blue, was home. (When people say pit bulls are vicious killers, I say if that were true I’d still have all my stuff and some dead burglars.) Having experienced the whole thing, if anyone should be traumatized, it’s Jazzy. But in typical Jazzy fashion, she was eager to get out for our almost daily ritual – a walk around Stow Lake.

Jazzy reads the Marina Times
article about the Stow Lake
boathouse, which the City wants
to turn into an upscale cafe

For anyone who hasn’t been to Stow Lake, it’s one of the City’s great treasures. The largest of Golden Gate Park’s lakes, Stow was completed in 1893. For the last 65 years, the boathouse has been leased to the McLellan family, but five years ago, Bruce McLellan was put on a month-to-month lease – never a good sign where the city is concerned. McLellan is a beloved figure, as is boathouse manager Jeff Fones. They sell snacks and drinks, including locally produced hot dogs, ice cream and pink popcorn, and rent between 200 and 300 paddle and rowboats daily (generating nearly $200,000 annually for the city). Over the years, hundreds of kids have worked their way through college at the boathouse. Couples have met at Stow Lake, gotten married there, and come back every year to celebrate with third and fourth generations. But on July 1, all that could come to an end when the sneaky Recreation & Park Commission meets and tries to slip a proposal under our noses to “modernize” (read “monetize”) Stow Lake by kicking out McLellan and offering the boathouse as an upscale cafe to the highest bidder.

Just what the City needs: another upscale cafe. Also, just a short walk away is 9th Avenue and Irving Street, both offering a plethora of food and beverage options. We ran a story about the looming changes at Stow Lake in the March issue of our sister newspaper, the Marina Times, detailing Rec & Park’s plans. The development would include more parking and the addition of lighting, which could interfere with the nesting, hunting and flight behavior of nocturnal birds such as the black crown night heron. There’s also no guarantee that the boats would remain – while the new lessee has the option of keeping them, it’s unlikely considering the hoist and storage take up prime real estate. It’s also not something just anyone can do – it takes experience and it’s hard work. I can just imagine the restaurant manager sending the wait staff out in between tables to rent out a boat ... yea, right.
While the boathouse is designated as a historic structure and can’t be altered, Nick Kinsey of the Property Management Division of Rec & Park said that he would work with the new lessee to get exemptions to install windows so patrons could look out on the lake.

As someone who goes to Stow Lake nearly every day, I wonder what will happen if the new project goes belly up; if, after the new lessee spends millions of dollars to retrofit and upgrade the boathouse, business isn’t booming. On cloudy, cold or rainy days, Jazzy and I are often among a handful of diehards taking our walk, and on those days, the boathouse closes. But with a high-rent tenant who has a lot riding on the boathouse, closing on slow days is not an option. Kinsey said all bids for fine dining would be turned down and that they are looking for a counter-service cafe with around 10 tables, but that doesn’t make any sense. If that’s all they want, why not work with McLellan by extending his lease and allowing him to help with the upgrades? McLellan has made it known he has no problem with the idea of a small cafe, but he has been reluctant (and rightly so) to make any improvements while on a month-to-month lease. Since the other cafes and restaurants in Golden Gate Park serve alcohol, it seems likely that the cafe at Stow Lake would as well since booze is where the big bucks lie, not in free-range, organic, local, sustainable, seasonal, upscale cafe food.

The commercialization of Stow Lake is just another in a bunch of bad ideas the city has for ruining everything Golden Gate Park stands for – a free oasis for locals to get away from the daily urban grind and for tourists to explore. There are plans for a soccer stadium at the west end of the park, and the board of supervisors has just passed a proposal to charge an admission fee to nonresidents who visit the Strybing Arboretum. With a budget deficit of nearly $483 million that is projected to balloon to over $785 million in the next two years, it’s no surprise the City wants to find more ways to make money off of the 13 million people who visit Golden Gate Park annually. (It is, in fact, the third most visited city park in the United States).

Three days after the burglary, after watching Jazzy’s wagging butt and wrinkled forehead of excitement, I couldn’t stand it any more and we made our way to Stow Lake. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny day as we headed up a path on the island that leads to Strawberry Hill’s panoramic views. I pulled the peanuts from my pocket to feed the squirrels, and was glad to see my favorite – a one-eyed charmer I named Popeye. As I tossed peanuts, Jazzy sat patiently at my feet watching as the squirrels scurried away with their snacks, and for the first time since the burglary, I felt at peace.

Now that it’s summer, we see the newborn ducklings and goslings, the great blue herons gracefully balancing in the treetops near their nests, and the Steller’s jays, with their neon blue Mohawks chattering away as they fly overhead. Baby turtles swim alongside the pie-billed grebes, which occasionally dive underneath and nip at their toes.

On a breezy Monday morning, we met two girls from New Jersey in the middle of the island’s path. They were hovering over something and one had a stick in her hand. As we approached, I could see a tiny crawfish in between them; he was raised up on all eight legs, trying to look big, snapping his pinchers in the air as if to say, “Back off!”

“We’re trying to save him and put him back in the watah,” one of the girls said in her thick Jersey accent as she tried to get the crawfish to grab onto the stick.

“Is that a baby lobstah?” the other asked. I explained what it was as I tried to hold curious Jazzy back from having a crawfish clamped on her nose. We finally got the angry little guy onto a big leaf and into the lake, and we watched in silence as he propelled himself out of sight in the murky water. It was one of those simple, spontaneous moments that I love at Stow Lake, but it may never have happened if the Jersey girls were slugging back beers at the boathouse.

For more information on the efforts to save the boathouse, visit The Recreation and Park Commission public meeting will be held Thursday, July 1,
from 4–5 p.m. at City Hall (1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place). You can reach the Rec & Park commissioners through commission secretary Margaret McArthur at 415-831-2750 or by e-mailing


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