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Cayuga Park sculptures © Orin Zebest/Flickr
Cayuga Park sculptures © Orin Zebest/Flickr
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Forage Among The Folk Sculptures At SF’s Cayuga Park

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 9 February 2017
Next to Interstate 280 and beneath a looming overpass of BART tracks sits one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets: Cayuga Park. It may be isolated in the Outer Mission, one of the city’s most industrial neighborhoods, but this park’s unique aesthetic is well worth the trip over. Stop by to enjoy a day of secluded family fun.
Welcome To Cayuga Foliage
Welcome to Cayuga | © Orin Zebest/Flickr

Cayuga Park was not always such a family-friendly spot. Once upon a time, it was the type of poorly lit hub for illegal activity that would inspire locals to take the long way home just to avoid it. Barbara Fugate, former president of the Cayuga Improvement Association, tells SF Gate: ‘This was a park you didn’t come to without a group of friends or two big dogs. It was scary.’

Bushy-Haired in Bushes
Bushy-haired in the bushes | © Orin Zebest/Flickr

Along came Demetrio Braceros, a gardener for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, who was assigned to work on the park in 1986 and asked to ‘change the atmosphere.’ Braceros told an interviewer for, ‘There were prostitutes, drug dealers and crime. People got killed up there…I thought to myself, how can I help this place?’ Later, he claimed, ‘It challenged me. My duty is to make it beautiful.’

Demetrio Braceros carving | © Arnoldnoe/Wiki Commons

True to his word, Braceros spent over 20 years working on the park, transforming it from a barren pitstop for the homeless to a gorgeous community playground with thriving plant life. What makes the park most unique, though, is the artwork Braceros contributed to it. Throughout his years of service to the park, Braceros created over 375 folk sculptures that now decorate every nook of the park. These sculptures include small figurines, totem poles, life-sized statues, and even observation decks, most of which were carved from scrap wood collected from the park itself.

Blindfolded Queen
Blindfolded Queen | © Orin Zebest/Flickr

According to Chris Dillon, another former Cayuga Improvement Association president, as the park evolved, so did the neighborhood. ‘It changed our whole neighborhood; it was a ripple effect. We weren’t an open community, but now we are.’

After Braceros’s retirement in 2008, the park began to fall into disrepair. It closed down in December 2011, undergoing a major renovation before reopening in March 2014. Many of Braceros’s sculptures were given new protective coatings in the process, and some of them were moved to be displayed in the park’s clubhouses.

Lain With Animal Friends
Lain with animal friends | © Orin Zebest/Flickr

Today, visitors can enjoy the park’s many features, including themed gardens, hiking trails, a basketball court, a playground, a tennis court, a baseball diamond, a section of multipurpose turf, and a clubhouse. Come spend a day exploring everything the park has to offer under the watchful eye of folk sculptures peeking out from all around.

Cayuga Park, San Francisco, CA, USA

Rec & Park Stump Fort
SF Rec & Park | © Orin Zebest/Flickr