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.’
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 Conversations.org, ‘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.’
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.
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.
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.