Before Golden Gate Park was built there was a great debate on where the park should be located. Three choices were on the table, the current location (at that time called the "outside lands"), the presidio, and a long linear park through Hayes Valley.
Frederick Law Olmsted (renowned Landscape Architect and designer of New York's Central Park) proposed the design for Hayes Valley; he believed that this site would be the only location that could be successful because it was sheltered from the extreme conditions of the coast. Olmsted also was adamant that the City Park should not resemble the popular English style "pleasure garden" but should be planted with native and other Mediterranean style species that couls thrive in an environment with little water.
When the park's current site was chosen, William Hammond Hall, an engineer, who had regularly surveyed the San Francisco coastline, was chosen to survey and design the park. With a little mentoring from Olmsted and a lot of research, Hall began the difficult task of taming the ever changing sand dunes that dominated most of the area of Golden Gate Park. With trial and error, experimentation and the use of precedents from Europe, Hall was very close to succeeding in his task when he was forced to retire. Hall chose a qualified and extremely dedicated successor
in Scotsman John McLaren.
The discipline and dedication of William Hammond Hall and John McLaren established the foundation of this great park. Golden Gate Park continues to be one of the most visited parks in the United States and one of the largest urban parks. Roughly 3 miles long, ½ mile wide, and 1017 acres in area, Golden Gate Park is larger than many prominent parks including New York's Central Park.
William Hammond Hall
"Parks have frequently been spoken of as the lungs of cities...Primarily, they are intended to provide the best practicable means for healthful recreation for people of all classes, and the influence which they thus exert upon society can scarcely be overestimated. With drives and rides for the rich, and pleasant rambles for the poor; quiet retreats for those who would be to themselves and thronged promenades for the gaily disposed..."
—William Hammond Hall
Although the development of a large urban park on the west side of San Francisco was the idea of Hall, longevity alone would point to John McLaren's importance in the history of Golden Gate Park. McLaren continued the mission of Hall and perfected the techniques of sand dune remediation, silviculture and plant species selection. He created a fluid transition from he more "passive" forested west end of the park to the
more "active" east end.