November 2001

Type: Brooks Park is a Municipal Hillside Park and SNRA. Merced Heights Rock (so named by this author) is not a park but is nonetheless also mentioned in SNRA litterature.
Entrance Location: For Brooks Park, street park on Shields St at Ramsell St. For Merced Heights Rock, street park at the east end of Shields St. From Junipero Serra Blvd, access via Holloway Ave. Be prepared for a steep hill area.
Facilities: Brooks: Picnic table with an unusually elaborate bbq platform. Small playground.
Fee-Hours: No fee. Night curfew is posted.
Dogs: Fair. Not much for dogs to do in this small park. No sizeable flat areas.

The combination of these two events so close to each other is a strangely provocative and unique contribution to the city which is little known outside of the immediate neighborhood. The streets rising up to this pinnacle at about 600' are steep and residential. It is one place where city development has almost completely overtaken a hill; streets just barely falling short of meeting each other at the very summit around and outcropping of rock [Merced Heights Rock]. Brooks Park is developed three short blocks farther down at about 500' where it looks west and south towards Lake Merced and the ocean. It is easy to imagine that this was a very special spot before there was a city here. Today Merced Heights Rock is still special for its phenomenal true 360 degree panorama with a long view from any angle while standing in a single spot. That precise situation is not repeated anywhere else on land in the city, believe it or not.

Brooks Park is an interesting SNRA with a very interesting history that is a must read.* Established in 1978, it is one of the most recent parks in the city. Time has transformed it from an Ohlone special (if not sacred) natural spot to a notorious residence to a drug dealing/gang park, and finally through heroic community effort to a friendly park in this dramatic location. It still seems yet to have some rising to do from the ashes of its recent past, but it is well on its way. It is characterized by native plantings, a uniquely elaborate bbq setup (for a public park), a semi-protected cypress environment at the park summit, and a steep hillside which plummets down to neighboring school grounds. My visitation brought me to an empty park, a park which seems to be 'cooling off' after its volcanic past, a past which I had no idea of at the time. It is an ideal park for a moderate picnic gathering on a warm day for there is relatively little wind under the partial protection of cypress trees. This is exactly the kind of thing that the park has been redesigned to accommodate and it would make a nice statement to use it that way from outside the neighborhood. The park also hosts a free Tai Chi class on Saturdays. The view from here is nice, but does not come close to the view from nearby Merced Heights Rock (that is not an official name). It seems that more attention should be invested in the replanting effort to really push this park to the next level. Some of the plants seem on the brink, obviously planted and trying desperately to become established in this windy area. It is somewhere between naturalistic and a garden. What it needs are some large rocks and a bit of japanese sensibility. There are however, bold new garden plans which should be realized by March 2002. There are remnants of some curiously archaic stone walls near the top. These stone walls are authentic remnants from the Mrs. Brooks homestead which occupied this site between 1932 and 1978. 

The park feels vulnerable to a relapse into some version of its previous state because usage of the park is still so low. This, however, is exactly the kind of park which becomes twice as inspirational once the history is known. It is a profound example of positive community involvement which has radically changed the face of this special spot.

"Merced Heights Rock" is the most elating spot here due to the incredible view and its fugitive, undiscovered feeling. It is so small that the only way to have it is all to oneself. This is often likely during the week. Merced Heights Rock does not appear on maps, and is considered for this project as one of the special finds of San Francisco.

Best Features: True 360 degree 600' long view from Merced Heghts Rock. Interesting view of Lake Merced, SF State University, and the ocean. Special bbq facility at Brooks Park.

Worst Features: Proximity to school. Difficult to get to. Some broken glass at Merced Heights Rock.

For more onthe history of Brooks Park, visit: