A half block from home is a perfect pocket park called Woh Hei Yuen, "Garden of Peace & Joy." It is a new space, the former Cathay Mortuary at John Alley and Powell Street just a decade and a half old. Only now is it grown in and establishing its routine and place in the district. That newness is, for me, most refreshing.
Other squares, alleys, and lanes around Chinatown have their denizens and traditional routines that go back decades. This flank of Nob Hill, though, is a sort of student ghetto for the nearby art schools as well as more desirable housing stock for aspiring Chinatown residents. The small streets here have also been home to many Latin Americans since the days of the Barbary Coast. A nearby cathedral once dedicated to The Virgin of Guadalupe now sits empty but street names like Valparaiso speak of Chileans mixing it up here in this inclining borderland. Nearby Spofford Alley, a storied place home briefly to Chiang Kai-Shek, was once also called Spanish Alley. Mexicans working North Beach restaurants live here too.
Today, the hard-won efforts to create this Garden of Peace & Joy, perfectly resolve the jagged puzzle connecting Nob Hill with North Beach and Chinatown. For those who live nearby, it is a semi-secret garden in the thick of our City.
I like to read here. It's sheltered from wind, open to the sun as well as nicely shaded; peaceful, unhurried.
What more in a local park could a person want: proximity, beautiful foliage, sheltered picnic tables, Chinese lions guarding the entrance (which must be what keeps the riffraff away, at least for now), a gazebo, fine tile work, a nautical-themed playground, great boulders that on closer inspection reveal massive distorted heads, and a classical dry riverine landscape and small bridge. I am smitten with it and thank my lucky stars that it is, in essence, my back yard.