Located on the western section of the Golden Gate Park, two windmills reside, which at one time served a functional purpose for the city, but now stand as regal representations of their former selves. Lacking in their past luster and respected intricate craftsmanship, the windmills are still solidified within a deep history attached to the city of San Francisco. These stately attractions were once responsible for pumping as much as 1 ½ million gallons of water on a daily basis. Today, they serve as historic gems that need a bit of polishing before shining to their highest potential.
The North (Dutch) Windmill
Situated next to the Beach Chalet, the Dutch Windmill stands tall at about 75 feet into the air. Although the windmill was originally constructed to pump water, after a round of restoration, the arms were able to move once again on the structure, but water no longer pumped through. A garden filled with thousands of tulips decorates the surrounding area of the Dutch Windmill, whose interior harbors paintings in need of serious repair. Over the years, noticeable insect and water damage has taken place, making the gallery unsuitable for visitors.
The South (Murphy) Windmill
The windmill, named after a local banker and benefactor, has suffered considerable damage from an array of natural and man-made neglect. Finally, the Murphy Windmill will receive the restoration attention it deserves. Over the years, the powerful sails (considered the longest in the world) were detached and abandoned in a rotting mess upon the ground. The wrap-around wooden deck was no more and the fantail was severed from the windmill. Soon, the antique machinery and body of the windmill will reunite with a restored, steel reinforced tower in Golden Gate Park.
The Murphy Windmill is also currently in need of dire landscaping assistance, as a dense overgrowth about the meadow makes it an unattractive, ill-groomed site. Numerous plans are in the works to reclaim the space. It is the hope of the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Windmills to create a decorative one-mile walking and bike path along a former trolley car line that will eventually provide a link between the two windmills. In the future, an assortment of educational exhibits will be created, as well as a fund to continue the care of both main attractions.
The History of the Windmills
In 1902, the Golden Gate Park saw the completion of the Dutch Windmill (also referred to the North Windmill). The design for the attraction came from a well-known San Francisco resident by the name of Alpheus Bull Jr., which took $25,000 to realize. A cottage was built for a caretaker to reside at, while he maintained the windmill and kept the local animals in the park well fed.
The North Windmill was such a success that the mayor encouraged the building of a second windmill, which was largely funded by the vice president of Hibernia Bank. Eventually, the South Windmill was constructed and it became the largest of its kind in the world. The dome was made from donated copper, while a local lumber company contributed the timber.
As time passed, the windmills were given motorized pumps since they no longer needed the wind to facilitate their function. Maintenance became a thing of the past and was eventually retired from use. It took until the mid-1960s for the daughter of the then-mayor to begin a campaign to rescue the North Windmill. In 1980, the exterior of the structure received repairs. This was also the same time that the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden was created on the neighboring grounds.
In 1993, after bringing in a windmill expert and designer, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and San Francisco Beautiful paired with one another to assess the urgency of repair to the South Windmill. It was concluded that immediate action should be taken. A reception held at the South Windmill revealed plans for the construction of a Community Center Pavilion. Friends of Recreation and Parks were able to persuade the city of San Francisco to donate $500,000 towards the restoration process. A new committee was formed and called the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills.
The campaign presented restoration plans and a call for support to the Recreation and Park Commission, which was accepted in 2001. Years of natural wear and tear, as well as visible beetle and water damage has seriously placed a damper on the appearance of the windmills. The cap of the South Windmill was removed and shipped to experts in the Netherlands in the early part of 2000, and is expected to return after being fully restored. A complete restoration of both windmills and the surrounding environment will also include a rebuilt windmill tower, pump mechanism, and sails among other items.
Things to Do
a) Take a Photo: Both windmills make an impressive snapshot, especially the South specimen, which is the largest of its kind.
b) Enjoy the Tulips: When visiting the North Windmill, the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden is quite a sight when in full bloom. The best time to visit this feature is during the months of February and March.
c) Stop By the Beach Chalet: Dining, drinking and entertainment are offered at this brewpub/restaurant, which is situated within close proximity to the North Windmill.
d) Celebrate King’s Day: Join the Bay Area Dutch community towards the end of April, as they celebrate their traditions and culture with their own version of one of the largest national festivities in the Netherlands. Have fun with old Dutch kids games, music and dance. Participate in a group bike ride. Browse items at the flea market. Sample delicious Dutch food with a swig of beer.
Address: The North and South Windmills can be found in the western section of the Golden Gate Park.
Phone: Friends of Recreation and Parks; (415) 263-0991
Admission: No charge.
Interesting Fact: The Murphy Windmill differs from traditional specimens from the Netherlands because its sails turn clockwise, rather than the typical counterclockwise motion.