Author Archives: Elizabeth Weise

Crags Court Community Garden: A hidden gem in Glen Park

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By Murray Schneider

The Crags Court Community Garden may be the best kept secret in Bay Area urban gardening.

Perched high above the floor of Glen Canyon, the terraced garden boasts 18 garden beds served by 25 gardeners who grow winter crops such as lettuce, kale, spinach, beans, beets, chard, celery, red potatoes and carrots.

Ornamental dahlias, as well. Throw in honeybee hives, and you’ll gain a hideaway, lodged between Glen Park and Diamond Heights that, for a few yards, runs parallel to the rim of Glen Canyon.

2“The best way to access us is from the bottom of the canyon,” said Mary Devereaux, a retired City College bi-lingual teacher and Crags Court gardener.

Forgo arriving by automobile. Instead, take the freshly graded Glen Canyon Coyote Crags Trail. Only a short distance from the renovated Recreation Center, make a dog leg up the canyon’s eastern slope. Silver Tree Day camp shadows you and Islais Creek willow bends below you. Silhouetted dogwood and elderberry bookend the leaning willow. Pleasant paths and box steps ease you along your way. A sign indicating Crags Court guides you. Search for a barn owl box mounted on a Monterey pine. When you see it you’ll know your getting close. A few more steps and you’ll reach your destination.

Once there, visitors will experience — as a plaque dedicated to the garden’s founder, the late Loretta Starves Stack says  — “beauty, joy and relaxation.”

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Leslie Moxley picking dahlias at crest of CCCG.

On an anomalous warm Wednesday afternoon in June, Mary Devereaux sat among the garden’s ripe lemons, apples and perfumed herbs.

“We’re open to the public during daylight hours,” Devereaux said.

With the imprimatur of the Recreation and Park Department, which supplies its water and assisted in the construction of state-of-the-art garden beds, the CCCG was the inspiration of Glenridge resident, Loretta Starvus Stack.

Today the CCCG is surrounded by 1970s-style houses, canopied by pines, some succumbing to pitch canker.

“The ground wasn’t stable enough to build upon,” volunteered Leslie Moxley, who, like Devereaux, is a long time CCCG gardener.

PlaqueBoth Devereaux and Moxley reclined on garden chairs, reminiscing about what they’d accomplished over two decades. They looked across the canyon at a riparian corridor plush with wax myrtle and red alder. To their north Sutro Tower peeked beneath ballooning clouds. As evidence of the instability of the ground, a chair listed downhill, tilting at a 15-degree angle.

While Moxley lives in the neighborhood and Devereaux resides in Noe Valley, the garden, one of 35 such City odes to greenery, is available to anyone in the San Francisco, as it falls under the rubric of Rec and Park regulations.

“The City is invested in community gardens,” said Devereaux, who has been turning her green thumb to raising spinach, garlic, onions, peas and zucchini since 1996. “The City mandates that we provide an organic garden and use no harmful pesticides.”

4The garden beds are positioned in rank and file order, which allow gardeners to easily wheelbarrow mulch and remove debris. The beds are raised so that gardeners don’t have to kneel. Three 50-foot hoses are spaced throughout the garden, which hugs the Crags Court cul-du-sac. While it doesn’t have a locked gate, the garden does offer a wooden fence. Navigating the court’s turn around several years ago, a driver plowed into it.

“The City came out and repaired it,” said Moxley, who has been gardening here since 1999.

Devereaux and Moxley have assumed the mantle of the community garden leadership, taking on the roles of Garden Secretary and Garden Coordinator respectively. Devereaux piles up four days a week, probably logging in 15-to-16 hours while Moxley calendars three days a week, clocking in at 10 hours.

It’s not just in the service of their own garden plots.

“There are common areas and each needs tending such as trellises that require trimming,” said Moxley. “The hillside has to be weeded, as do the areas adjacent to the street fence.”

CCCG gardeners are expected to participate in three work days a year, which can include picking up debris, weeding, mulching and pruning in communal space.

The common areas boast fragrant sunflowers, which play host to pollinating bees, as well as blueberries, apples and Meyer lemons awaiting picking.

“We even grow pumpkin plants,” said Devereaux. “During each fall harvest we give pumpkins to children.”

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Mary Davereaux inspecting CCCG vegetables.

Kids aren’t strangers to the garden, and not just neighborhood children who wander through.

“Children from Glenridge Nursery School have climbed the trail for years,” said Devereaux, about the Glen Canyon Co-op pre-school kids who troop up hill behind their teachers and parents. “The kids begin to learn how to garden, to love the hoses and enjoy getting muddy.”

“We have a short waiting list of 30 gardeners now,” said Moxley. “It’s foggy and windy this high and isn’t optimum for summer crops such as tomatoes, corn and cucumbers.”

Working within the parameters of City policies, Moxley oversees the waiting list.

“Perspective gardeners can sign up on the Rec and Park website,” she explained

Candidates eventually are routed to Moxley, and she shows no preference to neighborhood applicants. But putting up annual fruits, flowers and vegetables require commitment and propinquity is a factor, as applicants are expected to work year round, keeping their plot and surrounding paths free of weeds.

“Each gardener pays $35 a year for which they share garden tools, water and access to our shed,” she said. “They sign a contract that commits each to three days a year of common area work time, a commitment to compost, remove garbage and plant no invasive species.”

“I’m the oldest gardener,” said Devereaux, who grows poppies, roses and daffodils in addition to her veggies. “With the canyon right here, I love the wildness of this place.”

The garden is prolific, gifting a bounty of fruits and vegetables.

“We grow more then we can use and occasionally donate lettuce, kale and zucchini to the Martin de Porres House of Hospitality,” said Mary Devereaux, about a Potrero Avenue soup kitchen that serves daily breakfast and lunch during the week.

As the afternoon sun began descending, Devereaux and Moxley surveyed eucalyptus duff, thistle, radish and lavender embroidered in a quilt of greenery stitching its way down the incline from the canyon’s crest. Above them a red-tailed hawk circled for rodents, possibly gophers that play havoc with the women’s garden beds. Below them the chatter of Silver Tree children mingled with the melodies of songbirds sequestered among California oak branches.

“This place gives me such a sense of peace, so far away from the insanity on the other side of the fence,” said Moxley.

Atop the ridge, honeybees choreographed entrances and exits to and from a hive adjacent to a Crags Court house. A single bee colony requires one acre of forage, biologists believe.

The synergy between the garden and the canyon below provide radish, dandelions and mustard habitat.

“It’s a gift to be able to share this garden, if for only five minutes, with people and with families” said Leslie Moxley.

If they cultivate it, Mary Devereaux and Leslie Moxley believe, people will come.

If you do, though, meander through 70-acre Glen Canyon, then top a hill.

There, time stands still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bruce Bonacker passed away on August 3, 2017

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Bruce Bonacker

By Michael Rice, past president, Glen Park Association

Bruce Bonacker, architect, community activist, historic preservation advocate, and long-time Glen Park resident, passed away on August 3, 2017, at age 69. Bruce had been in treatment for over a year for a rare form of cancer, but he was engaged in Glen Park Association work, in his usual insightful and vigorous way, until about a month ago, when I last spoke with him.

Bruce is survived by his sisters Jeanne Baum and Elizabeth Stevens, both in the Albany, New York area, as well as his four nephews and nieces and numerous grand-nephews and grand-nieces. His sisters were with him in San Francisco when he passed away.

I had the pleasure of working with Bruce on many Glen Park planning, housing, and historic resource issues. Bruce, in fact is one of the main reasons I became active in the Glen Park Association, about 15 years ago, when we debated different sides of a local issue. We served together on the GPA board all the way up to 2017. As I wrote in an interview with Bruce in the December 2016 Glen Park News:

“Bruce and I have sometimes disagreed on issues and strategies, but his opinions and counsel have been a big contribution to the Glen Park Association for many years. He twice served as GPA president, and is currently on the GPA Zoning and Planning Committee, and the Glen Park Greenway committee.”

[Please see this story for more about Bruce.

Bruce grew up in the Albany, NY area, completed an architecture degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, then served in VISTA, aiding migrant agricultural workers in upstate New York to develop their own homes.

He moved to San Francisco in the late 70’s, and came to Glen Park in 1980, buying a home on Van Buren Street. Along with his GPA efforts, I am still compiling a list of Bruce’s other committees and organizations he helped in San Francisco.

Bruce was a long-time board member, with a stint as president, of San Francisco Heritage, the architectural preservation organization. Donations in his memory can be made to San Francisco Heritage.

A memorial service is planned for later.

 

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Noted peace activist and Sunnyside resident Charles Liteky’s life remembered

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Fr. Charles Liteky receiving the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 19, 1968.

By Dwight Smith

Sunnyside resident Charles Liteky, a decorated war hero, former Catholic priest and later an outspoken and honored peace activist, died on January 20. However, a significant memorial date for Liteky could be September 1 because it was on that date in 1986 that he renounced his medal of honor and the pension that accompanied the medal.

Liteky was born in 1931 in Washington D.C. An all-around athlete in high school, he became a Catholic priest after two years of collegiate sports.  He volunteered to be an Army chaplain as the Vietnam war ramped up during the mid-1960’s. At the time the 35-year-old priest didn’t have a problem with the war. He thought it was justified because the North Vietnamese were aggressors against the South.

Liteky wasn’t against using a weapon either, and on the day of the fierce battle that would win him the highest and most prestigious personal military decoration awarded to U.S. military service members who distinguished themselves by acts of valor he thought about picking up the gun of a fallen soldier but thought, “this would be a hell of way for a priest to die.”

In 1968, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson because he had risked his life to save the lives of nine members of his platoon in the midst of a fierce battle with bullets spraying all around him.

That medal would loom large in Liteky’s story because twenty years later he wrote a letter to President Reagan stating his reasons for renouncing the medal, which he left at the Vietnam Memorial wall, the monument that lists the names of the 58,000 dead soldiers on it not far from the Capitol and White House.

Over the years Liteky had become a fierce advocate against war, starting with his unease with the Vietnam war as it was winding down in the early 1970’s. He had been urged by a Columbia professor of sociology to question the “assumptions of his subculture” even as he was giving a talk in the class to defend the war to the students.  That challenge bothered him and he began to question his assumptions about war.

In the time between the winning and the renunciation of the medal, he left the priesthood, moved to San Francisco and married a former nun, Judy Balach, in 1986. She was involved through her church in a fledgling sanctuary movement for people fleeing the atrocities in Central America.

Having a strong sense of justice and curiosity, Liteky visited El Salvador with a delegation of peace activists to see the situation for himself. Before and after this trip he researched the history of the region and the current conflict and was horrified at what he found.

The U.S. government at the time was supporting and implementing a brutal policy which was resulting in torture, kidnapping, murder of innocent peasant farmers, students and others including priests who were working in these villages. Sickened by this policy, Liteky came to the decision that one way of protesting the policy was to renounce his Medal of Honor.

According to the New York Times, Liteky was the only one of the award’s almost 3,500 recipients since the Civil War to return it in a demonstration of political dissent.

By this time, he was a member of a group called Vietnam Veterans Against The War. These friends decided to engage in high profile activism against the policy in Central America. He and four other veterans began a 47-day hunger strike on the steps the steps of U.S Capitol on September 1, 1986. They subsisted on only water for 47 days until one of them nearly died and they ended their fast.

“We were a group of friends that held the same values” David Hartsough said of his friend Charlie and other peace activists, who (including other war veterans) put their lives on the line to protest war.  On September 1, 1987, coordinated protests held on both coasts resulted in one near death as a munitions train ran over protesters at the Naval depot in Concord, California.

Liteky continued to engage in activism, participating in a hunger fast that began on September 1, 1990 at the School of The Americas in Fort Benning GA. This school was the training ground for the police and military personnel in Central America and South America. It had been documented as a training site for some who perpetrated atrocities in Latin America.

Liteky decided to engage in this action after he discovered that 19 out of 25 of the Salvadoran military who had killed eight people, including six Jesuit priests and professors at the University in San Salvador on November 16, 1989, were trained at this school. He was sentenced to six months in federal prison in 1990 for protesting at the school, which included squirting blood on portraits there. In 2000 he was sentenced to one year in federal prison for a similar protest.

When he was 72, Liteky travelled to the Iraq just as the war was launched in 2003.

He lived out the last decade of his life partially in Sunnyside, where he walked his little dog around the neighborhood and wrote his memoirs. He died January 20, 2017 on Inauguration Day.

His friend David Hartsough chuckled and said, “It was like he said, ‘That’s it I’m out of here.’”

Liteky’s wife died in 2016 and no immediate family members survived the couple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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