GOLDEN GATE PARK
Windmills taking a turn for the better
Nonprofit group adopts long-neglected landmarks
Kathleen Sullivan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005
Over the last few decades, the Murphy Windmill has suffered many indignities.
Its mighty sailsthe longest in the worldwere removed and left to rot on the ground.
Its wrap-around wooden deck, where the miller monitored the wind, was lopped off.
Its fantail, which turned its 55-ton dome into the ocean winds, was cut away.
To say nothing of the pigeons that set up a smelly roost inside.
But the days of disdain and neglect are coming to an end for the windmill, which stands in the southwest corner of Golden Gate Park near Ocean Beach.
The windmill, which was named after its original benefactor, a local banker named Samuel G. Murphy, has attracted a new generation of patrons, who have formed a nonprofit group devoted to restoring the six-story giant.
The windmill would have been lost forever if we hadnt stepped in, said Don Propstra, chairman of the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills. It was on its very last rotting legs.
If all goes well, the wind will turn the sails of the Murphy Windmill in the spring of 2006.
In the last five years, the nonprofit group, whose members include individuals, nonprofit groups, public agencies and businesses, has:
raised $4.3 millionof the $6.4 million it needsfrom public and private sources. Donations ranged from $10 to $1 million, including $500,000 in funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
shipped the windmills antique machinerymain shaft, brake wheel, gears, fantail and sailsto a Dutch company that has been designing and building windmills since 1868;
removed its three-story wooden tower and put its vintage timbers into storage;
assembled a 32-member steering committee, whose ranks include the consul general of the Netherlands, a wind energy expert, landscape architect, museum educator and travel writer.
Today, all that remains of the windmill on the site is its two-story concrete base. During the restoration, it will be reinforced with steel to strengthen the buildings ability to withstand earthquakes.
Its deep-set windows, which will also be restored, have been sealed.
Mark de Jong, a 43-year-old Dutch contractor whose speciality in Holland was historic restoration, lives only a couple blocks away from the windmill with his American wife and three children.
The first time I saw the windmill, I thought: Wow, that needs work, recalled de Jong, who emigrated in 1994.
De Jong, who comes from the land of 1,000 windmills, was impressed by the size of the building.
In Holland, windmills are about half that size, de Jong said during a recent interview at the building, which is surrounded by a field of weeds and enclosed in a chain link fence.
But this is America, he added with a laugh.
De Jong, who sold his construction company to his brother when he left for America, will build a new, three-story wooden tower for the windmill.
It will be clad in slate shingles, just like the original.
One of de Jongs challenges is finding replacement timbers for four of the windmills eight vertical corner posts, 50-foot-long beams now stored in a large metal shed next to the building.
The massive timbersmeasuring 12 inches by 12 incheswere milled from Douglas fir trees that had been standing for hundreds of years before they were felled.
They hardly had any cracks or knots, he said. That will be the problemto get that nice of a piece of wood today. It may take a while to get it, because its not readily available.
De Jong said it will take about six months to restore the concrete base and build the tower.
If we get lucky, well get started building the tower in the fall, he said. That all depends on the funding.
The city, which has given the Campaign to the Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills $1 million$500,000 in 2000 and $500,00 in 2002earmarked $600,000 for the project late last year.
John Murray, a member of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission, said the $600,000 will help the city compete for a dollar-for-dollar matching grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment.
The city hopes to submit a grant during the endowments next funding cycle this summer.
The city also plans to apply for a $1 million grant from Save Americas Treasures, a public-private partnership whose grants are administered by the National Park Service.
The windmill began pumping water in 1908, three years after Murphy donated $20,000 to the city for the building.
It was the second windmill erected in the park, joining the Dutch Windmill, which was built in 1902 in the northwest corner.
Together, the two windmills pumped 70,000 gallons of water an hour into the irrigation system that helped create the park out of a vast expanse of rolling sand dunes.
On the lintel over the entrance, an inscription carved in pale polished granite commemorates his generosity: Gift of Samuel G. Murphy, May 1905.
Murray said the restored windmill will provide a unique attraction for visitors, who will be able to watch from near and far as its 114-foot long sails once again turn in the wind.
A year ago, Lucas Verbij, who is restoring the windmills machinery in the Netherlands, released the brake and set the sails spinning on a windmill his company had refurbished in a forest preserve in northeast Illinois.
When the sails started turning, many, many people passing by were waving to us and honking their horns, he recalled. Those sails hadnt turned for 40 or 50 years. Everybody is happy you fixed it and its turning again. That will happen again in San Francisco, Im absolutely sure.
Verbij said the windmill is uniquein its design, construction, dimensions. Unlike windmills in the Netherlands, whose sails turn counterclockwise, the Murphy Windmills sails turn clockwise.
Verbij, whose family has been building windmills for four generations, said little had survived of the windmills original fantail, which was made of a soft wood that lasted only about 20 years under the continual onslaught of salt air and sea winds.
Verbij relied on historic drawings and on parts found on the ground around the building to design a new fantail, which will be made of steel, red cedar and ironwood, a long-lasting hardwood.
He said his work will be done in two to three months. His crew will assemble the machinery and store it in his factory south of Amsterdam until the new tower is ready in San Francisco. It will be taken apart for shipment in containers.
A San Francisco company will build a new copper cap for the windmill.
As soon as you see the windmill with its canvas sails turning fast, people will be so fascinated that someone could design and build such a structure 100 years ago, and that it is possible to let it turn again, Verbij said. Its like an old big sail ship that crossed the ocean.
As the groups name suggests, the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Windmills also has taken the Dutch Windmill under its wing.
The Dutch Windmill, which was restored in 1981, the same year it was designated a San Francisco Landmark, stands next to a lush, well-tended tulip garden and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It needs about $250,000 worth of work to fix its damaged sails.
The Murphy Windmill, as well as the adjacent millwrights house, joined the landmarks list in 2000.
The campaign also plans to landscape the grounds of the Murphy Windmill; create a landscaped walking and bicycle path along an old trolley car line to link the two windmills; offer educational exhibits inside the millwrights house; and establish an endowment to care for both windmills.
The campaigns Propstra, a Dutch American who has taken each of his three childrentwo sons and a daughteron trips to visit Verbijs factory, describes windmills as big, magical machines.
He looks forward to the day when everyone can experience the wonder of standing next to a windmill when the sails catch the ocean wind.
Its like it comes alive, he said. Theres a music that you hear. They sort of go whirr in the wind. They dont whistle, but go whirr. You feel this energy come off of them, sort of like breathing. Its really quite a thrill.
How to help
For more information on the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills, see
www.goldengateparkwindmills.org, or call Paula March, (415) 668-0763, or e-mail her at
Email the Author, Kathleen Sullivan, at
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Original San Francisco Chronicle Article on SF Gate