Press

Saturday, August 16, 2003 (SF Chronicle) Grant helps S.F. revive abandoned park windmill/Coastal Conservancy gives $750,000 for tower Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer

The old Murphy windmill at Golden Gate Park isn't much to look at. Its concrete walls are chipped and faded, its windows covered with plywood and its lawn overgrown with weeds.

But its derelict appearance belies a flurry of activity on two continents as craftsmen lovingly restore the San Francisco windmill that helped create an urban oasis almost a century ago.

Their efforts received a huge boost Friday when the California Coastal Conservancy announced that it had awarded a $750,000 grant to help refurbish the tower that will hold the windmill's elaborate gears and mighty sails aloft.
"The Golden Gate windmills are spectacular structures whose historical significance extends far beyond San Francisco," Larry Goldzband, vice-chairman of the conservancy, said in a statement. "Towering above the surrounding landscape, they are unique and delightful elements of California's coastal heritage."

The Murphy windmill is one of two that overlook Ocean Beach and pumped the water that turned a vast expanse of sand into Golden Gate Park. Also known as the south windmill, it was named for Samuel Murphy, who was vice president of Hibernia Bank and financed its construction with a $20,000 gift to the city.
The north windmill is known as the Dutch windmill in honor of Queen Wilhelmina, who ruled the Netherlands from 1890 to 1948. The beautiful garden that surrounds the windmill is named for her.

Wind powered the two windmills when they opened in 1905, but that didn't last long. Eager to boost efficiency, the city decided in 1913 to power them with electricity -- a move that ultimately hastened their deterioration.

Over the years, the pounding wind, damp fog and salty air conspired to erode the Murphy's wooden dome and four sails, each a whopping 114 feet long. It got so bad that the city shut the Murphy windmill down 50 years ago and removed the sails, leaving the rest to rot and rust.

Before long, the Murphy windmill was forgotten by all but the birds that roosted in its dome. It's twin, the Dutch windmill, kept turning and even got a cosmetic fix-up and hydraulic motor in the 1980s, but it too has fallen into disrepair.
Eager to restore the graceful behemoths to their former glory, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department set out three years ago to rebuild them.
The budget for the project is about $6.5 million, with $3.5 million dedicated to the Murphy windmill.

After the requisite meetings and studies and surveys, the work began in earnest in June 2002 when crews gingerly removed the Murphy' dome and nearly 40 tons of antique machinery.

Everything was sorted and cataloged so it could be reassembled. Then its iron gears and cogs and shafts were shipped last fall to the Netherlands to be restored by Lukas Verbij, a fourth-generation windmill designer.
Verbij has sandblasted and refinished the pieces and begun reassembling them, said Paula March, who coordinates the fund-raising campaign for Friends of Recreation and Parks.

With work progressing quickly on the windmill's mechanical parts, attention has shifted to the tower that supports them, March said."Our great priority right now is to get the (Murphy) windmill tower rebuilt, " she said. "We expect the mechanism and the fan sails to be shipped back in a year so we can have it operating."

The Coastal Conservancy's grant will help finance restoration of the tower, landscaping the area around the Murphy and Dutch windmills and installation of historical and educational materials, she said.

With any luck, the Murphy windmill will be spinning by this time next year, once again pumping the water that helps keep Golden Gate Park green, she said.

E-mail Chuck Squatriglia at csquatriglia@sfchronicle.com. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
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