Artificial turf surfaces replaced the former grassy—but more often than not muddy—ball fields at the Minnie and Lovie Ward recreation center in September as the city reopened the park after a year of construction.
What a turnaround it has been for what had become some of the most crime-ridden corners of the Ingleside. The park bearing the name of the Ward family patrons was at one time a drug peddlers’ den, and because of the Ward’s work organizing the community to advocate, it has now collected over $10 million in renovations since 2008.
A new artificial ball field surface is one of the final pieces to the Minnie and Lovie Ward rec center rebuild that started nearly a decade ago. First there was the new rec center itself, completed in 2008. Now, the $7 million ball fields are in, and there’s a planned mural painting to append the finishing touches to the sprawling hillside complex.
Ward Family Organizing Legacy Continues
Minnie and Lovie Ward lived just a few doors down from the park, and when they founded a neighborhood watch group in the mid 1980s, even they may have not foreseen what they really started.
The watch group morphed into the Oceanview-Merced Heights-Ingleside Neighbors in Action, and it survives to this day. Mary Harris, OMI-NIA president, was at the reopening of the new ball fields, and she was quick to remember the Wards in her brief remarks.
“I remember Lovie barbecuing for the whole neighborhood right over there,” Harris said, pointing to the former BBQ pit near the wall below the rec center. When Harris joined the group 20 years ago, its membership was completely African American, and now many of them have passed or moved out of the city completely.
Kesha Ward, Minnie and Lovie’s granddaughter, was a teenager when her elders began organizing in earnest. “We knew some of the people they were calling the cops on,” Ward said as she recalled the drug dealing and gang turf wars that pockmarked the neighborhood in the 80s and 90s.
The Ward family was not to be deterred, and their own home famously became a target once they became a force for good. Even after the house was shot up one night in 1991—the front window had been completely shattered – Minnie and Lovie did not relent, and shootings and drug dealing have drastically gone down around the park.
There is still crime, of course. This is still a major urban area. But the OMI-NIA group now focuses on elections and neighborhood improvement as much as it does on crime.
Turf Field Controversy
San Franciscans know how long it takes to get things done at City Hall, and as seems to be the tenor these days, the new turf fields came via a huge influx of cash not from the city’s coffers.
City Fields Foundation, a project of the Fisher family of the famous Gap Inc. , has been pushing for new fields around town since its founding in 2006. The Fishers are one of the most well known and connected families in the entire region, and Don and Doris Fisher even started the first Gap clothing store on Ocean Avenue.
Now City Fields is busy kicking in cash for turf fields at the western end of Golden Gate Park. Minnie and Lovie Ward rec center’s fields are the latest example of their work, but the Crocker Park fields that reopened six years ago almost to the day the Ward fields opened were also helped along by City Fields.
Unlike its previous two projects, the so called Beach Chalet fields in Golden Gate Park have not sailed through the approval process. Opponents of the project have succeeded in delaying it for the past few years, and now there are two competing ballot measures going before voters in November.
This being election season, Mayor Ed Lee did not miss his chance to attend the Ward rec center fields reopening to stump for his ballot measure. Opponents of the Beach Chalet fields forced their issue in front of voter via ballot initiative, and the mayor responded with his own measure to combat it.
Measure C is the mayor’s proposal, and its opposite is measure is H, “Requiring Certain Golden Gate Park Athletic Fields To Be Kept As Grass With No Artificial Lighting.”
Though Minnie and Lovie Ward passed in 2008 and 2003, respectively, several of their children and grandchildren were at the ball field reopening. Their blessing of the new field was a not simply a matter of decorum.
The Wards have helped repair a gash in the psyche of a wounded neighborhood, and the rec center and fields now stand as the symbol for all they have worked for and sacrificed.