The John McLaren statue was found and installed after his death in 1943.
At 1,017 acres, Golden Gate Park is one of the largest public parks in the world – and it wouldn’t be here today without John McLaren.
McLaren was a Scottish horticulturist who served as Golden Gate Park’s superintendent for 53 years. He was quite particular about the park’s design and function, saying “There will be no ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs.” He designed the park to have a natural look, and strongly disliked statues, which he called “stookies.”
Well aware of the political arguments that would ensue if he refused to install statues of war veterans and other public figures, McLaren simply hid most of them from view with strategically placed trees and shrubbery.
On McLaren’s 65th birthday, a friend presented him with a life-sized statue of himself, perhaps as a snide joke. Highly displeased, he hid it away under blankets in the park’s stables. The statue wasn’t discovered until after his death in 1943, at which point it was placed in the John McLaren Memorial Rhododendron Dell.
[Image Source: Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
John McLaren’s statue is the park’s only one not mounted on a pedestal, to symbolize his closeness with nature. He holds a pine cone in his hand, to represent the 2 million trees he planted over his lifetime.
McLaren was said to be an aggressive superintendent and a difficult boss, as his love for nature took precedent over all other things. When the police chief requested to remove an oak tree that he thought was going to collapse onto the station, McLaren told him, “I’ll remove the tree if you remove the station.”
Nonetheless, McLaren was so respected that the city of San Francisco honored him with lifetime tenure over the park, and doubled his salary. He was also given an honorary doctorate by UC Berkeley, and he has several streets, parks, and meadows in the Bay Area named after him.
John McLaren dedicated his life to creating and maintaining Golden Gate Park, and SF residents are lucky to find refuge in this beautiful green space.
Find the McLaren’s statue in the John McLaren Memorial Rhododendron Dell in Golden Gate Park.
[Featured Image: Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]