Mostly hidden in the southern edge of the city, the Portola has a unique history of growing flowers and produce for San Francisco markets. The District's identity as a “green” neighborhood began nearly a century ago.
Originally, the Portola (we say Por-da-lah) District was populated by the native people of the Ohlone tribe. In the early 1900s however, Jewish, and then Maltese and Italian immigrants began moving to the area and constructing greenhouses and cultivating the sunny suburb of the city. In the 1920s the Portola was home to 19 family-owned nurseries, and the neighborhood grew produce and the great majority of flowers sold in San Francisco. For 70 years, horticultural activity characterized the Portola District, which was once known to many as “San Francisco’s Garden.”
The iconic University Mound Greenhouses were built by the Garibaldi brothers in the Portola District of San Francisco in 1922. The Garibaldi family produced 7 varieties of roses as well as Snapdragons, Maidenhair, Dahlias (the City's flower), French Marigolds, and Delphiniums for sale in San Francisco and beyond. The eighteen glass and wood greenhouses operated until the early 1990's and were the last privately owned, actively producing commercial greenhouses in the city. For the past twenty years, they have grown wild with roses (and increasingly with blackberries). They are a symbol of the neighborhood's rich history and of its future promise.
Today, the neighborhood is a convergence of diverse residents and natural assets located outside of the city center. Predominately a residential neighborhood of single-family homes, activity centers around its commercial spine on San Bruno Avenue. Surrounded by McLaren Park, the University Mound reservoirs, and the Alemany Farmer’s Market, Portola residents transcend cultural and lingual differences through sharing their unique communal spaces. Recently, an outpouring of green efforts is coming from the community, bringing new life into the neighborhood and reconnecting it with its past. From school garden lots, the Goettingen Community Garden, the Portola Garden Tour, new murals, the Burrows Pocket park and outreach from the Portola Neighborhood Association (PNA) and the Portola Urban Greening Committee (PUG), the neighborhood is breathing life into its vibrant urban agricultural heritage.