Dutch Windmill – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura
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San Francisco, California

Dutch Windmill

The key to turning shifting dunes into the green oasis of Golden Gate Park. 

Surrounded by the blooms of the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, the Dutch Windmill at the west end of Golden Gate Park looks ready for action, but it wasn’t that long ago when this windmill and its sister Murphy Windmill across the park spent years as slowly rotting ruins.

The two enormous windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were once mighty water-pumping machines designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century. Since then, they have fallen into disrepair and have been resurrected twice.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset District into the lush man-made parkland. Inland, ground water was insufficient, so an idea was hatched to harness the coastal winds and pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.

Their functional life was short lived. Built between 1902 and 1908, both windmills pumped fresh well water from depths of 200 feet until 1913, when they were replaced by electric pumps which pumped more water more quickly. Almost immediately, they began to decline.

The North Windmill, also known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 with oversized 102 foot sails. Originally, the water it pumped filled the artificial park ponds of Lloyd Lake, Metson Lake, and Spreckels Lake. Primarily due to efforts spanning over twenty years by Eleanor Rossi Crabtree, daughter of a San Francisco mayor, it was renovated in the 1980s, and the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden was planted around it. The restoration was primarily cosmetic, and until more recent renovations, the internal machinery had not been functional.

The Dutch Windmill started working again in July 2009 and appears to be in good repair.

Another windmill nearby, known as the Murphy Windmill, was once the largest of its kind in the world, and as of 2012 is once again standing at full size after an extensive renovation.

 

Know Before You Go

Dutch (North) Windmill: From Ocean Beach, turn east (away from the ocean) onto John F. Kennedy Drive.