Renaissance in the Garden District

The Portola District of San Francisco sits tucked away, somewhat isolated from the rest of the city. Back in 1922 the Girabaldi brothers built the iconic University Mound greenhouses and went on to develop many well-known varieties of roses along with snapdragons, delphiniums and dahlias – the official flower of San Francisco.

GraniteCrete Installer Permeable Pathway
Brett Stephens of San Francisco Landscapes & Construction oversees the installation

Other greenhouse businesses sprouted up and the area became known as “The Garden District.” The Portola neighborhood once had over twenty thriving, family-owned, commercial greenhouse operations and supplied most of the city with flowers for decades.


Due to this rural and agricultural history, the Portola district has one of the most diverse populations in San Francisco. The people of this area have overcome cultural and language differences by working and gathering together.

But times have changed. Many of the greenhouse business that once flourished in the area have since closed. Only one greenhouse business remains. Great swaths of the district have fallen into disrepair or been abandoned entirely.

The Greenhouse Project

A non-profit organization, The Greenhouse Project hopes to breathe new life into this historic district. They, along with the Portola Neighborhood Association, seek to honor the rich legacy of the Portola district by building public gathering places that celebrate its past. Through a Community Challenge Grant, their plan is to build sustainable, long lasting gardens, walkways and community gathering areas.

The ideal renovation will include community open spaces and pedestrian walking paths that will continue to foster community connection in this diverse community. Additionally, the public spaces should have a rustic, natural appearance that honors the rural history of the “garden district.”

A Nearly Perfect Solution – Perfected

Brett Stephens of San Francisco Landscapes & Construction jumped into the “green-up” efforts a few years ago as a contractor and an organizer of volunteer labor.  Stephens lives nearby, so the pedestrian pathway project had a special meaning for him; he sees it as an extension of his backyard.

The GraniteCrete installation is well on its way.

Since the pathway would see a lot of public use, Stephens knew they needed a paving material that would be durable, look natural, and fit the sustainable mission of the neighborhood. Ideally it would be permeable, thereby doing away with groundwater runoff issues. They wanted to avoid contributing to heat index. What’s more, the pathways had to be accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Having used GraniteCrete on past projects, Stephens knew of only one product that could solve all of these issues: GraniteCrete. He also knew GraniteCrete, better than any other product, could achieve the natural appearance they hoped to achieve. His only concern was that the installation process could be somewhat involved and a bit complicated for his all-volunteer crew.

Then he learned that GraniteCrete has recently developed a dry-installation process which was much simpler. This installation method requires fewer steps and is much less labor intensive.

(Full instructions on the new dry installation method are available on GraniteCrete’s DRY INSTALLATIONS page.)

Quality Assurance

Because GraniteCrete is committed to every installation being completed according to its high-quality standards, company personnel were on-site to oversee the installation process and assist Stephens and his crew as needed. 

For this pedestrian pathway, Stephens and his volunteers used an installation process recently developed by GraniteCrete in partnership with some of their best installers.  This new “dry” installation process saves time, effort, and labor for the installer and provides a more natural look and feel to the finished product.

Stephens found the dry installation process “much easier” than the wet process. He and his crew of volunteers quickly “got the hang of it” and finished the installation swiftly and with no issues. He noted the dry process was easier to screed, and could be compacted with just a roller and a broom!

A Beautiful Finish

GraniteCrete is proud to have been a part of this important project to develop beautiful, green areas in the Portola district and foster a sense of community throughout the neighborhood; we look forward to similar projects in the future. If you have a community project that would benefit from GraniteCrete’s unique qualities, let us know how we can help get the project started!