In 2008, I first visited one of the most beautiful, secret places in the whole world: Cayuga Park, in southern San Francisco, tucked in a quiet little neighborhood and nestled beneath the BART train overpass. Lovingly tended for 30 years by gardener Demetrio “Demi” Braceros, it was filled with flowering plants from his native Philippines, and–here’s the best part–full to the brim with painted wood sculptures he made from felled timber. The gardens were full of handmade benches, railings, arbors, arches and forts, the trees nestled with hidden surprises like woven living vines and little carved snakes and birds. It’s without a doubt the single most amazing work of folk art I’ve ever seen.
Sadly, Demi retired just a few months before my first visit, and local volunteers were struggling to fill the huge gap in maintenance–the park department didn’t hire a replacement. They seemed to be doing well at that time, but over the last three years, the park has fallen into a very sad state of disrepair. I was also terribly worried on my last visit, because nearly all of the sculptures had disappeared, and his murals on the concrete columns, retaining wall, and storage container had been painted over. All of the trails were so overgrown, they were nearly impossible to make out, too.
Well, the silver lining of the story is that after doing some research, it seems that the missing sculptures are currently being kept in storage while the city is in the process of expanding the park and improving its infrastructure, after getting a large sum of bond money. I’m assuming they covered up his paintings because they had gotten too defaced by graffiti. They are going to eventually return the sculptures, and hopefully hire a new caretaker to protect them.
I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that things will turn out as hoped, and Demi’s beautiful work will again get to be seen by anyone who stumbles upon this little slice of heaven. In the meantime, I leave you with some photos I took that first day in 2008. There are about 250 in all, and they’re slowly making their way to Flickr; you can see the entire set, and watch it grow, here.