Introducing the Tompkins Stairway Garden in Bernal Heights

Tompkins Garden Staircase in Bernal Heights

San Francisco has a wide variety of beautiful staircases to climb. In June 2019, the Tompkins Stairway Garden joined the list.

You can visit it on Tompkins Street between Putnam and Nevada in Bernal Heights. This staircase has a vibrantly colored and tiled zigzag pattern. Architect and Bernal Heights resident Andre Rothblatt was inspired by the Steps of Peace in the Syrian town of Deir Atiyah. 

There’s a fascinating story about what these residents went through with the city to complete the project and continue to get support to maintain it. SF Chronicle Journalist Heather Knight summarized it in her article, San Francisco’s Street Purgatory; 148 Miles of Rejected Roads the City Won’t Maintain.

A San Francisco map shows eight blocks of Tompkins Street, then it disappears for one block and reappears again for another three blocks. The phantom block, not on the map, is in between Nevada and Putnam Streets.

According to Knight, “That vanished block of Tompkins exists, but the city has decided not to ‘accept’ it. Not my problem, City Hall has decided about that one block of Tompkins. “

So for years, the homeowners along that stretch of hillside have had a to bear the brunt of buying property on a street City Hall doesn’t accept. It was a trash heap of weeds, human and animal feces, homeless tents and smelled like a rotting city in disarray.

So not acceptable to people who love Bernal Heights.

Tompkins Stairway Gardne in Bernal Heights

Out of necessity, the neighbors banded together and made an awful mess artful.

Now, a street that was once treated as “untouchable” has a beautifully landscaped garden around a multicolored tile stairway. Their hard work and perseverance have given the neighborhood and the city another destination staircase.   

The neighborhood held an inaugural party with Supervisor Hillary Ronen to celebrate. And on the 1st Saturday of every month from 9 am-noon, neighbors and volunteers weed, trim and clean up the garden.

No gardening experience is necessary to lend a hand and help out. Tools, work gloves and refreshments are available for anyone who’s willing to show up and keep our all our city streets beautiful.

Inspiration for Tompkins Stairway Garden in Bernal Heights

Link Love: 

Tompkins Stairs

San Francisco’s Street Purgatory: 148 Miles of Rejected Roads the City Won’t Maintain

Jen Baxter is a content writer and strategist helping companies creatively craft the story of their business online. You can see more of her work at