If your timing is right, to visit Mission Dolores Park is to visit a place where the world seems to have more color. It was that way when I visited last week, as clouds swept over downtown San Francisco. The elevation of Mission Dolores, combined with its terrain, make it probably the most remarkable city park I’ve seen. It’s the sort of place that feels like a truly dignified public space, a part of the public square where everyone can put aside whatever it is that they do professionally, and be human beings together.

A trend I see in public parks in Philadelphia is that they are tending toward professionally managed public spaces, wherein some event is either about to begin or there are paid minders milling about. Dolores, Washington Square Park, Rittenhouse Square—these are public squares designed in the older model that seem resilient all on their own merit, even if they’re not.

Mission Dolores’s history is rich, since San Francisco assembled the modern parkland in the early 20th century, to its function as a Jewish cemetery in the 19th century, to its Spanish roots in the 18th century:

Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the sixth religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions. The Mission was founded on October 9, 1776, by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Francisco Palóu (a companion of Junípero Serra), both members of the de Anza Expedition, which had been charged with bringing Spanish settlers to Alta (upper) California, and evangelizing the local Natives, the Ohlone.

The settlement was named for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, but was also commonly known as “Mission Dolores” owing to the presence of a nearby creek named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, meaning “Our Lady of Sorrows Creek.” …

The original Mission was a small structure dedicated on October 9, 1776 … located near what is today the intersection of Camp and Albion Streets, about a block-and-a-half east of the surviving Adobe Mission building, and on the shores of a lake (supposedly long since filled) called Laguna de Los Dolores. …

The present Mission church, near what is now the intersection of Dolores and 16th Streets, was dedicated in 1791. At the time of dedication, a mural painted by native labor adorned the focal wall of the chapel. The Mission was constructed of Adobe and part of a complex of buildings used for housing, agricultural and manufacturing enterprises (see architecture of the California missions). Though most of the Mission complex, including the quadrangle and Convento, has either been altered or demolished outright during the intervening years, the façade of the Mission chapel has remained relatively unchanged since its construction in 1782–1791. …

The Mission chapel, along with “Father Serra’s Church” at Mission San Juan Capistrano, is one of only two surviving buildings where Junípero Serra is known to have officiated…