This year we mark the 70th anniversary of the death of John McLaren, one of America’s great park leaders. Born and raised in Scotland and trained as a horticulturalist, McLaren is responsible for much of the vision and construction of Golden Gate Park. He served as the park’s superintendent for 53 years.
A friend of John Muir, McLaren was known not only for his role in the creation of one of the world’s greatest city parks, but for his love of trees. His role in redwood conservation goes beyond the well-known legend of his planting 2 million trees in his lifetime—including the beautiful grove that introduces many of Golden Gate Park’s 13 million annual visitors to redwoods—to the elevation of the issue of redwood conservation at the national scale.
Even as the League’s founders were formulating plans for our organization, McLaren was at the 1917 National Association of Park Superintendents, endorsing the motion to create a “National Redwoods Park”—an event that he says launched the movement to save the redwoods. McLaren vocally supported the early efforts of the League and exhorted the purchase of redwood land for its protection. His testimony stirred a national interest in this iconic forest and helped advance the League’s cause.
McLaren loved redwoods, and he planted the Golden Gate Park grove when he was 80 years old. On his 90th birthday—as is depicted in the historic WPA Beach Chalet murals—McLaren was presented with a redwood gift from his friends at Save the Redwoods League.
The remarkable histories of the conservation movement, of San Francisco’s iconic park, and of Save the Redwoods League are inextricably linked. And thanks to both John McLaren and supporters of the League, many more trees—wild and planted—stand today for our enjoyment and inspiration.
Learn more about the League and our long history of protecting redwood forests.