San Mateo’s Central Park is a 16-acre city park bordered by El Camino Real, Ninth, Laurel and Fifth avenues. The park is also a historical site whose roots run deep into San Mateo’s past. Central Park was once the estate home of Charles B. Polhemus, director of the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad and founder of downtown San Mateo. He lived on the grounds in a 13-room Victorian mansion in the mid-1800s.
In the 1870′s, William Kohl, a sea captain and founding partner of the Alaska Commercial Co., purchased the property from Polhemus. During his 30 years living on the grounds, Kohl oversaw extensive plantings and landscaping, which have been largely preserved. John McLaren was commissioned to design the landscape of the grounds surrounding the home. Those designs included winding paths wide enough for the children’s pony cart, and a stone and wrought iron fence that still borders El Camino Real.
In 1922, the city of San Mateo purchased the 16 acres. Today, the Central Park boundaries are unchanged from the former Kohl estate with the exception of the narrow Ninth Avenue frontage added in 1926. A 900-foot artistic stone and iron fence built to protect and border the property on the west side along the El Camino Real has survived from the days of Capt. Kohl. The primary design of the paths, lawns and flower beds remains, along with many of the original pines, oaks, cedar, figs, redwoods, and the pony shed near the rose garden.
Also surviving from Kohl’s days is a large Italian-made cast-iron dog statue that stands guard along the path near the Ninth Avenue entrance. According to local legend, it was imported from Italy by Mrs. Kohl. Today, the dog is beloved by countless children and adults alike, and stands stoically while visitors interact with and incorporate it into their photos.