New and Venerable Institutions: "The Griddle"

The new Union Square (inset), aka The Griddle.
Detail I
Detail II

A redesign of Union Square, the 2.6 acre downtown plaza named for historically significant pro-Union rallies that were held here, is one of many public works projects that have essentially refaced San Francisco since the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. The new layout is dubbed "All the Square's a Stage," by its creators but Mister SF can think of it only as a giant griddle. Features include a cafe, visitor information pavilion, a commemorative timeline of San Francisco mayors, podiums for use by street performers, and greater street access. Green and gold granite dominate the plan, seen here in the inset photo. "Green and gold are symbolic of the dunes and grasses that were once in the area," says April Philips, who designed the plaza with architect Michael Fotheringham. The new park features even less green space than the previous version - designed in the 1941 by Timothy Pflueger - which Herb Caen said was half as soft and inviting as the landscape that came before it. (The '40s design added what was then the world's first subterranean parking garage.) Mister SF prefers actual grass over the symbolic kind, and apparently so did Mister Caen. 

The new square was inaugurated in a well attended ceremony on July 25, 2002. Even if one liked the new Union Square, its debut earned a resounding "Incomplete." On day one there was no fountain at the base of the Dewey Monument (an additional $600,000 needed), four neo-art deco R.M. Fischer lamps were AWOL (fabrication in New York delayed by 2001 World Trade Center attack), the new coffeehouse wasn't open for business, the theatre ticket office hadn't resumed operations, an entrance on Stockton Street was closed for repair, and the City had neglected to put anyone in charge of future maintenance and security of the square. In addition, the timeline of mayors is inexplicably engraved vertically along a patch of marble at the northeast corner of Post and Stockton Street. Watching tourists tip their heads to read the names is likely to become a new pastime here. (More about opening day.)

The outgoing Union Square landscape is exquisitely photographed and archived for all time as the principal location for Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 thriller, The Conversation. This is widely counted among the best films of the '70s.

More about Union Square

P.S. The real "new Union Square" is Yerba Buena Gardens.

Copyright 2002 Hank Donat home