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With its completion, the new garage and rooftop park immediately took on a myriad of social functions. Two days after its dedication the Army held a war show in the Square, and a "Victory Stage" was set up for war bond rallies held there. With the surge of patriotism that the Second World War engendered, eighteen flagpoles bearing the US. Even with such a wartime focus, however, the Downtown Association held the first annual Rhododendron Show in the Square from April 27 to May 3, By the late s, the retail area around Union Square began to decline, as exemplified by the closure of department stores such as the City of Paris.

But as the adjacent financial district expanded in the s, the retail district again began to grow.

The Tenderloin | Up From The Deep

Francis Hotel, which added a new tower with rooms in , and in the opening of the Hyatt Hotel at Post and Stockton streets in The retail area was also boosted by the opening of Saks Fifth Avenue in on the site of the old Fitzhugh Building at Powell and Post streets; followed by Neiman Marcus in at Geary and Stockton streets, where the City of Paris once stood. Both were widely criticized as not measuring up to the buildings they had replaced. By , the total retail footage around Union Square had become one of the greatest concentrations in the world.

Within one block of the Square can be found national department stores, national specialty stores, international boutiques, jewelry stores, and a plethora of local establishments. Union Square remains crucial to the tourist industry today, for almost anyone who comes to San Francisco passes through the Square, whether for cable cars, restaurants, hotels, foreign exchange offices, airline tickets, or shopping.

The early 's saw the exodus of several airlines that held leases on the Square. By the fall of , two large retail developments will add upwards of , square feet. Twenty new retailers are expected. The current economic recession has been a challenge for many retailers around the Square.

Boutiques and non-chain stores have been especially hard hit since they must not only cope with losses in sales, but also must pay high rents for a Union Square address and face competition from other parts of the city. Just outside the Square proper, store vacancies have increased while rents have decreased, although stores right on the Square are seen as "recession-proof.

Other events have put a damper on recent economic activity around the Square. The Loma Prieta earthquake of October 17, left the Square relatively unscathed, but reports of severe damage in the Marina District and the closure of the Bay Bridge kept shoppers away in droves.

With the announcement of the Rodney King verdict on April 29, , riots broke out in the area around Union Square. Although damage was minor in comparison to what occurred in Los Angeles, Macy's reported looting and smashed windows, and the St. Francis Hotel experienced some vandalism. Union Square is the primary focus of activity for downtown San Francisco, functioning as a showcase" for the city.

A variety of "events" take place at these locations every week. Over the years, the Square has been the site of political rallies and demonstrations, memorial services, fund drives, blood drives, art shows, noon concerts, outdoor fashion shows, product promotion events, weeks of amity between England and France, visits from dignitaries, Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, and many other events. The Square is also heavily used by so-called "undesirables.


Then and today, lawn areas secluded by the high hedges functioned as sleeping areas during the day and at night. Drug peddling became commonplace in the late s and continues today. With the exception of lunch hours, when nearby office and store workers populate the Square, busy weekends in surrounding stores, and times of special events, the park has come to be seen as unsafe. To counteract this trend, a police kobon a police stand has recently been installed.

The added police presence has made the park safer. Elderly people who reside in the nearby Tenderloin district also use the Square as a neighborhood park. They often congregate at park entrances, sit on benches, socialize, and empathize with passersby. Friction between the elderly and the undesirables is kept to a minimum since both groups tend to privatize separate areas of the Square. Added to this milieu are a significant number of tourists who frequent the Square throughout the year. The park shows some signs of physical deterioration: aging and dying plants especially the yew trees , inadequate drainage, an excess of pigeon droppings, and the presence of rats.

The Beautiful Facades of San Francisco's Historic Parking Garages

To counteract such problems, the Union Square Association was formed in It consists of concerned citizens and owners of nearby businesses with the purpose of "improving the physical properties and ambiance of this world famous Square and returning it to its former place of beauty and elegance for the enjoyment of the people of San Francisco and thousands of daily visitors.

The Association's first sponsored event was a laser light show in Laser beams were shot from building to building in the Square.

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Then from to , the Association sponsored Christmas festivities in the Square which included rides, bands, carolers, choirs, sports demonstrations, live theater, and dancers - all on a voluntary basis. In , for the first time, the Dewey Monument was transformed into an electronic Christmas tree. In , the Association was responsible for rerouting the Chinese New Year parade to pass by the Square.

Also in , during the Democratic Convention, the Square took on major national importance as a place for speakers, bands, and other events. Today, most festivities or events held in the Square are privately sponsored and permits are issued by the Parks and Recreation Department of San Francisco. The Union Square Association continues to sponsor yearly Christmas festivities and the cable car ringing contest. Macy's has provided a large Christmas tree for the Square for the past four years. And local radio stations continue to sponsor concerts in the Square during the spring and summer months.

Ideally, the Square would have a full-time programmer and a schedule of events to be sponsored throughout the year. Fortunately, many private groups continue to use the Square, and although increasing bridge tolls, fear of crime, and traffic congestion encourage people in the suburbs and outlying areas to shop at nearby shopping centers or malls, San Francisco's retail district is doing remarkably well. But activities in a revitalized Square could help draw additional people, with increased revenue to local businesses as an added bonus. The city's most dynamic square could be a social center as well as a center of consumerism.

Change Over Time

It also might become a more educational and informative place, a place for multiple uses, and above all, a place rich in meaning and symbolism. Document Next Document. Categories : Downtown s s s s s s s s s The Argonaut. What Links Here. Donate via PayPal one time or monthly or become a Patreon patron.

Francis Hotel, Photo: Courtesy of Jimmie Shein With post-earthquake reconstruction, the retail area centering around the Square became even more vital. Union Square facing southeast in , as seen from corner of Post and Powell. The garage is presented as a new form of transportation depot, employing architectural symbolism to celebrate the ascendancy of the automobile over the train.

Today, the surviving buildings are vulnerable to real estate development, in part because their quality is misunderstood.

Architecture and San Francisco's Fairs

The book--a fresh perspective on the value of older utilitarian buildings--concludes with a call to preserve these structures and adapt them to compatible new uses. Mark D. Kessler is an architect and professor at University of California, Davis. He has curated two exhibits of garage photography featuring the work of Sharon Risedorph. He lives in San Francisco. Or enter your phone number, customer service of fado Password must be at least 6 characters , is not allowed longer than 30 characters, including numbers and letters. Feedback News Request a quote.

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