Union Square in San Francisco
Union Square is a plaza of 2.6 acre bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets in San Francisco, California. "Union Square" also refers to the central shopping, hotel, and theater district that surrounds the plaza for several blocks. The area got its name because it was once used for rallies and support for the Union Army during the Civil War. Today, this one-block plaza and nearby area is one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, tourist trinket shops, art galleries, and salons in the United States, which continue to make Union Square a major tourist draw, a vital, cosmopolitan place in downtown San Francisco, and one of the world's premier shopping districts. Grand hotels and small inns, as well as repertory, off-Broadway, and single-act theaters also contribute to the area's dynamic, 24-hour character.
Union Square was built and dedicated by San Francisco's first American mayor John Geary in 1850 and is so named for the pro-Union rallies that happened there before and during the United States Civil War. Since then, the plaza underwent many notable changes with the most significant first happening in 1903 with the dedication of a 97 ft tall monument to Admiral George Dewey's victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War. It also commemorates U.S. President William McKinley, who had been recently assassinated. The figurine at the top of the monument, "Victory", was modeled from the likeness of a local heiress, Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. The second major significant change happened between 1939-1941 when a large underground parking garage was built under the square that relocated the plaza's lawns, shrubs and the Dewey monument to the garage "roof." It was the world's first underground parking garage and was designed by Timothy Pflueger.
During the late 1970s, and through the 1980s and 1990s, the area became a bit derelict as the homeless began to camp in the space. San Francisco's rowdy New Year's parties used to happen yearly at the plaza with some sort of civil disruption and rioting happening afterward. In early 1998, city planners began plans to renovate the plaza to create more paved surfaces for easier maintenance, with outdoor cafes, and more levels to the underground garage. Finally in late 2000, the park was partially closed down to renovate the park and the parking garage. On July 25, 2002, the park reopened and ceremony was held with then Mayor Willie Brown. "Use it; it is your square", said Mayor Willie Brown. In 2004 Unwire Now, a company founded by entrepreneur Jaz Banga, launched a free Wi-Fi network in Union Square which was championed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. The network remains in place today.
Today, Union Square retains its role as the ceremonial "heart" of San Francisco, serving as the site of many public concerts & events, art shows, impromptu protests, private parties and events, and the annual Christmas tree and Menorah lighting. Public views of the square can be seen from surrounding high places as the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Macy's top floor, and the Grand Hyatt hotel.
Beginning in 2004, painted heart sculptures from the Hearts in San Francisco public art installation have been installed in each of the four corners of the square. Each year, the sculptures are auctioned off to benefit the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation and new sculptures painted by various artists are installed in their place. Many of the sculptures are permanently relocated to various other locations throughout the city.
Union Square has also come to describe not just the plaza itself, but the general shopping, dining, and theater districts within the surrounding blocks. The Geary and Curran theaters one block west on Geary anchor the "theater district" and border the Tenderloin. Union Square is also home to San Francisco's TIX Bay Area, a half-priced ticket booth and Ticketmaster outlet. Run by Theatre Bay Area, tickets for most of San Francisco's performing arts can be purchased the day of the performance at a discounted rate.
At the end of Powell Street two blocks south, where the cable cars turn around beside Hallidie Plaza at Market Street, is a growing retail corridor that is connected to the SOMA district. Nob Hill, with its grand mansions, apartment buildings and hotels, stands to the northwest of Union Square. Directly northeast is Chinatown, with its famous dragon gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.
The city's historic French Quarter northeast of Union Square and centers on the Belden Place alleyway, between Bush and Pine Streets, and Claude Lane off Bush Street. This area has many open air French Restaurants and Cafes. Every year the area is the site of the boisterous Bastille Day celebration, the nation's largest, and Bush Street is temporarily re-named "Buisson."
Directly east of the Square off of Stockton Street is Maiden Lane, a short and narrow alley of exclusive boutiques and cafes that leads to the Financial District and boasts the Xanadu Gallery, San Francisco's only building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—with its interior most notable for being the predecessor for New York City's Guggenheim Museum. The square is part of the Barbary Coast Trail, linking many San Francisco landmarks.
Over the years, Union Square became a popular shopping destination. It boasts six major department stores: Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. Union Square is also home to several famous upscale boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Bottega Veneta, Stuart Weitzman, Burberry, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Boucheron, Hugo Boss, Tiffany & Co., Piaget, De Beers, Bulgari, Polo Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Salvatore Ferragamo, Cartier, Bijan, Marc Jacobs, and Hermès. It is also home to the country's first Goyard boutique (located on the corner of Powell and Post) and also a block from the Square (located near Post and Kearney) is one of San Francisco's oldest retailers, Gump's. There are more stores located inside the newly renovated Westfield San Francisco Centre, just south of Union Square along Market Street; the shopping center is anchored by the Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom stores. Old Navy, Forever 21, Anthropologie, Apple Store, United Colors of Benetton, Urban Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Puma, Gap and American Eagle Outfitters are also located along Market Street, just 2-3 blocks south of Union Square respectively. Two venerable San Francisco institutions, jeweler, Shreve & Co, and clothier Wilkes Bashford, are also located within one block of the square.
There are also several cases of redundancy among retailers. H&M has three stores in Union Square (on Powell, on Post, and inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre). Zara, MNG by Mango, Kenneth Cole, Guess, Juicy Couture, Tumi, BCBG Max Azria, Banana Republic, and Coach both have stores around Union Square and inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre. One of two shopping malls in the area with the other being the Crocker Galleria at the far eastern end of the area bordering the Financial District.
Two cable car lines (Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason) serve Union Square on Powell Street.
In addition, Union Square is served by numerous trolley and bus lines and the F Market heritage streetcar. The Muni Metro and BART subway systems both serve the area at nearby Powell Street Station on Market Street. Muni now plans to build an extension of its Muni Metro system to connect the Union Square and Chinatown. The extension, known as the Central Subway, is currently scheduled for completion by 2016.
Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes of The Conversation (1974) in Union Square, where the bugged conversation which forms the foundation of the movie takes place. Scenes of the square and the surrounding neighborhood were featured in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Vertigo (1958). Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers also features scenes of the square. The opening scene of The Birds was filmed at the edge of the square—the character Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) looks up and sees hundreds of birds flying in a circular pattern around the column at the center of the square.
- 49-Mile Scenic Drive
- Belden Place
- List of upscale shopping districts