|History Of Union Square Park
With the population explosion in San Francisco in the 1903’s
and the vast number of automobiles coming into the
downtown area, parking in this fashionable shopping
district became increasingly difficult. Businesses
surrounding the Square worried that they would lose
customers due to the lack of parking. The Union Square
Garage Corporation was formed and lobbied for years for
permission to build the world’s first underground parking
structure. After going all the way to the California Supreme
Court for a decision as to whether the City could lease the
land under a public space to a private corporation,
permission was finally granted. Three years of research
and design followed, and on May 31, 1941, ground was
finally broken for the garage and the square as it existed
In 1997 the San Francisco Prize Coalition and the City of
San Francisco announced an open competition for the
redesign of Union Square Park. Called Toward a More
Perfect Union: An International Design Competition for the
Future of Union Square, the competition received 309
entries from 10 countries and 20 states. The winning entry
entitled “All the Square is a Stage” sought to transform the
Park from an imposing, seldom used urban space into an
inviting oasis that would be used by all the inhabitants
surrounding the area. The design is notable for its easy
access, a café with lots of open air seating, and a
symphony-sized stage that will serve as the center point
for a week of concerts celebrating the completion of this
project in July of 2002.
Union Square is one of the most historic and beloved places
in San Francisco and one of the most notable urban spaces
in the world. Its history is the history of San Francisco and
each change it has undergone reflects the greater shifts in
the history of our country.
In 1847, the City of San Francisco commissioned Jasper O’
Farrell to lay out a design for streets and parks for the city.
He chose Union Square for one of two public squares.
These squares were later deeded to the city by Colonel John
Geary to be held in perpetuity for park purposes. Early maps
of San Francisco show Union Square and Washington
Square as the two then unnamed spaces reserved for public
parks. Union Square was named on the eve of the Civil War
(1861-5) as a demonstration of support for the Union.
By the 1880’s, the Square had become the center of a
fashionable residential district. Three prominent churches
faced into the square – Calvary Presbyterian, Congregational
and Trinity Churches. The imposing 90 foot high Corinthian
granite column was raised in the center of Union Square in
1903 and dedicated by President Roosevelt that same year.
The monument memorializes Admiral Dewey’s naval victory in
the Bay of Manila during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
It is crowned with a bronze goddess of Victory, sculpted by
Robert Aitken, who modeled it after the young Alma de
By the turn of the century, offices and stores gradually
squeezed out the residences and churches surrounding the
Square. After the 1906 earthquake, Union Square became
the center of San Francisco’s premiere shopping district.
Union Square’s present character was established by the
construction of the Hotel Saint Francis in 1908. It was, and
remains the tallest structure (13 stories) facing the Square,
forming an impressive backdrop for the Dewey Monument.
Over the years, the park was redesigned many times, but
always followed the natural topography of the area, a
sloping bowl-shaped space, allowing visual access
throughout the whole park from the surrounding sidewalks.