Union Square

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Leaving your Heart in Union Square

If just one place in San Francisco that could be called the heart of the city, everyone would agree that it is Union Square. The landmark bowl-shaped piazza of 2.6 acres is dotted with big palm trees and decorated by the graceful Goddess of Victory statue atop the 97-foot-tall Dewey Monument column. The square is named in support of the Union at the start of the American Civil War and its monument commemorates Admiral George Dewey’s victory in the Spanish-American War. Always filled with shoppers, workers and tourists, it’s surrounded by the city’s largest concentration of stores, restaurants, theaters and hotels. In fact, locals refer to an area encompassing several blocks around the actual plaza as ‘Union Square.’ This is the city’s public outdoor living room for concerts, events, art shows, cafés, bike rental, theater ticket purchase, a winter ice rink and the annual Christmas tree and Menorah lighting.

Cameras remain at the ready, because visitors to Union Square enjoy posing with the huge heart-shaped public art installation sculptures displayed at each of the plaza’s four corners. Decorated differently each and every one, they’re connected by a theme inspired by Tony Bennett’s classic song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The colorful painted heart designs are rotated each year as they’re auctioned off to raise funds for San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Hearts in San Francisco sculptures can be spotted throughout the City and beyond, where pedestrians are sometimes surprised and delighted to stumble upon one. However, the best and most recognizable one of all is the Tony Bennett heart titled, “America's Greatest City By the Bay,” which has a permanent place at the corner of Powell and Post streets in Union Square.

Sounds of the City 

The constant whir of underground cables beneath the street that propel the beloved cable cars is hardly noticeable. It’s just background noise until the air is punctuated by the grip operator’s unmistakable ding-a-ling-ling signal bells as cable cars come to a stop on Powell Street. Up and down the hill they go, filled with folks enjoying the ride and onlookers making the most of fantastic photo opportunities. Union Square is one of the best places for capturing cable cars from two of the three lines in one shot as the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cars make their way past the front of the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Powell Street.

Take it from Tony

Cameras remain at the ready, because visitors to Union Square enjoy posing with the huge heart-shaped public art installation sculptures displayed at each of the plaza’s four corners. Decorated differently each and every one, they’re connected by a theme inspired by Tony Bennett’s classic song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The colorful painted heart designs are rotated each year as they’re auctioned off to raise funds for San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Hearts in San Francisco sculptures can be spotted throughout the City and beyond, where pedestrians are sometimes surprised and delighted to stumble upon one. However, the best and most recognizable one of all is the Tony Bennett heart titled, “America's Greatest City By the Bay,” which has a permanent place at the corner of Powell and Post streets in Union Square.

‘Round the Square

In addition to historic cable cars, Union Square is served by several trolley and bus lines and the F Market heritage streetcar. The Muni Metro and BART subway systems both serve the area from the Powell Street Station two blocks away on Market Street. Muni is currently building a Central Subway extension to Chinatown and beyond, scheduled for completion by 2019. Meantime, pedestrians and vehicular traffic in Union Square is disrupted from time to time.


Did You Know?

  • In 1901, President William McKinley broke ground for Union Square’s Dewey Monument. He never saw its completion, as he was assassinated within six months. The wreath in the hand of the monument’s statue is a memorial to the president.
  • The Hop-On, Hop-Off open top sightseeing bus stops at Union Square, across from Macy’s.
  • The model for the Dewey Monument statue was a young socialite, Alma de Bretteville. She married Adolph B. Spreckels, an older, immensely wealthy sugar magnate (whom she referred to as her ‘sugar daddy’) and became known as the “Great Grandmother of San Francisco” for gifting the Legion of Honor museum and its fine art collection. 
  • The St. Francis Hotel, opened in 1904, suffered a post-earthquake fire in 1906, but remained structurally sound, unlike 80 percent of the city’s buildings.  
  • It required a California Supreme Court decision to approve a parking facility underneath Union Square. In 1941, the world’s first underground parking garage literally broke new ground as it was leased privately under public land.   
  • The re-design of Union Square in 2002 was the result of an international design competition, with the winning theme as “All the Square is a Stage.”  
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Website:  http://www.visitunionsquaresf.com/

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