Justin Herman Plaza

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Embarcadero Plaza
Justin Herman Plaza from Steuart Tower.JPG
The plaza in 2009
Justin Herman Plaza is located in San Francisco
Justin Herman Plaza
Justin Herman Plaza is located in San Francisco Bay Area
Justin Herman Plaza
Justin Herman Plaza is located in California
Justin Herman Plaza
Coordinates37°47′42″N 122°23′41″W / 37.7949°N 122.3948°W / 37.7949; -122.3948Coordinates: 37°47′42″N 122°23′41″W / 37.7949°N 122.3948°W / 37.7949; -122.3948
Public transit accessBART and Muni, Embarcadero station

Embarcadero Plaza, previously known as Justin Herman Plaza from its opening in 1972 until 2017, is a 1.23-acre (0.50 ha) plaza near the intersection of Market and Embarcadero in San Francisco's Financial District, in the U.S. state of California. It is owned by Boston Properties, who acquired the neighboring Embarcadero Center office, hotel, and retail complex in 1998.


The Ferry Building Park could be a great open space with canals, lagoons, and fountains that would revive the marine flavor by actually bringing the Bay back into the area. The atmosphere of European ports could be injected with handsome paving, sidewalk cafes, and fine restaurants. The freeway should be painted dark, and large trees should be planted to suppress its sight and its sounds. Difficult as all this may be, establish the Ferry Building Park area as a vibrant, alive, colorful place, used by day and at night, and it will send a tingle up the spine of Market Street.

Halprin, Carter, and Rockrise, What to do About Market Street (1962)[1]

The design of Embarcadero Plaza is credited to Don Carter (principal-in-charge) with help from Mario J. Ciampi and John Bolles. The original concept was devised by Lawrence Halprin, who described five distinct districts of Market Street in the 1962 report What to do About Market Street starting at the Embarcadero and ending at Van Ness.[1] In retrospect, Halprin's vision for Market was described as a "pedestrian-oriented series of linked civic spaces"[2] which were later realized as the open spaces running from Embarcadero Plaza (in the northeast) to UN Plaza in the southwest. Halprin described an early concept for what he called Ferry Building Park in the 1962 Market Street report, proposing to bring San Francisco Bay and the original harbor closer to Market, as "the [Embarcadero] Freeway and the Ferry building have created an impenetrable barrier, at street level, to one of San Francisco's most priceless assets – its marine setting" and offering ways to minimize the visual and aural impact of the double-decked freeway.[1]

View of Vaillancourt Fountain and Justin Herman Plaza in 1988, matching initial 1972 configuration. Note double-deck Embarcadero Freeway separating plaza from waterfront.

The controversial Vaillancourt Fountain dominates the northeast end of the plaza.[3] The large plaza could accommodate large crowds, and the roaring fountain was designed to drown out noise from the Embarcadero Freeway, which was completed in 1959 and ran along the east side of the plaza from its opening in 1972 until the freeway was torn down in 1991.[4][5] La Chiffonnière is also installed in the plaza, closer to Market.[6]

A bocce ball court was built using private donations in 2010.[7]


During the debate over changing the name, San Francisco Chronicle urban spaces critic John King called it "a stark concrete landscape" and added "there's no earthly reason you would want to be there."[6] In an earlier article published just after Halprin's death in 2009, King noted that Embarcadero Plaza was "oversize and stiff, unable to adjust to the changing urban scene on all sides."[4]


The plaza, located at the eastern end of Market Street, opened in 1972. It was originally named for M. Justin Herman, executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency from 1959 to 1971.

In 2017, County Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a resolution to rename the site Embarcadero Plaza, citing Herman's role in displacing poor and minority residents from the Western Addition, Fillmore, Chinatown, and South of Market neighborhoods while presiding over the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.[8] The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the resolution unanimously on September 19, 2017. The name Embarcadero Plaza will be temporary until a new official name can be decided upon.[9] The Board's resolution is nonbinding, as the authority to change the name rests with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission. Peskin stated he had received an unsolicited text from the owner, Boston Properties, which said they would cover the cost of replacing the plaque bearing Herman's name.[10]

The Recreation & Parks Commission voted 4–2 to remove Justin Herman's name on November 16, 2017. An earlier vote in October ended in a 3–3 tie after one of the commissioners (who had favored removal of the name) left the meeting before the vote was held.[11][12] David Johnson, a photographer who documented life in the Western Addition prior to SFRA's redevelopment, is a leading candidate for the renaming of the plaza.[12]


Occupy San Francisco encampment (2011)

The plaza is frequented by nearby office workers on lunch break and by families with small children. Free daytime concerts occur frequently in the summer, and an ice skating rink is set up for winter months.[13] In 1987, during The Joshua Tree Tour, U2 held a free concert in Justin Herman Plaza to "Save the Yuppies" following the Black Monday financial crisis in October. During the finale of the impromptu concert, Bono spray-painted graffiti on Vaillancourt Fountain, for which he was fined.[14]

Great San Francisco Pillow Fight (2012)

During the early 1990s, the plaza was better known as EMB, one of the world's premier street skateboarding sites.[15][16] Formal athletic ceremonies and rallies have also occurred in the plaza, including the retirement of Joe Montana (1995), attended by an estimated 25,000 people;[17] the commemoration of Barry Bonds becoming the all-time home run leader (2007);[18] and as the site of Super Bowl City, a "fan village" for attendees of Super Bowl 50 (2016) at Levi's Stadium in distant Santa Clara.[19] Because of its size, the plaza is also frequently used for political rallies, including the Occupy San Francisco protest which took over the plaza for several months in 2011.[20]

Recurring events[edit]

The monthly Critical Mass bicycle rides have started from the plaza since September 1992.[21] Since 2006,[22][23] on Valentine's Day, the plaza is the site of the Great San Francisco Pillow Fight, an unsponsored annual pillow fight flash mob.[24][25][26][27]


  1. ^ a b c Halprin, Lawrence; Carter, Donald Ray; Rockrise, George T. (1962). "The Look of Market Street". What to Do About Market Street: A prospectus for a development program prepared for the Market Street Development Project, an associate of SPUR: The San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (Report). Livingston and Blayney, City and Regional Planners. pp. 23–34. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  2. ^ "Justin Herman Plaza, 1962-71". The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin. The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  3. ^ "Justin Herman – Embarcadero Plaza". San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department. Retrieved August 3, 2013.
  4. ^ a b King, John (November 3, 2009). "Lawrence Halprin's living legacy in S.F." San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  5. ^ King, John (August 16, 2017). "Testing the waters for bringing the Vaillancourt Fountain back to life". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b King, John (October 18, 2017). "Justin Herman Plaza needs more than name change". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  7. ^ May, Meredith; Whiting, Sam; Guthrie, Julian (October 9, 2011). "Bay Area bocce ball sites". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  8. ^ Dineen, J.K. (July 27, 2017). "SF Supervisor Peskin ramps up drive to rename Justin Herman Plaza". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  9. ^ "SF Leaders Vote Unanimously to Rename Justin Herman Plaza". NBC Bay Area. September 19, 2017. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  10. ^ Swan, Rachel (September 19, 2017). "SF supervisors want Justin Herman's name yanked off plaza". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  11. ^ Brinklow, Adam (17 November 2017). "City officially removes Justin Herman's name from plaza". SF Curbed. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  12. ^ a b Sabatini, Joshua (October 19, 2017). "UPDATE: Commission's vote to remove Justin Herman's name from plaza later declared invalid". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  13. ^ Marcus, Clare Cooper; Francis, Carolyn; Russell, Robert (1998). "1. Urban Plazas, Case Studies: 9. Justin Herman Plaza: Grand Public Place—the City Plaza". In Marcus, Clare Cooper; Francis, Carolyn (eds.). People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space (Second ed.). New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 73–74. ISBN 0-471-28833-0. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  14. ^ Sisto, Carrie (September 10, 2017). "'Save The Yuppies:' U2's Free 1987 Concert In Justin Herman Plaza". Hoodline. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  15. ^ Jensen, Travis (March 9, 2007). "No easy skate: S.F. is no longer shredder heaven". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  16. ^ Elliott, Templeton (August 9, 2013). "10 Iconic Skate Spots That No Longer Exist: 6. EMB". Complex. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  17. ^ Plaschke, Bill (April 19, 1995). "Montana Goes Home to Say Goodby". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  18. ^ Wildermuth, John (August 24, 2007). "San Francisco honors Barry Bonds for Giant accomplishments". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  19. ^ Knight, Heather (April 21, 2015). "Super Bowl City fan village will fill Justin Herman Plaza". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  20. ^ Ho, Vivian; Kane, Will; Colliver, Victoria (December 8, 2011). "Occupy SF regroups after raid, clashes with cops". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  21. ^ Fimrite, Peter (September 26, 2012). "Critical Mass bike movement at 20 years". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  22. ^ Hoge, Patrick (February 14, 2006). "SAN FRANCISCO / Hundreds attend mass pillow fight". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  23. ^ Riquelme, Rita Berrios (February 15, 2017). "San Francisco blows off steam at 12th annual Valentine's Day pillow fight". Golden Gate Xpress. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  24. ^ "SF Valentine's Day Pillow Fight Evolves From Intimate Brawl To Full-Scale Melee". KPIX 5 CBS SF BayArea. February 14, 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  25. ^ Gulezian, Lisa Amin (February 15, 2015). "1 knocked unconscious in San Francisco pillow fight". ABC 7 News. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  26. ^ "Massive Valentine's Day Pillow Fight Hits San Francisco". NBC Bay Area. February 14, 2016. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  27. ^ "Nothing Says Happy Valentine's Day Like a Pillow Fight? San Franciscans Say Yes". NBC Bay Area. February 14, 2017. Retrieved 15 October 2018.

External links[edit]

  • "Resolution No. 354-17". San Francisco Board of Supervisors. 11 September 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  • "Justin Herman Plaza". Minutes (PDF) (Report). San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission. October 19, 2017. pp. 29–31. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  • "Justin Herman Plaza". Minutes (PDF) (Report). San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission. November 16, 2017. pp. 10–18. Retrieved 16 October 2018.