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Union Square, San Francisco

Coordinates: 37°47′17″N 122°24′27″W / 37.78806°N 122.40750°W / 37.78806; -122.40750
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37°47′17″N 122°24′27″W / 37.78806°N 122.40750°W / 37.78806; -122.40750

Union Square
Overview of the plaza, 2018
Overview of the plaza, 2018
Union Square is located in San Francisco
Union Square
Union Square
Location within Central San Francisco
Coordinates: 37°47′17″N 122°24′27″W / 37.788056°N 122.4075°W / 37.788056; -122.4075
CountryUnited States
CitySan Francisco
Reference no.623[1]

Union Square is a 2.6-acre (1.1-hectare) public plaza bordered by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets in downtown 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 Thomas Starr King rallies and support for the Union Army during the American Civil War,[2] earning its designation as a California Historical Landmark.[1] Despite its declining profile,[3] Union Square in San Francisco is still a major retail hub for the city.

This one-block plaza and surrounding area was historically home to one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, and beauty salons in the United States, making Union Square a major tourist destination and a well-known gathering place in downtown San Francisco.[4] The Dewey Monument is situated at the center of Union Square. It is a statue of Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory.

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has led to an exodus of companies from Downtown San Francisco, with the Union Square retail district being particularly affected.[5][6] Many retailers have cited high levels of crime, open-air drug use, homelessness, and closed storefronts in the areas around Union Square.[7]


Union Square around the turn of the 20th century
The square in 1968, as seen from the St. Francis Hotel

Union Square was originally a tall sand dune, and the square was later set aside to be made into a public park in 1850. Union Square got its name from the pro-Union rallies held there on the eve of the Civil War. The monument itself is also a tribute to the sailors of the United States Navy.[8]

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 by Thomas Starr King that happened there before and during the United States Civil War.[2] Since then the plaza has undergone many notable changes, one of the most significant happening in 1903 with the dedication of a 97 ft (30 m) 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. Executed by Robert Aitken, the statue at the top of the monument, "Victory," was modeled after a voluptuous Danish-American stenographer and artist's model, Alma de Bretteville, who eventually married one of San Francisco's richest citizens.[9] Another significant change happened between 1939 and 1941 when a large underground parking garage was built under the square; this meant the plaza's lawns, shrubs and the Dewey monument were now on the garage "roof." Designed by Timothy Pflueger, it was the world's first underground parking garage.[10]

For many decades, Union Square was the largest retail shopping district outside of New York and Chicago, the place which everyone in San Francisco and the larger San Francisco Bay Area visited "on a semi-regular basis, whether they were looking for a night on the town or a place to buy the basics".[3] Over time, both locals and tourists began to slowly drift off to other neighborhoods, leaving Union Square to "conventioneers and casual tourists".[3]

During the late 1970s, and through the 1980s and 1990s, the area became somewhat 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.[11] Finally in late 2000, the park was partially closed down to renovate the park and the parking garage.[12] On July 25, 2002, the park reopened and a ceremony was held with then Mayor Willie Brown.[13] 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.[14]

Union Square hosts many public concerts and events.[15] Public views of the square can be seen from surrounding high places such as the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Macy's top floor, and the Grand Hyatt hotel. The Union Square Business Improvement District was founded in 1999[16] and focused primarily on cleaning and safety issues. The BID also deals with marketing, advocacy, streetscapes and capital improvement programs.[17] The Union Square BID has been criticized by some as acting in a harassing manner toward homeless people at times, to deter them from being there.[18]

In 2016, the vacancy rate around Union Square was only 3%.[6] Since then, high levels of crime and homelessness have become more prominent features of Union Square and neighboring neighborhoods.[7]

During 2020, the vacancy rate in the area rose to 9.4% after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.[6]

As of March 2024, large portions of Union Square and the surrounding area were "in sorry shape" with block after block of vacant storefronts.[3] The February 27, 2024 news of the planned closure of Macy's Union Square merely highlighted how Union Square had gradually "ceased to be an essential part of the city’s daily life".[3] In response to the news, Avison Young reported that if the closure occurs as planned, Union Square's vacancy rate would jump from 22% to 34.5%.[6] To the east of Union Square, a cluster of "ultra-luxe international boutiques" around Grant Street had stayed afloat by catering to the super-rich, but that was not enough to "attract San Franciscans or Bay Area residents who want to feel like they’re part of a real scene, be it cutting-edge or timelessly urbane."[3]

Public art[edit]

Dewey Monument in 2017

At the center of Union Square stands the Dewey Monument, an 85-foot (26 m) column on which stands a 9-foot (2.7 m) statue of Nike, the ancient Greek Goddess of Victory.[19] The monument is dedicated to Admiral George Dewey, a hero of the Spanish–American War for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898.[20] The monument was dedicated in 1903.[2]

Beginning in 2009, painted heart sculptures from the Hearts in San Francisco public art installation have been installed in each of the four corners of the square.[21]


The Tiffany Building is an 11-story,[22] 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) building at Union Square;[23] the bottom two floors contain a Tiffany & Co. store, while the upper floors contain offices.[24] Cathay Pacific maintains its North America regional headquarters on the third floor of the Tiffany Building,[25][26] The Cathay Pacific North America headquarters moved from Greater Los Angeles and opened in the Tiffany Building in 2005.[25]

The only hotel actually located on Union Square is the Westin St. Francis hotel which is celebrated for its historic Magneta Grandfather Clock.[27] It is believed to be the only hotel in the world that offers its guests, as a courtesy, a coin washing service. The process originated in 1938 at a time when high-society ladies wore white gloves that were easily tarnished during the exchange of money. It uses borax soap in an antiquated, manually-operated burnisher.[28]

Nearby attractions[edit]

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 renamed "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.

Ice skating and Christmas tree on display at Union Square during December 2022.

During the holiday season, an ice skating rink and Christmas tree are set up.[29]


Some of the department stores along the square, 2011

Over the years, Union Square became a popular shopping destination.[30] Several department stores sit within the three-block radius of Union Square, including Neiman Marcus, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue.[31][32] Barneys New York formerly operated a Union Square store which closed in 2019. Bloomingdale's anchors the nearby Emporium Centre San Francisco, a shopping mall built in 1988 on nearby Market Street. Nordstrom was formerly an anchor at Emporium Centre and also operated a Nordstrom Rack store a block away, but closed both stores in 2023.

A mix of upscale boutiques and popular retailers occupy many of the buildings surrounding Union Square. Among the luxury retailers that front Union Square are Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Bulgari, Loro Piana, Moncler, and jeweler Tiffany & Co.; while flagship Victoria's Secret, Williams Sonoma, Nike, and Apple stores also occupy buildings surrounding Union Square. Other notable brands in the surrounding area include Chanel, Prada, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Shapur Mozaffarian, Goyard, Dior and Cartier.

Gap Inc., which is headquartered less than a mile away on the Embarcadero, used to operate multiple flagship and full-line stores for The Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy in and around Union Square, but closed all those stores in the early 2020s and eventually reopened only a small upscale flagship store for Banana Republic in October 2023.

On February 27, 2024, it was reported that Macy's would be closing their West Coast flagship store at Union Square as part of a plan to close 150 stores nationwide by the end of 2026. Macy's stated that the store would remain open until the property was sold to a new owner. More than 400 employees were expected to be impacted as part of the closure.[33]

Video game company Nintendo announced that it will open its second US retail store in Union Square in 2025.[34]


Cable car along the square, 2015

Two cable car lines (Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason) serve Union Square on Powell Street.

In addition, Union Square is served by many trolleybus 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. In 2012, Muni began building an extension of its Muni Metro system to connect Union Square and Chinatown with Caltrain and other neighborhoods in San Francisco. After several delays, the extension, known as the Central Subway, opened in January 2023; a new station serving Union Square named Union Square/Market Street station now serves the square directly, which itself is linked to Powell Street station via an underground walkway.[35]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Union Square". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
  2. ^ a b c Hartlaub, Peter (May 16, 2015). "Our SF: The rags-to-riches story of Union Square". SFGate. Archived from the original on May 18, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f King, John (March 3, 2024). "Union Square once was the center of San Francisco. Now it's off the map". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 9, 2024.
  4. ^ Lonely Planet Pacific Coast Highways Road Trips. Travel Guide. Lonely Planet Global Limited. 2018. p. pt202. ISBN 978-1-78701-212-7. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  5. ^ Avila, Yuri; Blanchard, John (March 8, 2024). "S.F. downtown exodus: Map shows every major retail closure this year". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  6. ^ a b c d Nguyen, Kevin V. (March 9, 2024). "The new Macy's parade: Will store's Union Square exit lead to a cascade of closures?". The San Francisco Standard. Retrieved March 11, 2024.
  7. ^ a b Sam Mauhay-Moore (October 21, 2023). "Walgreens in San Francisco's Union Square to close by next month". Hearst Corporation. Retrieved October 22, 2023. The store's closure follows that of several retail establishments around Union Square, including Express, Anthropologie, Gap and CB2.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 28, 2014. Retrieved February 24, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Peter Booth Wiley, National Trust Guide—San Francisco: America's Guide for Architecture and History Travelers (John Wiley, 2000), pp. 377–379)
  10. ^ "History of Union Square". Visitunionsquaresf.com. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  11. ^ "BAYLIFE 98. FUTURE". Sfgate.com. 15 March 1998. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Remodel To Close Union Square / S.F.'s prime plaza to be prettied up". Sfgate.com. 27 December 2000. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  13. ^ "A square is born / Face-lift at S.F.'s most historic plaza has everything feeling like good old days". Sfgate.com. 26 July 2002. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  14. ^ "San Francisco's first official Wireless Hotzone". Prweb.com. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  15. ^ Fodor's96 pocket San Francisco. Fodor's Pocket Guides. Fodor's Travel Publications. 1995. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-679-03062-1. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  16. ^ Ben-Joseph, E.; Szold, T.S. (2005). Regulating Place: Standards and the Shaping of Urban America. Taylor & Francis. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-135-93382-1. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  17. ^ "Information about the Business Improvement District (BID) in San Francisco | Union Square". Archived from the original on 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
  18. ^ Ross, B.H.; Levine, M.A. (2015). Urban Politics: Cities and Suburbs in a Global Age. Taylor & Francis. p. pt215. ISBN 978-1-317-45274-4. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
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  20. ^ Moore, S.J. (2013). Empire on Display: San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. University of Oklahoma Press. p. pt51. ISBN 978-0-8061-8898-0. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  21. ^ "Valentine Date: A sweet 'heart' walking tour of San Francisco's heart sculptures – The Mercury News". The Mercury News. January 30, 2015. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  22. ^ Kim, Lilian (October 14, 2009). "10 SF firefighters suffer smoke inhalation". KGO-TV. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  23. ^ "Tiffany Building, Union Square". Kenmark Real Estate Group. Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  24. ^ Staff writers (October 13, 2009). "Two alarm blaze contained at Tiffany building at Union Square". The San Francisco Examiner. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved December 14, 2011..
  25. ^ a b Armstrong, David (February 16, 2005). "Cathay Pacific opens headquarters in S.F. / North American office relocated from Los Angeles". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  26. ^ "Cathay Pacific Airways Comes Home to San Francisco" (Press release). Cathay Pacific. February 16, 2005. Archived from the original on September 17, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
  27. ^ "Westin St. Francis Hotel Located In Union Square In San Francisco". Westin St Francis. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  28. ^ "The job: Coin washer". Financial Times. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Ice Skating Information at Union Square Park". Union Square Ice Rink. Archived from the original on June 4, 2023. Retrieved July 17, 2023.
  30. ^ "Shop | Visit Union Square | Hotels, Shopping, Travel, and Events". www.visitunionsquaresf.com. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  31. ^ Tevis, P. (2009). San Francisco For Dummies. Dummies Travel. Wiley. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-470-44797-0. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  32. ^ Brook, J.; Carlsson, C.; Peters, N.J. (1998). Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture. A City Lights anthology (in Spanish). City Lights Publishers. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-87286-335-4. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  33. ^ "Iconic SF Union Square Macy's to close amid mass shuttering of locations, supervisor says". ABC7 News. February 28, 2024. Retrieved February 28, 2024.
  34. ^ Roth, Emma (May 24, 2024). "Nintendo is opening its second US store in San Francisco". The Verge. Retrieved June 5, 2024.
  35. ^ "SFMTA Announces Opening Schedule of the Central Subway Project". 20 September 2022.
  36. ^ Barr, Charles (8 September 2018). "Is "Vertigo" just the fever dream of a dying man?". Salon. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  37. ^ "The Birds (1963) and Its San Francisco Pet Shop Opening". Culturedarm. 2015-08-15. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  38. ^ Docherty, T. (2012). Confessions: The Philosophy of Transparency. The WISH List. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-84966-659-6. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  39. ^ Muir, J.K. (2012). Horror Films of the 1970s. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers. p. 549. ISBN 978-0-7864-9156-8. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  40. ^ "Days of Wine and Roses - Reflections". Reel SF. Retrieved 2019-07-10.

External links[edit]