Justin Herman Plaza



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Justin Herman Plaza
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Market St & Steuart St
San Francisco, California
United States

cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

The plaza with a little something special for anyone and everyone.

There's the ice skating rink in winter. Markets and free concerts in summer. Awesome places to sit down for lunch. Sick spots for skaters (who were dominating the plaza so thoroughly that the city removed most of the best gaps and ledges to deter skateboard fun). Not to mention the zip line with a hella high view of the plaza and off into the Bay. The Ferry Terminal and all its delicious eats is just across the street. Then there's the pillow fight every year on Valentine's Day, and the likelihood that any of the city's most awesome festivities -- hello Super Bowl fan village -- will either start off at or take place entirely in Justin Herman Plaza. Top it all off with some gorgeous, challenging, and free public art, and what's not to love? Frankly, the name.

Justin Herman for most of San Francisco brings up an image of the plaza bearing his name. The not-so-secret history, though, is that Herman is a symbol for the removal of San Francisco's African American community. Herman was city planner and the heart of the city's Redevelopment Agency during the mid 20th century. Two of his more notorious career benchmarks were getting poor folk out of SoMa to spur business development in San Francisco's downtown and a massive urban removal project that displaced African American residents in the Fillmore District, once called "Harlem of the west." African Americans moved en masse to the Fillmore during World War II. Housing had come available all at once after the United States government decided to kick Japanese Americans out of their homes, sending them to concentration camps for the duration of the war.

Herman's actions are viewed today as an egregious affront on the character of the city and against the livelihoods of countless African American San Franciscans. His choices lay the foundations for the city as it is today: unaffordable and increasingly homogenized. As such, there's a movement of folks hoping to strip his name from the honor of gracing one of the city's most happening spots. These do-gooders would have it named, instead, after Maya Angelou. On top of being one of the best poets to enhance the character of American letters, she broke barriers in the city by fighting to become the SF's first black female cable car driver. 

srussell's picture


The Justin Herman Plaza opened in 1972 across the street from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal and from La Mar, one of the best Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco.

The Ferry terminal houses a terrific gourmet food mall as well as a book shop, oyster bar, and a highly ranked Asian restaurant, the Slanted Door. The plaza was renamed following the Earthquake after the city planner who led the effort to redevelop the Embarcadero area. That redevelopment was the silver lining in the quake, because it removed the elevated freeway, unblocking fantastic views of the Bay and gave them an excuse to spruce up the whole area. The square’s main features are the controversial The Vaillancourt Fountain by Armand Vaillancourt, and the open space where hippies sell woven bracelets and the city sets up an ice skating rink during the winter.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Embarcadero (San Francisco)

The Embarcadero is the eastern waterfront and roadway of the Port of San Francisco, San Francisco, California, along San Francisco Bay. It was constructed on reclaimed land along a three mile long engineered seawall, from which piers extend into the bay. It derives its name from the Spanish verb embarcar, meaning "to embark"; embarcadero itself means "the place to embark". The Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 2002.

The Embarcadero right-of-way begins at the intersection of Second and King Streets near Oracle Park, and travels north, passing under the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The Embarcadero continues north past the Ferry Building at Market Street, Pier 39, and Fisherman's Wharf, before ending at Pier 45. A section of The Embarcadero which ran between Folsom Street and Drumm Street was formerly known as East Street.

For three decades, until it was torn down in 1991, the Embarcadero Freeway dominated the area. The subsequent redevelopment and restoration efforts have, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, "contributed to a remarkable urban waterfront renaissance", with the Embarcadero Historic District serving as a "major economic engine for the Bay Area".

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Embarcadero (San Francisco).