The third-largest shopping area in the United States, San Francisco’s Union Square is home to tons of upscale stores and hotels. A tall column at the center of the square commemorates a victory in the Spanish-American War.
History of the Square
Union Square had its beginnings during the years of the U.S. Civil War. The square got its name thanks to the large number of pro-Union rallies held there during the war.
Actually, Union Square was first set aside for public use in 1849 by the city’s first mayor. He envisioned it as a green, tranquil spot in the middle of a bustling city – a perfect place for busy citizens to relax. At the time, the area was still residential, and the square was lined with beautiful Victorian mansions. At the end of the 19th century, the first hotels and warehouses started to establish here. The first warehouse – the City of Paris – opened its doors in 1896. The first grand hotel – the St. Francis Hotel – opened in 1904.
After the earthquake and fire of 1906 leveled most of the buildings that surrounded it, the area quickly recovered.
St. Francis Hotel was already rebuilt in 1907. The hotel, which was expanded the next year, is still located at the square. The beautiful Beaux-Arts building of the City of Paris, which only needed its interior restored after the earthquake, was unfortunately demolished in 1981.
In 1942, local officials installed a large underground parking lot at the site and relegated the square to the roof of the garage. By the late 1990s, however, the mayor and his staff recognized the importance of the square as a central gathering place and began extensive renovations. More paved areas were added to make it easier to traverse, and several outdoor cafés sprung up. The best stores were attracted to the area and began to move in. Union Square became the preferred location for outdoor concerts and the annual Christmas tree, and – true to its history – protests still take place here.
At the center of Union Square stands a tall Corinthian column topped with a statue of Victoria, goddess of victory. The monument, also known as the Dewey Monument, commemorates the victory of admiral George Dewey in 1898 at Manila Bay during the Spanish – American war.
Union Square Area
Today, the term Union Square continues to describe not only the 2.6 acre (1 ha) square that bears the name, but also the central shopping area around it. Macy’s flagship store is located there, as are other popular upscale retail vendors such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s. Boutiques are plentiful as well as are art galleries touting works by wonderful regional artists.
San Francisco’s theater district also borders the Union Square area. In addition, some of the city’s finest hotels are situated in or near Union Square, including The St. Francis, Sir Frances Drake Hotel, and the San Francisco Grand Hyatt.
Also in the vicinity of the Union Square is the Powell Street Cable Car Turntable. Since the cable cars along the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason routes can only go in one direction, they have to be manually turned at their end point. At the turntable near the intersection of Powell and Market Streets, you’ll see scores of people watching this spectacle while queuing for a ride on the cable car.