Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive - Search for Early FM Radio in San Francisco

The Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive is an exciting new database that we are offering to our public. It contains millions of scanned pages from dozens of major publication in the entertainment business including Billboard, Spin, Vibe, Musician, Trouser Press, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and Film Journal.

To try out the new database we did a search for KALW, the call letters of the the first permanent FM radio station to broadcast west of the Rockies.

Variety, December 4, 1940 from the Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive
San Francisco.--J. E. Morgan, until recently production manager of KSFO, is new head of the radio department at the Samuel Gompers Trade School here. Giving instruction in FM, using the school's new FM transmitter, KALW, as exhibit A.
A photograph of the Samuel Gompers Trade School from our San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection shows radio towers atop the structure. The building is still extant and is part of the City College of San Francisco Mission Campus.

The main purpose of the station was to train public school students to become radio technicians. At this time FM radio was still a very novel technology and there were very few transmitters and receivers.

Variety, August 10, 1940.

KALW was preceded by a temporary FM station - W10XLV - transmitting programs 15 hours a day during the National Association of Broadcasters meeting in August 1940. 

On July 17, 1940, the Federal Communications Commission "granted special temporary authority" for W10XLV to operate "on an experimental non-interference basis" during the month August, coinciding with the convention. The "X" within the call letters meant that the station was experimental. Variety magazine informed its readers that Radio Engineering Labs in New York sent the equipment that was installed above the Palace Hotel. AM station KSFO supplied the programming - in those days, KSFO also broadcast their programs from the Palace Hotel. 

The following year, a Variety article announced that KALW would be carrying educational program from the CBS radio network.

Variety, October 29, 1941

The American School of the Air was a half hour long educational program that ran from 1930 through 1948. In some school districts it was required listening schools and at times was incorporated into the school curriculum.

With the cooperation of CBS affiliate KSFO, the program was broadcast by the San Francisco Unified School District's station KALW into FM receivers that were placed in classrooms around the district.  

A San Francisco Chronicle article reported that ss of August 1941 only George Washington High School had FM receivers with San Francisco Junior College (City College today), Portola Junior High School and Hawthorne Elementary School scheduled to receive theirs soon. At the time these receivers were rare and expensive (they sold for around $100 or the equivalent of more than $2000 today). Is it possible that Samuel Gompers Trade School students also learned how to build FM receivers?

Broadcasting, Telecasting, December 23, 1946

At the outset, FM stations broadcast on 42-44 megacycle band of the radio spectrum. KALW's original frequency was 42.1 megacycles. In 1945, the Federal Communications Commission made a decision to move FM to the frequency range between 88 and 108 megacycles. This became the standard that all FM receiving equipment has followed ever since.  After a temporary move to 44.3 megacycles, in 1948 KALW landed at its present location on the radio dial at 91.7 megacycles.

Boyer, Anne, "Your Little Red Schoolhouse May Be Wired for Sound," San Francisco Chronicle August 30, 1941.

Dunning, John, On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Oxford University Press, 1998).

"Public Notice, July 17, 1940," Federal Communications Commission.

Speegle, Paul, "Those Appeals for Funds Create Quite A Problem, San Francisco Chronicle July 5, 1948.

Sterling, Christopher H. and Michael C. Keith, Sounds of Change: A History of FM Broadcasting in America (University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Modern Jazz Quartet

image source: San Francisco Chronicle October 5, 1954

The Modern Jazz Quartet first appeared in San Francisco on October 4, 1954 at the Blackhawk nightclub, 200 Hyde Street. Esteemed San Francisco Chronicle jazz critic, Ralph Gleason, wrote about their appearance:

The Modern Jazz Quartet ... represents the new approach to jazz. Schooled musicians, jazz men, too, they have brought forethought, planning and discipline to their music as well as the extemporaneous fire of jazz improvisations... The members of the group--John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Milt Jackson, vibes, and Kenny Clark, drums--are among the most serious of the modern jazz men, and yet the charm of their music is that they are not so serious that they do not have fun.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz characterizes the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet as "cool jazz" in a "conservative bebop style." They were all, in fact, seasoned bebop musicians who performed in Dizzy Gillespie's band. 

The Modern Jazz Quartet is notable for merging jazz, original a genre of dance music or entertainment, with elements of classical music. In that regard, they along with Duke Ellington and others brought jazz from the dance hall to the concert hall. This genre was sometimes called Third Stream Music.

advertisement from the San Francisco Ballet program

After a stint in the army during World War II, pianist John Lewis studied at the Manhattan School of Music. He soon joined Gillespie's group and later also worked and recorded with Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. He also worked with Miles Davis as a pianist and arranger on the Birth of The Cool sessions in the late 1950s.

Program cover for the San Francisco Ballet's performance of Original Sin

Locally, Lewis collaborated with choreographer Lew Christensen and poet Kenneth Rexroth in the creation of Original Sin, a ballet in two scenes, written for the San Francisco Ballet that premiered on April 14, 1961.

An advertisement in the program details the miniature scores published by MJQ Music Inc., Lewis's imprint.

We have several of the MJQ Music scores in our collection. These include several works by John Lewis:

Excerpts from The Comedy, 1957-1959, for solo piano, 4 trumpets, 4 horns, 2 trombones, tuba, percussion, and double bass.

The Golden Striker: 1957, for solo piano, bass, percussion, 4 trumpets, 4 horns, 2 trombones, and tuba

Jazz Ostinato, For jazz quartet (vibraharp, piano, drums, double bass) and orchestra.

Sketch: For double quartet (1959), for jazz quartet (piano, vibraphone, percussion, and double bass) and string quartet.

The Spiritual, for jazz quartet (vibraharp, piano, drums, double bass) and orchestra.

We offer several Modern Jazz Quartet albums as streaming audio. We also have the four vinyl LP albums available to borrow in the Art, Music & Recreation Center

The Last Concert (Atlantic, 1975). 

More from the Last Concert (Atlantic, 1981).

No Sun in Venice: original film score, by John Lewis (Atlantic, 1958).

Under the Jasmin Tree (Apple, 1968).


Coady, Christopher. John Lewis and the Challenge of "Real" Black Music (University of Michigan Press, 2016)

Gleason, Ralph, "Oldest and Newest in Jazz In S.F. Spots This Week," San Francisco Chronicle October 7, 1954.

Gleason, Ralph J. Celebrating the Duke, and Louis, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy, and other Heroes (Little, Brown, 1975).

Owens, Thomas, "Modern Jazz Quartet," in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, edited by Barry Kernfeld (Grove's Dictionaries Inc., 2002).

San Francisco Ballet. Spring Season 1961. Alcazar Theatre [program].

Schuller, Gunther. "Third Stream," in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, edited by Barry Kernfeld (Grove's Dictionaries Inc., 2002).

image source: album jacket for The Last Concert, photograph by David Gahr

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

John Carl Warnecke and Associates Buildings in San Francisco (1950s-1960s)

Picketers in front the Lane Bryant store in 1957, source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

The earliest evidence of John Carl Warnecke and Associates work in San Francisco dates from the mid-1950s at 55 Geary Street, the former Lane Bryant store. A San Francisco Chronicle article credits him with work on the exterior, although this work is difficult to detect today. The present exterior facade is different than this 1957 photograph.

Warnecke's next work in San Francisco was on the Federal Office Building #2 (now known as the Phillip Burton Federal Office Building) completed in 1959. Warnecke's firm was one of three firms involved in the design along with with Albert F. Roller, and Stone, Marraccini and Patterson. It's difficult to determine what the respective firms' contributions were. Nevertheless, the exterior share properties that we will see in Warnecke's later work.
Multiple stone columns run the length of the building on all four sides. These are hashed by horizontal lines top to bottom; there are four of these vertical lines for every floor of the building. Between these columns there are additional metallic columns that subdivide the intervening space into four window spaces.  The windows take up the size of two horizontal hash lines and the other two lines are placed above and below as spandrels or buffers between floors. Continuing the theme of four, the long face of the building has seventeen columns creating 16 (four squared) sections.  Furthermore this pattern is executed across 16 stories.

In San Francisco Architecture, Sally Woodbridge and her co-authors dismissed the Federal Building as "A lackluster blockbuster expressing all too well the contemporary scale of government"

The Warnecke firm's next major project was an addition to the French Hospital (now the Kaiser Hospital French campus) which was opened incrementally in 1963 and 1964.  A 1964 Architectural Record article describes the architecture:  
Floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the first floor are recessed behind columns to provide an outdoor shelter related to waiting space in the lobby. 
The front facade is a rhythmic pattern of glass metal between precast concrete panels. Above and below each window are decorative bronzed grills giving the effect of balconies and providing sun control for tall windows.
French Hospital, photographed by Richard E. Persoff (source: Architectual Record 1964)

Around the same time, the Warnecke firm designed the high rise apartments at 1170 Sacramento Street, sometimes known as The Nob Hill, Nob Hill Apartments, or Nob Hill Condominiums.

Above a comparatively ornate lobby floor, this structure employs rectangular repetition and symmetry on a small horizontal scale. An Architectural Record review describes:
In form, the building is a 22-story rectangular tower with arched openings at ground level, and with balconies and bay windows serving to soften the shape of the rectangle above. 
The newly constructed Nob Hill Condominium (source: Architectural Record April 1965)

After working Nob Hill luxury apartments, Warnecke's next San Francisco project was high rise to house seniors commissioned by the City's housing authority.
One hundred and eighty residents attended the dedication Tuesday at the Housing Authority's new senior citizen resident, the Mission Dolores apartments at 1855 15th street. Eneas J. Kane, executive director, said the ten-story apartment cost $1,350,000 and was design by John Charles [sic] Warnecke, the architect. Rents range from $35 to $65 a month. There are 92 units. 
source: San Francisco Chronicle December 9, 1966

Named Mission Dolores Apartments, these apartments are located at 1855 15th Street. This building's front shows more exterior variety than other Warnecke structures but is still based on rectangles and symmetry.

image source: Bridge Housing

Portions of the facade seen from the street are inset.

image source: FineLine Construction

The back of the building, not visible from the street, shows more of the regularity seen with the Federal Building.

A pre-construction drawing of 425 California Street (source: Architectural Record September 1966)

John Carl Warnecke's tallest San Francisco building to that point was built at 425 California Street for the First Savings and Loan Association, a subsidiary of Great Western Financial Corporation. (This corporation was later acquired by Washington Mutual Bank that is now owned by JP Morgan Chase).

"Glass wall construction--with all its advantages of openness, color, reflectivity and drama--gives you, the architect, uncommon freedom of expression. For full details, contact your nearest PPG Architectural Representative, consult Sweet's catalog file, or write PPG Industries, One Gateway Center, Pittsburgh, Pa. 19522. First Savings Building, 425 California Street, San Francisco"
Architect: John Carl Warnecke and Associates, San Francisco
source: AIA Journal September 1968

The building opened in 1968. Advertising from PPG Industries (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) extolls the "glass wall" made possible through their materials. The exterior was distinctive enough to draw notice in the New York Times:
The bay window design was made possible by cantilevering each floor beyond the perimeter column line by about 19 inches at intervals of 6 feet, 4 1/2 inches, and enclosing the extended area with bronze-tinted glass on three sides. The facade line is indented between the bay windows to produce a curtain wall of unusual grace.

Each side of the building has 13 windowed sections -- six extended and seven recessed. The number of sections is half the number of stories for the building (26). A San Francisco Examiner article noted that the window treatment gave the building "a facade of visual interest and enhance the interior appeal as well" owing to the natural light. 

425 California Street (image source: 425 California [website])

The building's steel frame is encased by a grey glass exterior partitioned by opaque metal spandrels that blend with the glass in the daytime but provide contrast when the building is illuminated at night.

Pacific Telephone's Proposed Bay Area Headquarters... the 12-story structure, costing about $15 million will house more than 1,700 employes [sic]
source: San Francisco Examiner January 8, 1963

John Carl Warnecke and Associates designed an additional building at 666 Folsom Street in 1964 for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph corporation. 

The site of the future 666 Folsom Street in 1961 (image source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection).

In the early 1960s, South of Market was on the cusp of major redevelopment. A 1961 view of the site shows parking lots and older buildings (with the original 1925 Pacific Telephone & Telegraph building in the background). 

666 Folsom, 1969-1970 (source: San Francisco Redevelopment Agency collection, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection)

The building was a pioneering structure in the redevelopment of San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood.

666 Folsom, 1982, photograph by Sid Tate 
(source: San Francisco Examiner April 25, 1982 in the vertical file "South of Market" in the Art, Music and Recreation Center's Newspaper Clipping Files)

Similar to Warnecke's other buildings, 666 Folsom uses geometric patterns and repetition to achieve its form. Verplank describes the main facade being "divided into ten bays by thin concrete fins." These ten bays correspond to the ten upper windowed stories.  A thin molding surrounds each window, grouping four windows together within each grid section. 

666 Folsom Street - May 2008 Google Streetview

By 2004, SBC Communications (the successor at that time to Pacific Telephone & Telegraph) had closed up shop in the building. The 2008 Google Street View shows the building probably abandoned with a couple of boarded up windows.  

In a 2008 report on the structure, VerPlanck noted that Warnecke's building appeared to eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources both "for its prominent and precedent-setting role in the post-war-era redevelopment of the South of Market" and "as the work of a master and as an excellent and early example of the Brutalist style in San Francisco." 

Around 2014, the exterior of Warnecke's structure was replaced and radically reimagined by the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill firm. Their architects rejected the "cumbersome, unwelcoming mass" of the original and replaced it with a glass facade. The Chronicle's architect critic John King wrote approvingly that "once homely boxes have a fresh sheen."

A later entry in the blog will look at John Carl Warnecke and Associate's designs from the 1970s and 1980s.


"About," French-American Foundation for Medical Research and Education [website].

"The Bay Window Is Going Modern," San Francisco Examiner August 20, 1967.

"Bay Windows Installed on San Francisco Tower," New York Times September 10, 1967.

CENTRAL SOMA Historic Context Statement & Historic Resource Survey (San Francisco Department of Public Works, 2015).

Historic Resource Evaluation 633 Folsom Street San Francisco, CA (Architectural Resources Group, Inc, 2014).

"Housing for Elderly," San Francisco Chronicle January 2, 1964.

King, John, "Out-dated Buildings in S.F. Swap Their Concrete Shells for Sleek Glass," San Francisco Chronicle April 23, 2014.

"Lane Bryant Will Open Store Here," San Francisco Chronicle March 20, 1955.

"New Residence," San Francisco Chronicle December 9, 1966.

"PT&T Played Big Role in Bay Area's 1962 Economy," San Francisco Examiner January 8, 1963.

"Nob Hill Elegance by Warnecke." Architectural Record April 1965. 

"Thoughtful Layouts for Efficient Nursing," Architectural Record October 1964.

VerPlanck, Christopher, Primary Record / Building, Structure, and Object Record, 666 Folsom (State of California - The Resources Agency, Department of Parks and Recreation, 2008).

Wallack, Todd, "SBC to Move Jobs Out of S.F. - Phone Giant Plans to Consolidate Its Call Centers, Offices," San Francisco Chronicle October 29, 2004.

Watson, Lloyd, "12-Story HQ for Bay Area," San Francisco Chronicle December 20, 1961.

Woodbridge, Sally Byrne, et al, San Francisco Architecture : An Illustrated Guide to the Outstanding Buildings, Public Artworks, and Parks in the Bay Area of California, rev. ed. (Ten Speed Press, 2005).

Monday, October 23, 2023

New Audio and Video Performing Arts Databases at the San Francisco Public Library

We are happy to able to expand our Streaming Music and Streaming Movies & TV offerings with some new databases from Alexander Street Press.

Qwest TV Collection features full-length clips produced for Qwest TV, a network formed by jazz legend Quincy Jones. It is an eclectic collection of video performances from many genres.

L.A. Theatre Works is a nonprofit whose work is distributed to public radio through PRX (Public Radio Exchange). Audio Drama: The L.A. Theatre Works Collections is a collection of plays that they have presented over the years. 

Broadway On Demand Collection includes hundreds of musicals, plays, and dance performances as well as documentaries, and masterclasses.

The National Theatre Collection and Royal Shakespeare Company Collection are similar databases offering performances of full-length plays by the finest British actors and actresses. These video recordings are accompanied by a transcript (the script) for convenience.

Theatre in Video is the largest of the databases and includes a mix of performances and documentaries. Much, but not all, of the programming comes from public television. To get the most out of the database use the funnel to "filter your results.

You can find these and similar databases at the following links:



https://sfpl.org/databases (search alphabetically or filter by the topic Art & Music)

from the Qwest TV Collection

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

John Carl Warnecke (1919-2010)

John Carl Warnecke (photo by Don Steffen in Newsweek October 2, 1967)

The Market Street Joint Venture Architects that re-envisioned and rebuilt San Francisco's Market Street in the 1960s and 1970s consisted of three firms: Mario J. Ciampi & Associates, Lawrence Halprin & Associates and John Carl Warnecke & Associates. 

John Carl Warnecke was a great power in his field. At that time he ran the largest architectural firm in the United States, headquartered in San Francisco with offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Honolulu and Washington, DC. San Francisco Chronicle, John King architecture writer described Warnecke as a "a Bay Area architect whose mark on the American landscape can be measured from San Francisco's skyline to John F. Kennedy's grave site."

Warnecke's main claim to fame was his association with president John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie (the architect's obituaries in the Chronicle and the New York Times both headlined this). He was commissioned by the Kennedy White House to redesign Washington DC's historic Lafayette Square. Following the president's assassination he was selected to design John F. Kennedy memorial at Arlington National Cemetery with the Eternal Flame. Senator Edward Kennedy hired him to design McLean, Virginia home. Gossip writers also printed rumors that Warnecke was romantically involved with the president's widow. 
John Warnecke, tackle for the 1940 Stanford Indians (source: Merrick, Down on The Farm)

John Carl Warnecke was born on February 24, 1919 in Oakland, CA, son of architect Carl Ingomar Warnecke.  He attended Stanford University where he played tackle on the school's undefeated 1940 team that won the 1941 Rose Bowl. He remained physically imposing all his life at 6 foot 3 inches tall and 220 pounds. He quickly completed a bachelor's degree at Harvard University in 1942 where he studied with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, an innovator in the use of new materials in construction and a proponent of functionalism in design.

Warnecke began his career as an apprentice to Arthur Brown, Jr. while studying at Stanford. Brown was one of the architects for of the Civic Center's San Francisco Opera House and War Memorial Veterans Building plus the Federal Building at 50 United Nations Plaza. Warnecke later worked for his father before starting his own firm in 1950. It stayed in business until 1980.

He wrote about his work for the biographical encyclopedia Contemporary Architects:
The firm has been asked to design in places–equally beautiful–which were built by man over generations: the environs of the White House; historic Annapolis; the campuses of of the University of California and Stanford University; old Monterey; the Royal Palace grounds of Honolulu; fashionable Nob Hill; a site adjacent to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo; and the historic residential area of Neuilly in Paris. In historic places such as these, the needs of the present must show respect for the past.
Warnecke has been called a forerunner of Contextual Modernism in architecture which according to Middleton emphasizes "spatial volume" with both a regularity in pattern and a lack of ornamentation. His architecture has sometimes been called brutalist. Krantz describes Warnecke's style as "a curious blend of Beaux-Arts neoclassicism, Bauhaus Modernism and Far Eastern exoticism."

John Carl Warnecke & Associates designed hundreds of buildings of all types. The firm was hired to work on many college campuses. These included local institutions like Stanford University (notably the designing the Maples Pavilion), The University of California at Berkeley (designing Moffitt Library), UC Santa Cruz (designing the McHenry Library), The San Francisco Theological Seminary, Sonoma State University, and the College of San Mateo. The firm also worked at Georgetown University, The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, The United States Naval Academy, The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Tufts University. 

The Hart Senate Office Building (source: United States Senate)

John Carl Warnecke & Associates was also responsible for designing government buildings in Oakland, Sacramento, Washington, DC (including the Hart Senate Office Building), Minneapolis and Honolulu. Two entries from the American Architects Directory of 1962 and 1970 show some of this work and the awards that he and the firm received for it.

source: American Architects Directory, 2nd edition (1962)

source: American Architects Directory, 3rd edition (1970)

After retiring to the North Bay, John Carl Warnecke died on April 17, 2010 in Healdsburg, California.

Many of the buildings designed by John Carl Warnecke & Associates are a familiar part of the United States built landscape, but Warnecke's name has largely faded from discussion. There are not any books published about his life and career.

A subsequent blog entry will detail Warnecke's contributions to San Francisco's architecture.


American Architects Directory, 2nd edition (R.R. Bowker Co., 1962).

American Architects Directory, 3rd edition (R.R. Bowker Co., 1970).

Cardinalis, Kye, "The Contextual Architectural of John Carl Warnecke," Atomic Ranch July 22, 2023.

Contemporary Architects, editor, Muriel Emanuel, 3rd ed. (St. James Press, 1994).

Grimes, William, "John Carl Warnecke, Architect to Kennedy, Dies at 91," New York Times April 23, 2010.

King, John, "John Warnecke - S.F. Architect with Close Ties to Kennedy Clan," San Francisco Chronicle May 7, 2010.

Krantz, Les., American Architects: A Survey of Award-Winning Contemporaries and Their Notable Works (Facts on File, 1989).

Merrick, Fred, Down on The Farm: A Story of Stanford Football (Strode Publishers, 1975).

Middleton, Deborah A. "Warnecke, John Carl," in The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, editor in chief, Joan Marter (Oxford University Press, 2011).

"On The Square," Newsweek October 2, 1967.

Shearer, Lloyd, "Jackie Kennedy, World's Most Eligible Widow - Will She Marry Again," Pasadena Independent Star News December 4, 1966.

"Ted Kennedy's Virginia House On Market For Nearly $10 Million," Huffington Post May 22, 2012.

"Warnecke, John Carl," in Current Biography (The H.W. Wilson Company, 1968).

"Warnecke, John Carl," in Current Biography (The H.W. Wilson Company, 2010).

Thursday, August 17, 2023

United Nations Plaza Fountain - A Troubled Life


source: "Question Man - What is a San Francisco Eyesore?" San Francisco Chronicle January 14, 1980

The fountain at the United Nations plaza is cement. Tons of cement are not pretty. (Jannette Anderson, 1980).

Construction of the fountain had not yet begun when United Nations Plaza was dedicated in June 1975, the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Charter Conference in San Francisco.  The fountain itself was dedicated on April 25, 1977, but it was a dry event -- water was not scheduled to flow until July.  Newspaper articles through 1978 noted the continued malfunctioning of the valves that controlled the water spray.

The only time the United Nations Plaza fountain appears to have been fully functional was in early 1979.  It provided a very different experience than we get today.

image source: San Francisco Examiner February 6, 1979

A 1979 photo shows a gush of water like we never see today. A San Francisco Examiner article accompanying accompanying the photo provides an explanation of the fountain's operation from Don Carter, who along with Angela Danadjieva was principal-charge of the project for the Halprin firm.    

He explained that the fountain alternated between periods of calm, periods of jacuzzi-like waves and a climax he called the "jets cycle" when it erupted like a 25 foot high geyser.  When the weather was too windy, these water intensive events would be shut down by automatic computer control. One of the geyser events was coordinated with curtain times at the adjoining Orpheum Theater. During some of the "low tide" periods the water level dropped 30 inches from the peak water level and allowed people to walk inside the dried out structure. Carter expressed a hope that children would wade in the fountain on warm days.

While some observers were delighted by the variety and periodicity of the fountain's activity, others were puzzled by it.  According to one denizen of the plaza: "When the spray isn't working, people think its broken. The sprays only operate three times a day."  Given the common windy conditions in the plaza, it likely operated less than that.  The equipment that created these effects fell into disrepair in the early 1980s, eliminating the "earth-tides" symbolism that formed a significant part of Halprin's vision.

The San Francisco Chronicle's famed architecture writer Allan Temko was no fan of the fountain. He called it a "pomposity of ... madly assembled granite." He also lamented that "for the $2 million this fountain cost we could have bought four or five Henry Moores, to name a sculptor who might have dome justice to the grand entry to the Civic Center."

It was not long before the fountain became a casualty of the neighborhood's street life.  In mid-1979, Kevin Starr, San Francisco City Librarian from 1973 to 1976 and later a San Francisco Examiner columnist, wrote an erudite put-down of the fountain entitled a "$1.5 Million Pig Pen" He wrote scathingly of the crowd surrounding it.
The noise (every other word referred to an act of incest) came from a dozen or so men holding confabulation on the corner near the fountain. They were drinking from bottles and cans wrapped in brown paper bags, and they were shouting to each other in cacophonous discourse.

Garbage and filth surround the fountain. I stepped gingerly around wads of gum, cigarette butts, vomit, a half-eaten fly-infested turkey drumstick, flattened beer cans and empty bottles. I noted three empty bottles of Thunderbird, two empty bottles of Franzia Brothers white port and one bottle of Night Train Express pear wine.
Great granite blocks rise in a certain sculptured disorderliness that is actually a pyramidal order. From various points water rushes down the granite to a pool below, putting the fountain into dramatic motion. The flow of water came up against a barrier of refuse, however, where it was supposed to flow most dramatically out of sight--a dam of beer cans, wet paper and broken glass, and a horrible primeval compost ooze composed of God-knows-what.

The UN fountain is not even a year old, but already heavy graffiti mars many of its noble facades. The stones facing Leavenworth Street are the most heavily defaced with scores of insipid or obscene scratchings.
Starr held no objection to the fountain itself, but to the fountain within its societal environment. He lamented that the "very symbolic center of our city, the UN Plaza at Civic Center, is a miasma of filth and defacement." When Janette Anderson, at the top of this entry, identified the fountain as a "public eyesore" and misidentified it as being constructed from ugly cement, her opinion was probably formed as someone who did not want to hang around to appreciate it.

The ensuing years brought small adjustment to the plaza -- the removal of benches, engraving in the sidewalks commemorating the 40th anniversary of the United Nation's founding.  But the fountain remained an issue.  When it wasn't fenced off it attracted homeless bathers and drug users.  Chronicle writer Ilene Lelchuk reported that "The spraying fountain in San Francisco's United Nations Plaza is used as a toilet, bathtub and crack den more often than a soothing place to relax and read a book." Because they"giving up on fishing hypodermic needles and human feces out of the fountain," the Department of Public Works surrounded it with a temporary barrier.

United Nations Plaza Fountain with temporary chained barrier and "No Trespassing" sign (source: Hirsch, 2005)

In 2005 the fountain received a short respite when the plaza was spruced up for the the celebration of World Environment Days recognizing the 60th anniversary of the UN Charter in San Francisco. "Attractive" bollards and chains were erected to discourage bathing. Then Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered an increased police presence to prevent drug use and other antisocial behavior. He also intended United Nations Plaza more "active" by using it as a performance space and bringing in food trucks.
UN Plaza Fountain during 2005 World Environment Day celebration with United Nations Flags (image source: Hinshaw, 2015)

In 2003, John King, Allan Temko's successor at the San Francisco Chronicle, pronounced that "as good as Halprin is, this fountain hasn't stood the test of time." The granite structure did not cohere with its surroundings in the plaza and formed an obstacle to pedestrian flow to Leavenworth Street at the north.

1986, architectural historian Gray Brechin wrote a review of a 70th birthday exhibition for Lawrence Halprin given at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Here he discussed the many successful projects on display, however, he also cited a "necessary but tragic omission": Halprin's work on San Francisco's Market Street beautification project in collaboration with Mario Ciampi and John Carl Warnecke in the 1960s and 1970s.

He put his finger on the larger problem with their vision.
Market's [Market Street's] problems supersede design and maintenance. In the fifteen years since the beautification was completed, American society has undergone vast changes that Halprin and Ciampi could not anticipate. Market was designed for a stable, upscale retail base and middle-class consumers, but business was driven out by the long process of construction, and the boulevard has now surrendered to the dereliction, addiction and insanity that have grown yearly more noticeable and controllable. The usual attempted solution has been to put more cops on the beat, but symptoms indicate a problem that designers are helpless to correct and in some cases have worsened.
These designers, and one assumes city leaders, aspired to transform Market Street according to their aspirations, to make it a vital, thriving prosperous destination and a source of civic pride. The interval of time between the formation of this vision (circa 1960) and its realization (mid-1970s) saw many social changes nationally and locally.

Brechin continued:
It is impossible to evaluate Halpin's Hallidie and UN Plazas apart from the poverty they collect and contain. In UN Plaza at the Civic Center, the derelicts sun and prowl through Halprin's usually dry fountain. These plazas remind me of ragged spectators in the Roman ruins, or of Blade Runner.
Halprin defended and fought for the vision of his fountain until his death in 2009.  He didn't question his design. Instead he insisted that the city leaders should prevent the antisocial behavior from happening in the first place. "I'm not angry at the homeless," he said. "I'm angry at the people who let them not act civilly."

United Nations Plaza and its fountain continue to challenge San Francisco's leaders and its government.

Previous entries:

(Many of the articles can be found in the Newspaper Clipping File folder for "United Nations Plaza")

Adams, Gerald, "Another City Fountain Dispute Is Bubbling Up," San Francisco Examiner February 6, 1979.

Brechin, Gray, "Choreographer of Space," San Francisco Focus August 1986.

"Commission Approves $1.2 Million Fountain," San Francisco Examiner April 22, 1975.

Cone, Russ, "Valve Makes A Fountain of A Fiasco at UN Plaza," San Francisco Examiner March 17, 1978.

Day, Linda, "Lawrence Halprin and the Public Realm: Can the United Nations Plaza Unite San Franciscans?," Planetizen July 20, 2017. 

Fagan, Kevin, "U.N. Plaza Finally Getting New Look," San Francisco Chronicle March 19, 2005

Hinshaw, Mark, "Halprin Fountain Finds New Life," Landscape Architecture October 2005 [available through JStor].

Hirsch, Alison Bick, "The Fate of Lawrence Halpin's Public Spaces: Three Case Studies," Masters Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2005.

King, John, "A Vision Revision: U.N. Plaza Plan Lacks Attractions for Visitors," San Francisco Chronicle May 6, 2003.

Lelchuk, Ilene, "U.N. Plaza's Architect to Fight Redesign," San Francisco Chronicle April 18, 2003.

Lelchuk, Ilene, "City Give up on U.N. Plaza Fountain," San Francisco Chronicle March 12, 2003.

Pacheco, Antonio, "Another Halprin-designed plaza could be on the chopping block, this time in San Francisco," The Architects Notebook May 30, 2018

Robinson, Gene, "U.N.'s Party in Its Plaza" San Francisco Chronicle June 27, 1975.

Stack, Peter, "A Brainy Fountain Is Dedicated," San Francisco Chronicle April 26, 1977.

Starr, Kevin, "$1.5 Million Pig Pen," San Francisco Examiner June 12, 1979.

Starr, Kevin, "Our Public Space Crisis," San Francisco Examiner June 13, 1979.

Temko, Allan, "The 'New' Market Street -- An Unfulfilled Promise," San Francisco Chronicle March 21, 1979.

Waugh, Dexter, "U.N. Plaza Stirs Market St. 'Renaissance," San Francisco Examiner September 13, 1978.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

United Nations Plaza Fountain - A Troubled Birth

Fulton and Market, Aug 1964. Source: Open SF History

Earlier entry: United Nations Plaza Fountain Introduction (June 22, 2023)

The United Nations Plaza Fountain has its origins in the early 1960s with a grander redesign strategy for Market Street.  The Market Street Development Project, a group of businessmen working with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (SPUR), commissioned the study What to Do About Market Street (1962). They assigned themselves the "task of changing Market St. from a shabby main stem into a beautiful boulevard second to none."  Lawrence Halprin and Associates contributed a chapter in this document which contained the earliest proposal to Market Street with the Civic Center by opening up Fulton Street to create the space that became UN Plaza.

This work was followed up with a Market Street Design Task Force that began looking at the addition of the underground transit system that would become MUNI and BART.  Their 1965 report proposed narrowing Market Street, expanding sidewalk dimensions and creating a series of plazas.  This included closing Fulton Street from Market Street to Hyde Street to create a space tentatively named the Fulton Plaza or the Fulton Street Mall.  In late 1967 the firms of Mario Ciampi and John Carl Warnecke rendered this plan and presented it to the Board of Supervisors. This included the formal proposal to close Leavenworth Street between McAllister and Fulton Streets and Fulton Street between Market and Hyde Streets thus creating the footprint for a future plaza.  Mayor Joseph L. Alioto proposed naming it United Nations Plaza in 1970.

Model showing plans for park at United Nations Plaza. Source: San Francisco Historic Photograph Collection

By that time Lawrence Halprin's firm had joined Mario Ciampi's and John Carl Warnecke's firm to form the Market Street Joint Venture Architects. This organization would create the design for all of Market Street, its plazas and its transit stations.  According Pacheco, Halprin had conceived the original design of the United Nations Plaza fountain in 1962 during his "Modernist period." Hirsch describes Halprin's conception of United Nations Plaza being "dominated by a major sculpture" that would "direct views, ceremonial processions or parade events off Market Street and toward City Hall."

One of the earliest reactions to the design of the fountain for UN Plaza came at its unveiling in December 1970 at a San Francisco Art Commission meeting. Commission president, architect Ernest Born, generally praised the design of the Plaza, however, he excoriated Halprin's fountain:
This is a flamboyant example of a designer's ego. The fountain is a gross intrusion of a personal idea into a public space. It's hypocrisy. Whoever designed this wasn't thinking about the people who are going to use it. He was only thinking of himself. Why does this thing have to be so vulgar?
Model showing plans for fountain in United Nations Plaza. Source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

Born was reacting to Halprin's initial very large design that dwarfed the eventual final design.

The negative feedback continued the following year. In May 1971, the Civic Design Committee of the Art Commission unanimously asserted that Halprin's fountain was "not suitable." Art Commissioner and future San Francisco supervisor Thomas Hsieh complained:
We are very unhappy about this... It is a very fine design for a shopping center, but it is totally disproportionate in this area... The design just has nothing to do with Market Street and nothing to do with Civic Center. The designer just doesn't seem to respond to criticism or suggestion.
Columnist Jack Rosenbaum reported that by mid-1970 the Art Commission continued the discussion about the fountain for several sessions and wanted to see it redesigned.  Nevertheless, in December 1971 the full Art Commission voted to approve the broad Phase 1 of the Market Street design plan, with artists Ruth Asawa and Antonio Sotomayor (who described the fountain as "troughs for horses") voting against it.

Halprin's fountain itself came to a final vote in March 1974 when the commissioners in attendance voted it down by 4 to 3. The vote was changed to 4 to 4 when the Commission chairman, who was only supposed to be allowed to vote to break a tie, cast an affirmative to make the result a tie.  This created an opportunity for a second vote.  A few weeks later the Art Commission reconvened to  approve the fountain by 6 to 4.  All of the "no" votes against came from members of the commissions's Visual Arts Committee - Ruth Asawa, Anita Martinez, Antonio Sotomayor and Ray Taliaferro.  

Ruth Asawa summed of the change of course: "We voted in good faith March 4 and then they 'imported' some people to vote, some people who are there only when it is political and the fountain was approved." There was apparently behind the scenes pressure that allowed Halprin's design to prevail, probably coming from the influence of the three firms of the Market Street Joint Venture Architects and business interests wanting to assure a smooth Market Street reconstruction.
"We could be making a fortune building fountains in San Francisco"
Editorial cartoon by Ken Alexander showing prisoners breaking rocks under armed guard, source: San Francisco Examiner March 24, 1974

Public opinion did not favor the fountain. Storm clouds quickly formed.  In 1971 the fountain's cost had been estimated at $500,000. By the 1974 the actual cost had risen to $1,150,000 due to inflation and "more precise pricing." A San Francisco Examiner editorial called for scaling back the project; Supervisor Quentin Kopp explored placing a "statement of policy" opposing the fountain on the June 1974 ballot.  Five other supervisors joined him as co-sponsors. The ballot statement would have read:  
Should a fountain, constructed of granite slabs and estimated by the Department of Public Works bureau to cost $1,150,000, be built in United Nations Plaza on Market Street at the juncture of Leavenworth and Fulton Streets?
He fulminated that Halprin's fountain was "an architectural travesty" and "an environmental insult." Reacting to this public opinion, Art Commissioner Edward Callanan, an ex-officio member as President of the Library Commission, defended the fountain, remarking that "The tidal wave of water motion over the blocks will be pleasing to people." Commissioner Loris De Grazia defended her decision: "My vote stands for what I believed in... Now let's get on with completing the project."

Bowing to this pressure, the Art Commission reconvened for a special meeting lasting three minutes voting 6 to 2 to reverse their March 18 vote. Supervisor Kopp backed down and removed his ballot issue. Commissioner Ray Taliaferro proposed using the allocated funds for local artists and suggested that a competition might be held. Looking back it's apparent that the Lawrence Halprin had long had plans for this location and had the influence of the Market Street Joint Venture Architects and other political forces behind him. There would be not be any search for an alternative design or designer.

A year later, Halprin submitted a scaled back fountain design that that he presented to the Art Commission on April 24, 1975. Former commissioner Ernest Born, who had earlier been an outspoken opponent of the fountain, assisted Halprin in his presentation. The price tag remained at $1,200,000 for this more modest project. The design included a new element -- a 18 foot obelisk made of polished black granite in front.

This time the Art Commission approved by a vote of 8 to 2 (Ruth Asawa and Sotomayor continued their opposition).  Ruth Asawa's closing comment was "$1.2 million is a lot of money to spend on just one thing."

After its final approval, columnist Herb Caen couldn't resist getting another dig in at the fountain, approvingly quoting Eleanor Rossi Crabtree, the daughter of former Mayor Angelo Rossi, who described the "fountain of slabs" as "Holy Cross cemetery with the sprinklers on."

The City planned to have the fountain complete to coincide with with the nation's Bicentennial celebration in July of 1965.


"Art Board Favors Mountain Fountain," San Francisco Examiner March 19, 1974.

Bartlett, Robert, "S.F. to Vote on Fountain," San Francisco Chronicle March 26, 1974.

Caen, Herb, "3-dot Journalism Spoken Here," San Francisco Chronicle April 29, 1975

City & County of San Francisco, Market Street Design Task Force. Market Street Development: An Analysis (The Task Force, 1965).

"Commission Approves $1.2 Million Fountain," San Francisco Examiner April 22, 1975.

Cone, Russ, "Two-week Deadline on Market St. Face-lift," San Francisco Examiner November 7, 1967.

Cooney, William, "Fuss Over S.F. Fountain," San Francisco Chronicle March 25, 1974.

Craib, Ralph, "New Fountain Vetoed: 'Too Blocky,' Says Art Committee," San Francisco Chronicle May 8, 1971.

"Divided Verdict on Plazas," San Francisco Chronicle December 22, 1970.

Hirsch, Alison Bick., City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America (University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

Kusserow, H.W., "BART Hit on 'Wrong Foot'," San Francisco Examiner December 22, 1970.

Lindsay, Georgia. "Bricks, branding, and the everyday: Defining greatness at the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco." Archnet-International Journal of Architectural Research, 2017.

Livingston and Blayney, What to Do about Market Street: Prospectus for A Development Program, prepared for the Market Street Development Project (Livingston and Blayney, 1962).

Mario J. Ciampi and Associates & John Carl Warnecke and Associates, Market Street Development Plan, Report No. 3: Street and Sidewalk Design Proposals (The Associates, 1965).

"Market St. Renovation Heads Picked," San Francisco Examiner December 20, 1962.

"Mayor Wants to Name BART Plaza for U.N.," San Francisco Chronicle October 24, 1970.

"New Design for U.N. Fountain," The San Francisco Progress April 16, 1975.

"The New U.N. Fountain," San Francisco Chronicle April 22, 1975.

"Plaza Fountain Plans Rejected," San Francisco Chronicle April 4, 1974.

Rosenbaum, Jack, "Scene Shifting," San Francisco Examiner May 4, 1971.

"S.F. Fountain Costs Double," San Francisco Chronicle March 21, 1974.

"Too Costly," San Francisco Examiner March 25, 1974.

"U.N. Fountain May Go," The San Francisco Progress April 3, 1974.

"U.N. Plaza Fountain Design Dies," The San Francisco Progress April 5, 1974.

Waugh, Dexter, "UN Plaza Wins by Full House in Arts Board," San Francisco Examiner November 2, 1971.

Zane, Maitland, "A Debate Over Art for U.N. Plaza," San Francisco Chronicle March 30, 1974