San Francisco – Everyday Insider (TM) – Trip 28

Taking a few steps back from the waterfront, you can find lots in and about the Embarcadero Center complex, and I then will also head you further into downtown in the next part of the series.

Embarcadero Center is an eight-building complex which includes shops and restaurants. Justin Herman Plaza is framed by Vaillancourt Fountain. It comprises five office towers and two hotels ranging from 25 to 45 stories high, on a 9.8-acre site and 14,000 people are employed there.

At this stop, you can enjoy ferreting out Embarcadero Center’s world renowned collection of exciting public art. As you explore the complex, you’ll uncover a treasure-trove of artwork from artists Louise Nevelson’s imposing Sky Tree to Jean Dubuffet’s cartoon-like La Chiffonniere.

This collection was created by Embarcadero Center’s developer David Rockefeller and by Embarcadero Center architect John C. Portman, Jr., who shared the vision of integrating fine architecture with fine art.

You can begin a self-guided tour of the Embarcadero Center area public art collection in the lobby of the LeMeridien Hotel, located on Battery and Clay Streets. The tour continues through Embarcadero Center, Justin Herman Plaza (Vaillancourt Fountain …. more follows on this one) and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, ending on the Street Level of Four Embarcadero Center.

Although LeMeridien San Francisco, Hyatt Regency and Old Federal Reserve are not part of Embarcadero Center, the public art was included in their design by Rockefeller and Portman and constituted part of the vision for the Embarcadero Center area development.

However … there’s one absolutely AWFUL piece of “public art” at the Embarcadero. Here’s the story:

The fountain in Justin Herman Plaza is titled “Quebec Libre” – “Free Quebec”! And it is wholly unsuitable for being part of the public art of San Francisco in my opinion. This controversy has raged for 4 decades!

Apart from its inappropriate political statement, in a city which has nothing to do with the issue, the fountain’s design was, at best a compromise, to downgrade the ugliness of the horrible concrete freeway which it had as a back-drop. But, the freeway was demolished after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Now, the fountain just renews the nightmare. Seldom is a piece of public art needed to be demolished, but this is the first time that I would support such a move.

Armand Vaillancourt, the French Canadian artist who sculpted the controversial Vaillancourt Fountain vowed to fight a new effort to demolish the concrete, boxy San Francisco landmark that debuted in 1971.

Vaillancourt was responding to a resolution introduced in 2004, by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, urging the Recreation and Park Department and the Arts Commission to consider removing the fountain, which had been dry for three years (being shut off during the state’s energy crisis).

Peskin, who represents the district where the fountain is located, said he introduced the measure because the fountain looks out of place now that the neighboring Embarcadero Freeway is gone, and I agree.

The City also doesn’t want to pay the annual $250,000 in electricity costs to pump 30,000 gallons of water through the square tubes. The area has also become an “attractive nuisance,” providing a sheltered public space where the homeless sleep at night, especially with the freeway nooks and crannies gone.

The fountain has huge concrete beams, 200 feet long, 140 feet wide and 36 feet high with its geometric concrete limbs askew, and it has been controversial since its dedication, when people passed out handbills calling it a “howling obscenity” and “pestiferous eyesore” which it surely is. I think it is totally out of scale and architectural harmony with anything around it.

After the Embarcadero Freeway was removed following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the architects redesigning the waterfront proposed removing it, but unfortunately, they backed off in the face of some public opposition.

One SF blogger rightly asks – ‘How can we waste these energy and financial resources?’ and “Is this thing destined to burn money and take up space in perpetuity, all because some people, lost to history, made a bad (or good, You Make The Call) decision four decades ago?”. I say, NO!

Parking and other general information is available here:
Embarcadero Center

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Every Week
The Ferry Building

With more than 100 farmers and 30 artisan vendors setting up every week, you can immerse yourself in a cornucopia of the freshest fruit, produce, baked goods, cheeses and prepared foods in town. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is operated by CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture). It features farmers such as: Star Route, Heirloom Organics and Eatwell for organic greens and Lagier for organic jams, almonds and cherries. I shopped in the market in this general area nearly 40 years ago, so San Franciscans have supported this endeavor for a long time.

Event Times:
Tuesday: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Saturday: 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

For my next story:
From Embarcadero Center, take the BART line up Market Street and get off at the Montgomery Street Station at 598 Market Street, ready for our next stop in the series. BART Information

and Embarcadero BART Station

San Francisco Archive

©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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