I Left My Heart in San Francisco

A photo essay on Union Square, "a location for congregation, a planned place for unplanned happenings."

“The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay,
The glory that was Rome  is of another day…
I’ve been terribly alone  and forgotten in Manhattan…
I’m going home to my city by the bay.”” ¨” ¨

Thus begins the classic tune “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett.  Heart is truly an apt word when describing San Francisco-a city as renowned for its openness as it is for its fabulous modern architecture, infamously foggy summers and densely packed neighborhoods. Often considered the cultural epicenter of West Coast urbanity, San Francisco has a reputation as the hip, slightly more sophisticated older brother of Southern California’s  love-it-or-hate-it Los Angeles. If this assertion was to ever be called into question, perhaps the well-worn monikers of  “Paris of the West” and “The City that Knows How” can  put some distance between  the reigning king of California’s coast and its  contenders.

But perhaps one of  the truly unique aspects of the city  is that it is easily accessible by foot. Sure, Paris, London, New York and Tokyo have more or less set the bar  when it comes to walkability, but for a distinctly  Californian  conurbation, as any resident of the Golden State can more than happily tell you, this is no easy task.

After filling my belly with a hot plate of expertly  made  corned hash at Scala’s Bistro-a popular Sunday morning local’s spot-I take a brisk walk down Powell Street. Never  before  have  I seen a street in California so densely packed with humanity, nor  one with rolling sinusoidal hills and troughs that immediately bring to mind something between an Escher doodle and Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong.

A packed trolley slowly  ekes  up the hill past me, tourists one-arming the brass poles, hoping, in my estimation, to catch a glimpse of the  magic of these streets from long ago. I’m again reminded that, indeed, I am in San Francisco.  Once at the intersection of Powell and Post, I arrive at my destination, the northwest corner of Union Square. A giant red heart greets me; not exactly Tony Bennett’s, mind you, but a step in the right direction.

In towns and cities around the world, squares have come to symbolize the center of the action, a location for congregation, a planned place for unplanned happenings. Union Square is such a place. I won’t bore you with the facts of how Union Square came to be or who dedicated what when, for such particulars can easily be found on the wondrous internet, but what I will do is describe the small visual pleasures one can find while at the Square”¦and when my words fail, I’ll just let the pictures do the rest.

At the northwest entrance of Union Square sits one of the Hearts of San Francisco installations. Started in 2004 as a fundraiser for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, the Hearts exhibit showcases different artists’ paintings on uniformly molded hearts, which are then placed throughout the city. Though this one is easy to find; others are scattered throughout the city.

Victory teeters proudly atop a column that stands atop the world’s first underground garage.

Victory columns came into fashion when Emporer Trajan first built one ancient Rome to commemorate his victory over the Dacians. This one remembers the assassinated President William McKinley as well as Admiral George Dewey’s victory over the Spanish Navy at the Battle of Manila Bay. Thankfully, however, unlike Trajan’s monument, President McKinley’s ashes are not inside a golden vessel  interred within the monument. That would be creepy.  

 Small statues pepper the edges of the Square. They are recent add-ons from when the area reopened in 2002.  

 There’s no shortage of greenery in the Square. Though surrounded by high-rises all around, the Square is a place of respite for sore-footed tourists and shoppers alike.  

 Since the 2002 renovations, the Square has become a place where locals and visitors can sit back, enjoy a cup of coffee and take in the city’s menagerie of sights and sounds.  

 San Francisco has always been a welcoming place for artists to showcase their work. Currently at the de Young Museum  is a selection  of  over 100 paintings by Picasso on loan from Paris’s Musée National  Picasso. But if high art’s not your cup of tea and you prefer more spontaneous fare, local artists exhibit their work every weekend at Union Square.

West Coast flair: these cute kids look like they came straight out of a Benetton ad.

Panoptic view of the Square.

A view of the Square through the fifth floor windows of Macy’s Flagship Store. Shopping in and around the Square is a main attraction-there’s something for everyone. Want something young and hip but don’t want to break the bank? Zara and three-thats right-three H&Ms border Union Square alone. A list of Union Square shops can be found here.

Another Heart of San Francisco located at the southwest entrance of the Square.  

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 Union Square

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