Art, culture and community collide in San Francisco’s historic Ghirardelli Square


As you stroll the beachfront cove from the Embarcadero or from the rugged peaks of Russian Hill, the ocean surprises you. As you breathe in the salty air, the distant hum of cable cars echoes in your ears, and capped swimmers kick in and out of rhythm with blubbery seals, it’s easy to see why this scenic spot is on the ‘sites to see’ list. ” from everyone.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company complex was built in the late 1890s by Domingo Ghirardelli, an Italian-born chocolatier. In 1964, Ghirardelli Square was saved from demolition by civic leader William Roth and redeveloped by Lawrence Halprin and Associates (of Sea Ranch fame), who restored as many of the original structures as possible and used bricks renovated to create a “hive of activity”. The plaza, which spans an entire city block, is the first adaptive reuse project in the country, naturally encouraging exploration in different courtyards, alleys and shops. Embedded in this design feat is a world-class art program.

Ruth Asawa, her daughter Aiko and her friend Mae Lee with Andrea, 1969. Artwork © 2021 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph courtesy of David Zwirner.

The 1966-68 fountain by Californian artist Ruth Asawa is placed in the center of the upper plaza. Asawa was born in Norwalk, California in 1926, and the artist lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Japanese internment camps of the 1950s, and the freethinking of the 1960s and 1970s, all of which influenced her work. and its perspective. The fountain, the artist’s first public sculpture and his first work with bronze, titled Andrea, created controversy at the time because the piece features a topless, nursing mermaid. Halprin’s original vision for the space was a giant, abstract, phallic fountain for the plaza, and Asawa’s woman-centric piece was a perfect “fight the patriarchy” response to her request.

Andrea, Place Ghirardelli. Photography by Aiko Cuneo. Photo and illustration © 2021 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

Asawa believed the plaza’s role was to preserve the view of San Francisco Bay itself and to emphasize the importance of slowing the growth of buildings. In a statement responding to public curiosity about her fountain, she wrote: “Looking at the sculpture, you include rather than block the ocean view that was saved for all of us, and you wonder what’s going on. hides beneath this surface.”

Palette Tea House Soup Dumplings in Ghirardelli Square.

Ghirardelli Square continues to be a cultural hub filled with live music, outdoor markets, local art and artisans, and outdoor film screenings. Its art and design are intrinsically linked to San Franciscan history and contemporary events in the city. Other works by Asawa will be featured by David Zwirner at FOG Design+Art Fair at the Fort Mason Center from January 20-23, but there’s also a brand new audio-guided fountain tour available via QR code at Ghirardelli Square. Here too, Leah Rosenberg was recently commissioned to create a site-specific installation called “18 Colors for Ghirardelli Square”. The artist is also currently in a duo exhibition at SF MoMA with Susan O’Malley through March.

Views of Barrio cocktails in Ghirardelli Square.

New local restaurants in the square are attracting foodies from near and far, including Barrio, a tequila and mezcal bar and Latin cuisine; Palette Tea House, a modern Cantonese and Dim Sum restaurant; Daily Driver, an organic wood-fired bagel shop, and The Cheese School, the only such institution in the country offering cheese classes as well as a wine and cheese bar. And for relaxation, you can stroll less than a mile to the Fort Mason Center for even more art, paired with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

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