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Fence now surrounds UN Plaza fountain

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City cites “unwanted behavior in the fountain”

Photos by Brock Keeling

The circa-1975 fountain at United Nations Plaza in Civic Center now bears a more domestic touch, as it’s surrounded by a white lattice fence of roughly the same design found around a child’s playhouse.

The barrier appeared one week ago, replacing a simple set of aluminum barricades. It’s reportedly the product of SF Public Works. Spokesperson Rachel Gordon, according to SF Weekly, says the new fence is “intended to deter unwanted behavior in the fountain.”

The new barrier is meant to be temporary. No word yet how long it will be in place.

Given that the fountain was already fenced off, it appears that the new addition is a primarily aesthetic choice.

In the past, Public Works has reported removing dozens of discarded hypodermic needles from the fountain each week. Passersby often observe people using the fountain to do laundry as well.

This is not the first time that the city has tried to fence off the troubled fountain. A 2004 New York Times piece describes the fountain as “public toilet, shower, washing machine, brothel, garbage, can and drug market all in one.” The paper also notes that previous attempts to use chainlink fencing to keep people out proved unsuccessful.

Modernist landscape architect Lawrence Halprin designed the fountain, which was dedicated in 1975. Made of 163 blocks of granite, it was intended to act as the focal point for the plaza.

According to Washington D.C.-based nonprofit the Cultural Landscape Foundation (CLF), “Halprin conceived of the plaza as a dynamic, active public space connected physically and visually to the Civic Center and to Market Street, the spine of the city.”

CLF curators also complain that “the conditions at UN Plaza suffer from a lack of understanding around Halprin’s original design intent,” comparing the fountain’s beleaguered public image to that of the the Vaillancourt Fountain at Embarcadero Plaza.

The fountain is meant to commemorate the 1945 signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, with the slabs of Sierra Nevada granite representing different nations of the world converging on a common point.

A tentative proposal is underway to renovate the entire Civic Center area, including an overhaul of the beleaguered fountain.