Photo by Tenderblog

The United Nations has a history in San Francisco in that the charter forming it was signed here. So, it only seems reasonable to build a plaza in tribute of this fact. That was done in 1975 as part of overall Bart construction. Ever since then, little has been done to maintain and improve upon what could be a rather stupendous entrance to the otherwise gorgeous Civic Center area.

This is where things get kinda ugly because for any of us who have walked through the 2009 version of UN Plaza, we know that it’s pretty ugly. Obviously this is only accentuated by the fact that in order to deal with the homeless problem there, the benches were removed. To deal with the bronze trashcans being too heavy for garbage collection, they were replaced. It’s something of an endless list and really quite the flagship of stories when one wants to talk about the anti-homeless architecture schemes in San Francisco as of late (don’t even get me started about the horrid things that were done to Union Square in the current remodel.) But, for those interested, take a look at what The Cultural Landscape Foundation has to say about the current state of UN Plaza. They tear in to all the issues, but also offers suggestions on how to save it. My personal favorite is having the F streetcar line run up through it, which would be über cool.

But there is something that few people talk about. In fact, I’m curious if it’s the reason as to why there is a plaza in this area in the first place because you see, that whole space used to be a cemetery from UN Plaza to City Hall. That’s right, the Yerba Buena Cemetery took up the space bounded by Market, Larkin, and McAllister. This quote from 1850 is quite humorous:

We are informed by the city surveyor that he has staked out this cemetery upon the town reservation and that there is no difficulty in the way of using it as a place of sepulchre [sic]. It is situated upon the Mission road and is not difficult of access. He also informs us that already some fifty interments have been made upon the spot. There is enough town property in that locality to make a cemetery sufficient to accomodate [sic] the dead of the city for the next half century–at least such is the opinion of Mr. Eddy, and as he had surveyed the lands we presume him to be a good judge of the matter. The great object of having an abundance of ground reserved for the imporant [sic] purposes of burial should not be overlooked and we trust that other localities belonging to the town will also be reserved for this sacred purpose.

Photo by BoatingSF

Naturally that “half century” of burial sales pitch didn’t hold out. Starting in 1889, the bodies were moved out, most probably to Colma, and you get what we have today, this open space that has a lot to offer, but a long way to go in getting there.

Image from Google Maps