A fitting testament to the city it depicts, the San Francisco Fountain portrays a city “both real and unreal which anyone can enter at will.”
After two years of work, world-renowned San Francisco sculptor Ruth Asawa finished this intricately detailed monument to San Francisco in 1972, featuring whimsical bas-relief scenes of the city. The large circular fountain is comprised of 41 individual bronze panels overflowing with San Francisco landmarks—all arranged relative to their location to Union Square—along with fantastical fictional characters.
The fountain was originally commissioned by the Grand Hyatt on Union Square. Asawa, a champion of folk art, recruited friends, family, visitors, and over one hundred area children to sculpt all the scenes for the fountain panels in common baker’s clay, which were then cast in bronze for the finished fountain. The San Francisco Fountain has long been a favorite of locals and tourists drawn to myriad details.
However, the fountain was deemed in need of treatment and restoration work by the Smithsonian’s Save Outdoor Sculpture survey in 1992, and was relegated to use as a planter. With the 2013 construction of Apple’s new flagship store on the site of the fountain, the old Hyatt fountain was at risk of becoming another casualty of redevelopment.
At the urging of local community groups, historical and arts societies, and some private citizens, Apple reconsidered its plans for the space. The day before Ruth Asawa’s memorial service in Golden Gate Park, the announcement was made that the fountain would be preserved and would remain in its historic location, in a newly designed plaza between the Apple store and the Hyatt hotel.
With the improvements made to the plaza surrounding the fountain, Ruth Asawa’s San Francisco Fountain itself was restored, and is now functioning as a proper fountain again.