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JESSIE SQUARE + YERBA BUENA LANE // PRIVATIZING PUBLICS

MARAMBIO/ TORRES ARCH 219_FALL 2011


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

It is often that the phrases we hold closest to our national identity are the hardest to define. This couldn't be more the case for the phrase 'public space'. The discordant grouping of phrases, one firmly evoking democratic images of equality amongst subjects, the other the intangible places we occupy. The material culture that results from the interaction of the public to a space is temporal, vague, and in constant flux. This fluid nature can clearly be seen in public spaces in rapid transition, those at the poles of new and dying public spaces. The SoMA district of San Francisco is a district that has reinvented itself many times over in the past half century. This change has enticed the emergence of distinct publics, the 1880's laborers of light manufacturing, 1930's long-shore men of the port, 1970's hookers and pushers of skid row 1, to the 1990's dot com geek entrepreneurs and finally the current high end culture and tourist destination. Within this rich history is a small one-acre square and an adjacent pedestrian lane, called Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane, both illustrate a narrative seen in many high-end downtown spaces; a search for its publics. In this essay, we examine the roles multiple publics have in engaging or ignoring these new spaces. When spaces do not have powerful publics to claim them as their own, private interests emerge. These private interest at Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane are able to manifest due to three unique factors: unusual scale, a variety of nearby open spaces and an aligned interests of privatizing publics. Landmarks To understand the history of Jessie Square's development it is key to look at two adjacent buildings: the PG&E substation which now houses the Contemporary Jewish Museum and St. Patrick's Church, both listed as San Francisco Historic Landmarks.2 The PG&E substation was originally built in 1881 but was remodeled twice by Willis Polk between 1905 and 1909 after being damaged by the earthquake and two fires. 3 Tucked away in a dead-end alley between Market and Mission, it served as an energy utilities substation until

1

Sobredo, James. "SoMA Transformed." FoundSF. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://foundsf.org>. Weirde, Dr. "South of Market/SOMA." FoundSF. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://foundsf.org>. 3 Mix, Robert. "Jessie Street Substation." Vernacular Language North. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://www.verlang.com>. 2


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

1924, and then remained vacant until the mid 1990's. 4 Until the demolition of adjacent structures for Yerba Buena Center, this grand facade was concealed in the middle of a block of taller buildings behind the Mission Street parking lot. This building was initially slated for demolition but was later transformed into the Contemporary Jewish Museum in 2008, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. In dialogue with this contemporary landmark, St. Patrick has been a historic landmark since it's completion in 1872.5 The 1906 earthquake and fire left the church in ruins, but it was rebuilt and reopened in 1914. The church originally served San Francisco's Irish immigrants, having up to 30,000 parishioners at it's peak but went through a decline during the Depression. The opening of the Moscone Center in 1981 greatly changed the demographics of the church creating a commuter parish, serving tourists, conventioneers and nearby workers.6 Displacing Parking In January 2003 the San Francisco Redevelopment agency issued an estimated $43.1 million in bonds to pay for the plaza, a 450 space underground garage, a pedestrian lane linking Market and Mission streets (Yerba Buena Lane), and the foundation for the Jewish and Mexican museums. 7 (appx 1). In Spring 2003, the Mission Street parking lot was demolished to become Jessie Square, a one-acre plaza surrounded by St. Patricks Church, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the proposed Mexican Museum and the Yerba Buena Gardens. The project is seen as the completion of the Yerba Buena Redevelopment Plan who's objective is to transform the area South of Market Street around Yerba Buena Gardens into a business and cultural district. Owned by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency both Yerba Buena Lane and Jessie Square were developed by Millennium Partners in 2004 and 2005 and designed by Handel Architects who collaborated with Cliff Lowe Associates. 8

4

Mix, Robert. "Jessie Street Substation." Weirde, Dr. "South of Market/SOMA." 6 Richter Judy. “Historic Church Reborn.“ San Francisco Chronicle, final ed.: 9 December 2011 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/e/a/1998/11/01/NEWS2.DTL> 7 Hamlin, Jesse. “Rough road to Jewish museum Economics.“ San Francisco Chronicle, final ed.: 9 December 2011 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi f=/c/a/2003/01/13/MN190086.DTL> 8 Hamlin, Jesse. “Rough road to Jewish museum Economics. 5


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

Five Publics In our observations we identified five main publics engaging with the site: culture seekers, church goers, office workers, local residents, and homeless people (appx 2). Culture Seekers Culture seekers visit the areas two museums: the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. The Jewish Museum's public interacts with the open space on a daily basis with it's docent led tours and it's cafe outdoor seating. The MOCFA's use of the space is limited to it's monthly Craft Bar. Museum hours limit this publics use of the space (11am-6pm). Church Goers The church going public is made up of a commuter parish, serving tourists, conventioneers and nearby workers. 90% of the regular worshipers are Filipino Americans, the majority are seniors who live in nearby subsidized housing.9 This public uses the space informally before or after service and also during specific religious events at Jessie Square. Office Workers Office workers inhabit the space during lunch hours and are otherwise a transient public moving through the space for their daily commute. This public patronizes food and drink establishments or self caters on the benches or lawn areas, especially during the lunch time rush. The food establishments are split between high end and affordable options. At a high end you find Blue Stem, Amber, Ducca, Press Club and Schoggi. The affordable options include TropisueĂąo, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Beard Papa; the last two also have limited exterior seating. Local Residents Residents seem to be split in two distinct groups: high end residencies at the Four Seasons and nearby subsidized housing. This public tends to use the space to walk dogs and exercise. Their use of the space avoids peak hours. 9

Richter Judy. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Historic Church Reborn.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

Homeless People The fifth public are homeless people who are particularly present during the morning. They tend to sleep or sit on benches throughout the plaza, not clustering in groups. This public disperses during the lunch time rush and stays away from the square until the next morning. Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane allows for pedestrians to flow from the Union Square area north of Market Street to the museums and public landscapes of Yerba Buena Gardens south of Market (SoMa). The majority of the retail opens from 11am until 6pm with the exception of the restaurants that close at 10pm. After that time both the lane and the square remain vacant. Due to their usage being of a finite time span and habitual in nature, these distinct publics rarely interact. Scale, Conversation and Alliance Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane stand in stark contrast to the often messy and contested nature of urban public spaces. Rather than multiple publics physically occupying space or symbolically leaving traces of their vibrancy, these spaces sit dormant and untouched. This dormancy is not happenstance, but rather calculated, managed and permitted due to three key factors; scale, conversation, and alliance. Scale: the ambiguous in-between Together Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane create 1.2 acres of open space, a size rare to downtown San Francisco. These spaces fall somewhere between the scale of the classic corporate plaza and the mid-sized urban park. (appx 3). On the smaller scale of urban spaces in SoMA is 560 Mission St Plaza at the west coast headquarters of JP Morgan. This space exists as a passive outdoor 'patio' for the office building, totaling only 16,000 square feet. (appx 4). William Whyte describes similar scaled plazas in the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces as “plazas that weren’t used for much other than walking across.” 10

10

Whyte, William Hollingsworth. Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington: Conservation Foundation, 1990. Print.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

On the larger end of the spectrum is the mid-sized urban park Yerba Buena Gardens. (appx 5). Built in 1993, the gardens and plaza total six acres, five times the size of Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane and thirteen times the size of 560 Mission St Plaza. With multiple attractions and cultural institutions embedded in the park, Yerba Buena Gardens is a destination unlike the former spaces described. Without a known scale the designers of Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane (appx 6) defaulted to design a space that evokes order, in line with the interest of the adjacent users. In the ambiguous realm of the spatially in-between, meaning becomes questioned and complicated. With the adjacencies of high end cultural institutions, expensive restaurants and the religious parish, it was clear that order and purity were the adjectives that guide the design and life of the space. This order and purity firmly places the character of the space in the realm of the highly controlled corporate plaza, however it's dimension is too large, creating a sense of dormancy and the allusion of the untouched. Conversation Although the previous urban spaces described have distinct meanings and roles, they do not exist in isolation, but rather in conversation. By having many different small public and quasi public spaces, boundaries are drawn. (appx 3). These lines define the character of different urban spaces, regulating which programs and publics can acceptably use each space. Urban theorist David Sibley describes these boundaries as “ contours of tolerance” 11 where in certain parts of urban space, certain publics and programs are tolerated and in others the same people and habits are intolerable. In SoMA, the contours of tolerance can be seen quite clearly between the three urban spaces described in the scale analysis. These contours are best understood by examining how the same behavior is tolerated across the different sites, seen most poignantly through policy towards homeless people. When we asked security guards at 560 Mission St. Plaza how long homeless people can stay in the plaza, they were clear that they are allowed to “pass through, but not linger”.12 Security guards at Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane, described to us how homeless people are able to be in the plaza but not sleep. When “both legs are off the floor, we consider them sleeping and 11

Sibley, David. Geographies of Exclusion Society and Difference in the West. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print. 12 Jose. "Security at 560 Mission St. Plaza." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

they gotta go”13, described a private security officer hired by the Jessie Square management. He went on to explain that, “as long they have a leg still on the floor, we don't touch em”. When we spoke with guards at Yerba Buena Gardens they explained that homeless are, “allowed to be in the gardens until sunset, then they need to go”.14 These three different policies clearly illustrate the contours of tolerance within a 3 square block radius of our site and define the map of homelessness. By falling in between the contours of zero tolerance and allowing homeless people to sleep, Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane ensure that the homeless presence is limited and temporal, tucked just out of sight of when other publics use the space. Alliance The combination of keeping homeless people restricted from the site and the scale of the site falling in between a common size and program, allows for publics to use the space in a much more private fashion. These 'privatizing publics' are the dominant groups of users that interact with Jesse Square and Yerba Buena Lane. Their interests in creating less inclusive public spaces trumps the rare public program that happens in the space and falls in alliance with the interest of the developers to create a high-end mix use project. Over the span of a year the rare public-making programs include less than five events from St. Patricks, ten events from the Museum of Folk Arts and Crafts, daily docent led tours from the Contemporary Jewish Museum and six spill-over events from Yerba Buena Gardens. These events are the anomaly to the everyday programming of high end restaurants that together serve the three dominant publics of office workers, culture seekers, and local residents. What makes this clustering of high end restaurants unique from other expensive eateries is the outdoor eating experience they offer. The very metaphysics of their presence constructs a spatial barrier between the wealthy public they attract and the other publics they isolate. This contouring is created through a series of signs and symbols placed in quasi public space. Of the many restaurants that offer outdoor eating here, the most aggressive occupation of space is practiced by Ducca, the restaurant at the Westin Hotel. What is most interesting is their use of domestic living to create a very private space within a public space. This domesticity is achieved in three moves. First a closely placed 13 14

Jacob. "Security at Jessie Square." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011. Tom. "Security at Yerba Buena." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

row of large planters are brought into the space to create a perimeter. Next, large tables, chairs, and fire pits fill the quartered section of the plaza. (appx 7). Lastly an outdoor bar is placed in the main pathway connecting 3rd Street and the plaza. (appx 8). Urban theorist Mike Davis would describe these moves as, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Precautions taken to ensure physical separation of the different classesâ&#x20AC;?, in his book City of Quartzs.15 What is unique about Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane is the lack of public discourse in support or against of how it is used. The life of this space reflects the current and rare alinement of the interests of the private developers, the dominant publics and the high-end establishments that serve them.

Conclusion The lack of a different voices guiding the life of Jessica Square and Yerba Buena Lane, opens many questions on newly created public spaces. The most difficult aspect of creating new public spaces is understanding when the social life of the space has reach a certain ripeness to be evaluated. It is possible that the current incarnation of Jesse Square and Yerba Buena Lane is simply far to young to full understand, that the pre-teen awkwardness is only a rough phase and that one day the space will be an active and vital part of SoMA. However it is very possible that the current social life of the space will not change and that the very premise of small controlled urban public spaces be should questioned and possibly re-invented. With the abundance of private interests and privatizing publics the question must be asked if all open spaces need be public? Are there other ways that private open space can better benefit the city? Instead of allocating benign open space in all large scale urban developments, can this negotiation better address the needs of the city? This indeterminacy is indicative of all public spaces, where meaning does not necessarily appear upon completion, but rather accrues over time.

15

Davis, Mike. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. London: Verso, 2006. Print.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

Works Cited Davis, Mike. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. London: Verso, 2006. Print. Eric and Steve. "Docent and Volunteer at the Contemporary Jewish Art Museum." Personal interview. 10 Nov. 2011. Hamlin, Jesse. "Rough Road to Jewish Museum." San Francisco Bay Area â&#x20AC;&#x201D; News, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Classifieds: SFGate. 13 Jan. 2003. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://sfgate.com>. Hartman, Chester. "Labor and Yerba Buena Center." FoundSF. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://foundsf.org>. Hineshaw, Mark. "Penultimate Plaza." JoLA - Journal on Landscape Architecture 2009.1 (2009): 102-09. Print. Jacob. "Security at Jessie Square." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011. "Jessie Square and Yerba Buena Lane Project." Handelarch.com | Handel Architects. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://handelarch.com>. Jose. "Security at 560 Mission St. Plaza." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011. Kasinitz, Philip. "C." Metropolis: Center and Symbol of Our times. New York: New York UP, 1995. Print. Kimura, Ann. "Jessie Square." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011. Lauren. "Public Outreach at MOCFA." Personal interview. 10 Nov. 2011. Mix, Robert. "Jessie Street Substation." Vernacular Language North. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://www.verlang.com>.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

Richter, Judy. "Historic Church Reborn." San Francisco Bay Area â&#x20AC;&#x201D; News, Sports, Business, Entertainment, Classifieds: SFGate. 1 Nov. 1998. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://www.sfgate.com>. Sibley, David. Geographies of Exclusion Society and Difference in the West. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print. Sobredo, James. "SoMA Transformed." FoundSF. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://foundsf.org>. "Spaces for Rent." Yerba Buena Gardens. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://yerbabuenagardens.com>. Tom. "Security at Yerba Buena." Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2011. Weirde, Dr. "South of Market/SOMA." FoundSF. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://foundsf.org>. Whyte, William Hollingsworth. Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington: Conservation Foundation, 1990. Print.


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

Appendix Appx 1. Source: www.ybgf.org and Authors

Appx. 2. Source: Authors

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

Appx. 3. Source: Google Map and Authors

Appx. 4. Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

Appx. 5. Source: http://www.mwtech.com

Appx. 6. Source: http://www.inetours.com

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres


ARCH 219: Publics and Their Spaces University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design

Appx. 7. Source: www.ducca.com

Appx. 8. Source: www.ducca.com

12/12/2011 Alejandra Marambio/ Chris Torres

Jessie Square + Yerba Buena Lane // Privatizing Publics  

Final Paper ARCH 219 // Margaret Crawford