I love the angular Vaillancourt Fountain, the 40-foot tall concrete tangle of disjointed modernist square tubes at the northern end of Justin Herman Plaza, mostly thanks to fond memories of the location that has hosted so many Valentine's Day Pillow Fight massacres, Occupy campouts, and NSFW nudist grandparent munches. But the general San Francisco sentiment seems to be that this fountain is ugly AF, or at least, whatever unconventional beauty it may have once possessed was contingent upon its waters actually flowing. These waters have not been flowing since 2014, when Governor Brown declared a drought emergency and Rec and Parks shut off the water.
With the drought now over, what’s keeping us from turning that baby back on and letting the waters flow again? According to Hoodline, it’s the matter of a half a million dollars worth of reactivation costs. “The initial cost estimate is about $500,000 for a major capital investment in the fountain infrastructure in order for it to function,” Rec and Park spokesperson Connie Chan told the blog.
Chan went into a little more depth with Curbed SF. “Similarly to all fountains and water play features throughout the city, it would require the department to conduct forensic investigation and testing of the fountain’s mechanical systems,” Chan told Curbed. “To be more specific, the fountain needs a new filtration system.”
That’s not all it needs, according to generations of critics who’ve hated this fountain’s guts. The local chapter of the National Safety Council declared it a potential hazard upon its 1971 opening, and according to then-Chronicle art critic Alfred Frankenstein, protesters showed up at its dedication passing out flyers calling it a “loathsome monstrosity," "obscene practical joke," and "pestiferous eyesore."
The 500 large to turn the fountain back on would have to come from the SF Arts Commission and Rec and Parks. Meanwhile, other priorities may exist for Justin Herman Plaza namely, not calling it “Justin Herman Plaza.” M. Justin Herman was a highly accomplished city administrator in the 50s and 60s, though apparently was also considered something of a racist ass. A petition campaign is underway to change the plaza’s name, several supervisors are on board with the idea, and Broke-Ass Stuart evangelized for the name change in today’s Examiner.
“As head of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency from 1959 until his death in 1971, Herman evicted 461 black-owned businesses and more than 4,000 black families, all in the name of ‘progress’,” Broke-Ass Stuart wrote, “which, in this case, meant developing land ‘too valuable to permit poor people to park on it’ and widening Geary Boulevard.”
Yes, Herman actually did call parts of San Francisco “too valuable to permit poor people to park on it.” While a park with a fountain still bears his name, back then such condescension was less likely to get you into hot water.