This four-acre brick plaza, reminiscent of an Italian piazza, is located at the eastern terminus of Market Street, the city’s major boulevard. It was completed in 1972, designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin along with Mario Ciampi and John Bolles & Associates. In a notebook entry in 1966, Halprin explained that the plaza “was conceived as a total environment in which all the elements working together create a place for participation.”
Adjacent to the waterfront, the plaza was built in the shadow of the elevated stacked Embarcadero Freeway. The focal point of the plaza is a forty-foot-high concrete fountain, intentionally placed off axis with Market Street. Named Québec Libre! by its sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, the fountain is composed of rectangular steel and concrete arms which bend and twist, creating a grotto behind the waterfall where visitors can interact by moving under and through the structure. Water cascades, sprays, pours, and seeps from multiple sources in the fountain, which was conceived to counter noise from the adjacent highway. The Embarcadero Freeway was demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, allowing the site to open up and enabling redevelopment all along the Embarcadero. Renamed Justin Herman Plaza for city planner M. Justin Herman who spearheaded the area’s redevelopment, the space continues to serve as a gathering place, hosting a variety of activities including an open-air skating rink over the winter months.