ice rink at justin herman plaza

As I write this the Bay Area is experiencing a cold wave: in the city the highs are barely crawling into the 50s, and the lows are barely staying in the 40s. The East Bay is dipping into the 30s, and some frosts have been reported.

The weather’s right, so why not go skating? The photo above shows the ice rink at Justin Herman Plaza, with the Ferry Building in the background (the plaza is located at the foot of Market Street, by the Hyatt Regency Hotel; the Embarcadero BART and MUNI stop is nearby). The plaza is named for the former head of the San Francisco redevelopment agency in the 1960s. He had Washington connections and through them brought a lot of money into the city, although it might have been spent more wisely, since this was not a distinguished period for the city’s architecture, to say nothing of its societal issues.

Still, the plaza is a pleasant place to hang out. It’s a nice open space, and tends to be sunny (the city is noted for its many microclimates). Although there is a lot of turnover in the shops by the plaza, there’s usually a good cafe to get a cup of coffee and watch the scateboarders.

vallaincourt fountain (detail)

Many residents object to the Vallaincourt Fountain (detail above) — built in 1971 by the French-Canadian sculptor Francois Vallaincourt — which is the plaza’s most prominent (some say “hulking”) feature. Popular, curmudgeonly columnist Herb Caen said the fountain looked like a “pile of poop,” and the city basically laughed the sculptor out of town, though they never quite managed to get the fountain removed. San Francisco Chronicle architectural critic Allan Temko echoed Caen in describing the sculpture as “a fountain deposited by a dog with square intestines.” (I’m among the small minority who find the sculpture acceptable.)

The ice rink is open for seven weeks, from November 8 through January 2, 2007. Adult admission is around $10, including skate rental. Information: 415.837.1931,