In a pedestrianized area in the midst of San Francisco, a United Nations flag flutters alongside an American one. Granite columns flank the plaza bearing the names of United Nations Member States and the year in which they joined the Organization. There is a sunken fountain designed by Lawrence Halprin to symbolize the seven continents of the world tied together by oceans. Designed in the mid-1970s to commemorate 30 years since the creation of the United Nations, the plaza raised controversy among architects and San Francisco residents, including for the plaza's addition into the non-profit group Project for Public Spaces' Hall of Shame. Though the group criticized the placement of the fountain, it simultaneously praised the plaza's potential to foster thriving and dynamic community interaction on market days and to provide an entrance to the Civic Center. The Project for Public Spaces called for the United Nations Plaza to "stay true to its name and do all it can to showcase the assets of the multiple cultures that are part of the market". (1)
What does it mean to stay true to the name of the United Nations? The term, United Nations, first emerged from a declaration signed in January 1942 by 26 allies fighting against Germany and Japan. The signatory Governments pledged not to sign separate peace agreements and to commit themselves to a maximum war effort. Twenty-one more countries would sign the declaration by the end of the war. Only States that had signed the United Nations Declaration received an invitation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization in the San Francisco Civic Center that began on 25 April 1945.
Although the war was not yet won, delegates from the Allied nations gathered in San Francisco to create the Charter of the United Nations. The United States covered the expenses of the San Francisco Conference and was one of four sponsoring Governments. (The others were the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China). The Conference closed on 26 June 1945 when the Charter was opened for signature. The Conference built on previous meetings between the four sponsoring Governments held at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944 and in Moscow and Tehran in 1943.
However, the San Francisco Conference would be different from those previous meetings, for it soon highlighted many of the hallmarks of the new United Nations Organization, including its flexibility and inclusivity. At the first steering committee meeting, the Soviet...