Fence Around U.N. Plaza Fountain Upgraded to Plywood Wall

Public Works is closing the area off for a $3.2 million project to collect and reuse fountain water.

People walk near a wall around the fountain at United Nations Plaza on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

When the Department of Public Works installed a white fence around the U.N. Plaza fountain earlier this year, it was described as temporary and “intended to deter unwanted behavior” in a space frequently occupied by homeless people.

Over the weekend, the fence was outdone by a tall, unsightly wall of plywood jutting far out into the plaza and blocking off the view of the granite blocks representing the planet’s continents. The 1970s brutalist fountain, which has never worked as originally intended by architect Lawrence Halprin, will remain closed off and out of sight until June 2020 while it undergoes construction.

When it emerges from an estimated $3.2 million upgrade, Public Works will be able to collect, store, and use water from the fountain to wash streets and water plants. 

The project has construction crews installing a filtration and chlorination system, pumps, pipes, electrical controls, and adjustments to the fountain’s vault. This will result in an underground water storage tank that holds 15,000 gallons. Public Works began the bid process in October 2018, city records show.

A seagull stands atop a wooden wall around the fountain at United Nations Plaza on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

While the massive plywood installation has taken over U.N. Plaza, it’s worth remembering that the wall will fall before we know it. The white fence that preceded the larger structure will also likely not return, said Public Works spokesperson Jennifer Blot.

“It’s meant to be temporary,” Blot said about the white fence. “Things were getting thrown into the plaza.”

No permanent plan has yet been proposed on how to prevent that behavior, but at least going forward the fountain will have some purpose, other than as a roost for visiting seagulls.

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