San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, and the Japantown community gathered over the weekend to break ground on the Peace Plaza Renovation Project.

The project is meant to transform the plaza into a vibrant community space, while still maintaining its historic legacy.

The groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday included Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, Assemblymember Phil Ting, the Japanese Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco, members of the Japantown community, and a performance by Taiko drummers.

The project is funded by $25 million, allocated from the 2020 San Francisco Health and Recovery Bond, in addition to another $9 million in grants. It will waterproof the plaza, preventing leakage to the Japan Center Garage underneath; the plaza will need to be completely deconstructed and reconstructed for the project.

The reimagined Geary Boulevard entrance to the Japantown Peace Plaza appears in an undated architectural rendering. Among features identified by the Japantown Task Force Peace Plaza Committee, community members prioritized making the Post Street entrance more inviting, enlarging the plaza performance stage, making the Geary Boulevard entrance more vibrant, incorporating cultural elements and making the plaza livelier overall. (San Francisco Recreation and Parks)

Of the $9 million secured through grants, $3 million came through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Economic Development Initiative, Community Project Funding Grant, secured by Pelosi, and the remaining $6 million came through the California Natural Resources Agency, secured by Ting.

“The Japantown Peace Plaza project is more than a renovation; this is about investing in our community today and for future generations.,” Breed said. “This space is a cherished landmark for our Japanese American community, residents across the City and visitors from around the world. “Like San Francisco, the Japantown Peace Plaza will be reimagined into a space that celebrates a rich cultural history and welcomes people from around the world.”

The ‘heart and soul’ of Japantown

The 32,000-square-foot plaza hosts annual events like Nihonmachi Street Fair and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. It features a Peace Pagoda, which was gifted to San Francisco by its sister city, Osaka, Japan, in 1968.

The landmark Peace Pagoda was gifted to San Francisco by its sister city, Osaka, Japan, in 1968. (Glenn Gehlke/Pagransen)

“The Peace Plaza is the heart and soul of Japantown and through this community-driven vision, we have the opportunity to reimagine the space to make it work well for large communal festivals and celebrations and also comfortable and welcoming for everyday use,” Public Works Director Carla Short said. “This project has been a true partnership involving community members, nonprofits, the private sector and government agencies that will bring long-lasting benefits.”

San Francisco’s Japantown is the oldest Japantown in the U.S., and one of only three surviving Japantowns in the country, according to the city.

“San Francisco’s Japantown holds profound historical significance for people of Japanese descent worldwide,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Beyond being a renowned destination for shopping and amazing food, it’s also a place for celebration and reflection on the immense contributions this community has made to the U.S.”

The Japantown community’s input on the project was gathered through about 60 meetings and several surveys, according to the news release, guided by the Japantown Task Force Peace Plaza Committee. Community members prioritized making the Post Street entrance more inviting, enlarging the plaza performance stage, making the Geary Boulevard entrance more vibrant, incorporating cultural elements and making the plaza livelier overall.

“The Plaza is the beating heart of Japantown: attracting visitors, supporting businesses and sharing Japanese heritage, history and culture.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi

“As we break ground on the revitalization of our historic Japantown Peace Plaza, we begin to bring this important community space into the future,” Pelosi said. “The Plaza is the beating heart of Japantown: attracting visitors, supporting businesses and sharing Japanese heritage, history and culture.”

In addition to the waterproofing and reconstruction of the plaza, the renovation project intends to add new seating, lighting and plantings to the area, while also structurally upgrading the pagoda. The project intends to carefully follow historic preservation protocols and requirements, according to the news release.

“I am excited we are breaking ground on the community’s only open space which is the focal point of all of our festivals and events,” said Rich Hashimoto, co-chair of the Peace Plaza Committee “The new plaza is a culmination of countless meetings and unlike the past renovations, this project has been a community-driven project from the very beginning.”