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Ghirardelli Square: A Sweet Tale of Chocolate, History, and San Francisco Charm

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco is not just a destination; it’s a living piece of history that has been transformed into a vibrant hub for locals and visitors alike. This iconic location tells a tale that spans continents and over a century, weaving together the rich history of Ghirardelli Chocolate, the vision of its founder Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli, and the enduring charm of Ghirardelli Square. In this article, we’ll delve into the captivating history of this historic square and uncover 12 fun and interesting facts about Ghirardelli Square, Ghirardelli Chocolate, and its visionary founder.

The Sweet Genesis: Domenico Ghirardelli’s Journey

Our story begins with Domenico Ghirardelli, born in Rapallo, Italy, in 1817. From a young age, Ghirardelli displayed a keen interest in the confectionery business. He embarked on a journey that would eventually take him across continents and lead to the creation of a chocolate empire.

    • Italy to South America: Ghirardelli served as an apprentice to a Genoa confectioner in Italy. However, he soon set out for South America, landing in Uruguay at the age of 20.
    • Sailing to Peru: Ghirardelli’s adventurous spirit led him to sail around Cape Horn to Peru, where he became a coffee and chocolate merchant. This was the beginning of his love affair with chocolate.
    • Gold Rush Beckons: Ghirardelli’s chocolate journey took an unexpected turn when his neighbor in Lima, James Lick, headed to San Francisco in January 1848. Lick, carrying 600 pounds of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, arrived just days before the first wave of gold-rush pioneers.
    • Joining the Gold Rush: Tempted by Lick’s tales of the gold rush, Ghirardelli joined him in San Francisco a year later. Here, he opened a general store offering not only chocolate but also a variety of provisions, including mustard, coffee, and spices.

Ghirardelli Chocolate: The Legacy Begins

Ghirardelli’s passion for chocolate and his entrepreneurial spirit led to the establishment of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which would go on to become a household name known for its exceptional quality.

    • Multiple Locations: Between 1852 and 1895, Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Factory found itself at four different locations in San Francisco, constantly expanding its operations to meet the growing demand for its delectable products.
    • The Iconic Site: The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company’s legacy is deeply intertwined with the site that now houses Ghirardelli Square. The company took over the Pioneer Woolen Mills on North Point Street, which today stands as the Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain and Ghirardelli Square.

The Transformation of Ghirardelli Square

While the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company continued to thrive, the factory’s original location took on a new life, transforming into the beloved Ghirardelli Square that we know today.

  • The Threat of Demolition: In the 1960s, as the chocolate manufacturing operation moved to San Leandro, Ghirardelli Square faced the threat of demolition. A group of passionate San Franciscans, fearing the loss of this historic site, stepped in to save it.
  • Adaptive Reuse Pioneer: The transformation of Ghirardelli Square marked a significant moment in architectural history. It is considered the first successful adaptive reuse project in the United States, setting the stage for similar restorations across the country.
  • A Blend of Old and New: Renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and Associates, famous for their work on Sea Ranch, played a crucial role in the redevelopment of Ghirardelli Square. They artfully restored many original structures while incorporating refurbished brick, seamlessly blending the old with the new.
  • National Historic Register: Recognizing its historical significance, Ghirardelli Square was granted National Historic Register status in 1982, ensuring its preservation for future generations to enjoy.

12 Fun and Interesting Facts About Ghirardelli Square, Chocolate, and More

  1. Chocolate’s Gold Rush: Ghirardelli Chocolate owes its arrival in San Francisco to the Gold Rush, with James Lick bringing Ghirardelli’s chocolate to the city.
  2. Oldest Chocolate Brands: Ghirardelli is one of the oldest chocolate brands in the world, founded in 1852. It proudly stands alongside other venerable brands like Nestle, Lindt & Sprüngli, and Cailler.
  3. Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain: The original Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory location in Ghirardelli Square now houses the Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory & Soda Fountain, where you can savor delicious treats and learn about chocolate making.
  4. Saving Ghirardelli Square: San Franciscan William M. Roth and his mother, Lurline Matson Roth, purchased Ghirardelli Square in 1962 to prevent its replacement with an apartment building.
  5. The Fountain Controversy: Sculpture artist Ruth Asawa’s fountain, “Andrea,” created controversy at Ghirardelli Square due to its depiction of a topless, breastfeeding mermaid. It was a response to the original vision of a phallic-looking fountain for the square.
  6. Ghirardelli Square’s Cultural Hub: Ghirardelli Square continues to be a cultural hub, hosting live music, outdoor markets, local art, artisans, and outdoor film screenings.
  7. Inspiring Adaptive Reuse: Ghirardelli Square’s success inspired the restoration of complexes like Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and Baltimore’s Harborplace.
  8. Art in Every Corner: Art and design are integral to Ghirardelli Square’s identity, reflecting both San Francisco’s history and contemporary culture.
  9. Facing the Bay: Ruth Asawa believed that the square’s role was to preserve views of the San Francisco Bay and highlight the importance of preserving open spaces.
  10. Iconic Bronze Statue: “Andrea,” the cast bronze statue at Ghirardelli’s Plaza, features two mermaids, one nursing a merbaby, surrounded by frogs and turtles.
  11. Pacific Heights Sign: To address complaints from the Pacific Heights community about the brightness of the Ghirardelli sign at night, Lawrence Halprin had it turned around to face the waterfront.
  12. Award-Winning Redesign: A revitalization project in recent years focused on improving public access, promoting year-round activity, and enhancing aesthetics. This project won the Northern California ASLA Merit Award for Historic Preservation.

Ghirardelli Square: Where Chocolate and History Unite

In the heart of San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Domenico Ghirardelli and his passion for chocolate. It’s a place where history, architecture, and culture converge, inviting visitors to explore its courtyards, alleyways, and shops. Ghirardelli Square isn’t just a destination for chocolate lovers; it’s a journey through time, a taste of innovation, and a celebration of the city’s spirit. The next time you find yourself in San Francisco, make sure to savor both the chocolate and the history at Ghirardelli Square, where the sweet past meets the vibrant present.

Glide past Ghirardelli Square and More


Pro Tip:

Visit Ghiradelli Square for a chocolate-covered Ice Cream treat after the Tour. Ghiradelli Square is one block away from our start location at Umbrella Alley  


Information provided by: ghirardellisq.com

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