City Officials and Japantown Community Break Ground on Peace Plaza Renovation Project

The project will transform the plaza while ensuring that it remains a central gathering space in San Francisco’s Japantown—one of just three remaining Japantowns in the U.S.
April 27, 2024

San Francisco, CA – Today, Mayor London N. Breed joined the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the Japantown community to break ground on the Peace Plaza Renovation Project, which is set to transform the historic plaza into a vibrant community space in the heart of Japantown, while preserving its unique legacy. 

In addition to Mayor Breed, the groundbreaking ceremony included Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, Assemblymember Phil Ting, the Japanese Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco, members of the Japantown community, and a lively performance by Taiko drummers.  

For the project, $25 million has been allocated from the 2020 San Francisco Health and Recovery Bond. Additionally, the project received $9 million in grants thanks to the Japantown community’s dedicated advocacy work, in partnership with Rec and Park. Of the $9 million in grants, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi secured $3 million through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Economic Development Initiative, Community Project Funding Grant, while state Assemblymember Phil Ting secured $6 million through the California Natural Resources Agency. 

"The Japantown Peace Plaza project is more than a renovation; this is about investing in our community today and for future generations. This space is a cherished landmark for our Japanese American community, residents across the City and visitors from around the world,” said Mayor London Breed. “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. I want to thank Speaker Emerita Pelosi for her continued leadership to advance projects that lift up the City’s priorities to ensure San Francisco continues to stand as a beacon of cultural importance.” 

“As we break ground on the revitalization of our historic Japantown Peace Plaza, we begin to bring this important community space into the future,” Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said. “The Plaza is the beating heart of Japantown: attracting visitors, supporting businesses and sharing Japanese heritage, history and culture. I was proud to secure $3 million in federal Community Project Funding to support this important project, so that we ensure it will continue to stand as an indispensable landmark of our City for decades to come.” 

“I’m proud to have led the effort to ensure the state of California is a partner in this project, delivering vital funds to help keep it on track. I’ve been fighting for greater public investment in AAPI communities, and this one is especially important because a renovated Peace Plaza is a way to make amends with local Japanese American families who were forced out of this area twice over the last several decades,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). 

The 32,000-square-foot plaza, originally built in the 1960s, serves as an important hub for the City’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community, hosting large annual events such as Nihonmachi Street Fair and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. The plaza’s iconic Peace Pagoda holds historical significance, as San Francisco’s Japanese sister city Osaka gifted the pagoda to the City in 1968. 

The project will waterproof the plaza to prevent water leakage to the Japan Center Garage underneath. This effort calls for all of the plaza’s features, including paving, plantings, seating, and the stage, to be removed. 

Once the waterproofing is complete, the plaza will be reconstructed, with all the culturally significant elements such as boulders, plaques, bonsai trees, and monuments carefully salvaged and reinstalled. The plaza’s renovation will also provide new seating, new lighting, and new plantings. In addition, the pagoda will be structurally upgraded, with all historic preservation protocols and requirements being carefully followed. 

“San Francisco’s Japantown holds profound historical significance for people of Japanese descent worldwide. 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,” said SF Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “This project ensures the Peace Plaza remains a central gathering point for generations to come.”   

Back in December, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission awarded the construction contract to Plant Construction Company L.P. San Francisco Public Works is providing landscape architecture, architecture and engineering services, and managing construction.  

“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,” said Public Works Director Carla Short. “This project has been a true partnership involving community members, nonprofits, the private sector and government agencies that will bring long-lasting benefits.”  

The plaza’s redesign was shaped with strong input from the Japantown community through an extensive outreach process which included some 60 meetings and several surveys, under the guidance of the Japantown Task Force Peace Plaza Committee. During this process, community members set the project’s goals, which included creating a more inviting Post Street entrance; enlarging the plaza’s performance stage; making a more vibrant Geary Boulevard entrance; incorporating significant cultural elements; and designing a livelier plaza overall. 

“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. 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,” said Rich Hashimoto, co-chair of the Peace Plaza Committee

“I am grateful to have reached this milestone and look forward to finally having an open space in Japantown which reflects the priorities of our community," said Jon Osaki, also co-chair of the Peace Plaza Committee

San Francisco’s Japantown is the first and oldest Japantown in the U.S. Prior to World War II, when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps, there were more than 80 Japantowns throughout the nation. Today, however, just three Japantowns remain: San Francisco’s Japantown, San Jose’s Japantown, and Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. 

The Japantown Task Force was formed in 1997, under the leadership of Mayor Willie Brown, with the goal of preserving and developing the neighborhood, ensuring it remains culturally diverse and a thriving commercial and retail district. Through the task force’s efforts, in 2013, Japantown became the City’s first designated Cultural District. 

Throughout the duration of the project, the Japan Center Malls will remain open, and all entrances will still be accessible. Once construction is complete, the plaza is anticipated to reopen in early 2026.