Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Fountain’s Journey

In collecting old pictures of S. Mariani & Sons Hardware at 23rd and Florida Streets in San Francisco, I noticed an old fountain that was once out front.  In many of these pictures, the S of S. Mariani & Sons himself, Stephen, was standing next to it proudly. 

Photo used with permission of Carl Pisaturo,

I’ve many times visited the home of the Mariani family at this location.  Stephen Mariani opened two hardware stores in 1875.  When the stores closed in the 1950s, they literally just closed.  The store was left downstairs of the home and just all closed up.  We used to go into the hardware store and play with the old cash register and tools.  My dad even had some items I inherited when he died—business cards, a brush, and a pencil.

Throughout my lifetime of visits, there was no fountain out front on the sidewalk.  So what happened to it?  When I was combing through items at the California Historical Society in San Francisco in March I found this newspaper clipping (newspaper not named or dated):

New Park Gets an Old Fountain

An unusual antique fountain of broad multi-purpose design—it was made to serve horses, humans and dogs alike-- has been presented to the State for inclusion in the new Victorian Park at the foot of Hyde street. 

The fluted cast-iron fountain has stood since 1881 in front of the old Mariani hardware store at 23rd and Florida streets.

It was donated for the State Park by the sons and daughters of Stephen and Victoria Mariani, who came to San Francisco in 1862 and established their store in 1875.

One of the daughters, Mrs. Stella Bryant, who still lives at 23rd and Florida, said the fountain was cast in Oakland in 1872 and acquired by her father nine years later.

Charles DeTurk, State Director of Parks and Recreation, said the fountain “reflects all the ornate grandeur of its period.”

I decided to look into this fountain and, using my best friend, Google, I found this website:  Armed with the newspaper article, directions, and the picture from the About in the City blog, I took a trip to San Francisco on BART last weekend, determined to see if the fountain was indeed still there.

I got off BART at the Embarcadero stop and walked up Embarcadero towards Ghiradelli Square, stopping for a bit at Pier 35, where I walked across the street to the corner of Kearny and Bay.  Why did I stop there? 

That is the spot that the California pioneer Giuseppe (Joseph) Mariani, father to Stephen Mariani, was fatally injured in a blasting accident in 1871. 

May 11, 1871, Daily Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, CA

I walked across to the pier and sat there looking at the boats in the water.  Is that what Giuseppe was doing there?  Watching the boats?  He was a house painter, so I don’t think he was working.  I think he was thinking just like I was.  As I sat there on fancy redwood benches staring into the Bay, I was interrupted by a “vet looking for some lunch money.” 

Giuseppe was there just after the Civil War.  Were there Civil War vets asking for spare change while that dynamite was being set?  Were there children chasing seagulls, couples holding hands?  What was he thinking about those moments before his life was interrupted permanently?

I got a bit sad, so I continued on.  I passed the street performers and foreign families sightseeing at Pier 39.  I passed the smell of crab and sourdough at Fisherman’s Wharf.  I passed the other smells of stagnant water and homelessness of Aquatic Park and there it was.

The Fountain.

I placed my hand on it in reverence.  This fountain was in Oakland and shipped to San Francisco.  This fountain was touched by S. Mariani.  This fountain was touched by Vera and her siblings.  This fountain was touched by shoppers in the hardware store and passersby.  Possibly even my dad.  As I thought of each of them, I imagined seeing them there with me.  Only they all were in black and white like the photos of the fountain in front of 23rd and Florida.  I was in color and so was the fountain.  And so was the sleeping lady on the nearby bench, lying there around MY fountain, as if MY fountain were a stove giving off the heat of 140 years. 

I sat on one of the surrounding benches and just looked at it.  I admired the different drinking spots for horses and dogs.  I wondered how it was filled.  I think through the top, but clearly no water other than that from the skies had been in it for years. Now it was leaves, gum and cigarette butts.  I cleaned out the largest drinking spot of the debris and then wrote down the words from the small plaque at the bottom, silently promising my fountain that I’d be back to clean her again someday soon.

“A gift to the State of California by the pioneer Mariani family.  The grandfather, James Mariani, arrived on these shores in 1852.  Presented in the memory of the father, Stephen Mariani, who purchased the fountain in 1881 to place in front of his establishment at 23rd and Florida.  November 1961.”  The grandfather was Joseph or Giuseppe, not James.  But the rest is, as they say, history.


  1. Beautiful writing, so much to share here, Debbie. Thanks for taking us with you on this journey. Love the photo and article as well.

  2. Loved this article Debbie, on a personal note I felt that I was back in San Francisco.

  3. Debbie,
    What a great story! Did you happen to take a photo of the fountain as it looks today? Hope you see lots of traffic coming by. I included it in "Links from the Blogosphere" in the August 2013 eNews.

  4. I need to go back for better pictures. I took some, but sadly only on my phone and I can't get them to post without being sideways! Next time, I want a picture of me in front of it, just like Stephen is standing. I will frame them side-by-side and hang it proudly.