Friday, June 26, 2015

70 Years Ago, a City Embraced the Future: San Francisco and the United Nations Charter

It was late April 1945 and the war in Europe was nearing an end. On April 29, German forces surrendered in Italy. The next day, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. A few days later in Berlin, Soviet forces captured the German Reichstag. As combat to end World War II continued, in San Francisco there was talk of peace and an international solution to future conflict.
Horizon of Peace cover and "Signing the Charter," interior page (San Francisco: Bank of America, c. 1945).
California Historical Society, OV PAM 7288_001.
Seventy years ago today, representatives of fifty countries attending the United Nations Conference on International Organizations at the two original buildings of the San Francisco War Memorial signed a charter for the newly established United Nations. The day marked the culmination of two months—beginning on April 25—of committees and plenary sessions at the San Francisco Opera House. At the conference's last meeting on June 25, 850 delegates unanimously adopted the 111-article charter and signed it the following day at the Herbst Theatre (now the Veterans Auditorium) in the War Veterans Building.

San Francisco Opera House (left); War Veterans Building (right). Dag Hammarskjöld Library /
Research Guides / UN Documentation.
As President Harry S. Truman observed in his address at the closing plenary session of the conference on June 26: "The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world.  History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory in Japan, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself. . . . For it is a declaration of great faith by the nations of the earth—faith that war is not inevitable, faith that peace can be maintained. . . . By this Charter, you have realized the objectives of many men of vision in your own countries who have devoted their lives to the cause of world organization for peace."

The charter took effect on October 24, 1945. Its preamble declares its intent:
  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind 
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small 
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained 
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom 
  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors 
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security 
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest 
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples
Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations. 
Dag Hammarskjöld Library / Research Guides / UN Documentation.
In 1975, U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young dedicated a fountain at the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco's Civic Center as "a tribute to the U.N.'s goals of seeking peaceful resolutions to international rivalries." The fountain was designed by renowned San Francisco landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to represent the seven continents of the world. Halprin also designed the U.N. Plaza with architects Mario Ciampi and John Carl Warnecke in commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of charter. Following many years of decline and in consultation with Halprin, in 1995 the fountain was refurbished and rededicated to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the charter's signing.

UN Plaza San Francisco, 2005, photograph by Charles Birnbaum. Courtesy, the Cultural Landscape Foundation.  
The following images from the Dag Hammarskjöld Library create a visual history of the event and its host city:

Flags of the United Nations wave in the courtyard of San Francisco City Hall, 1945. Dag Hammarskjöld Library / Research Guides / UN Documentation.
Temporary barracks in front of Civic Auditorium, Barracks B, served as quarters for drivers. 
A snack bar in the basement of the Veterans Building served members of the press—a courtesy of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and other companies. 
Wounded veterans arrive at the Opera House for the Second Plenary Session on April 27, 1945.
An audience gathered in John Muir Woods at the dedication of the memorial plaque in honor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The plaque is inscribed: "Here in this grove of enduring redwoods, preserved for posterity, members of the United Nations Conference on International Organizations met on April 29, 1945, to honor the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Thirty-Second President of the United States, Chief Architect of the United Nations, and Apostle of Lasting Peace for all Mankind."
Presentation of the Wreath of Honor on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, at the Presidio War Memorial by Paul Boncour and Vice Admiral Raymond Fenard of France.
President Harry S. Truman is greeted at the San Francisco airport by Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. (right) and Senator Tom Connally (left), members of the United States delegation.
President Truman arrives in San Francisco.
The first meeting of Commission II, General Assembly on May 30, 1945
Hsu Mo (left) of China confers with the United Kingdom's legal advisor and Ambassador to Turkey Sir William Malkin.
Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., U.S. Secretary of State and chairman of the U.S. delegation, addresses the 16th Plenary Session on June 26, 1945. President Harry S. Truman is to his left. 
Chairman of Egypt's delegation Abdel Hamid Pasha Badawi signs the charter on behalf of his country. A facsimile copy of the charter is superimposed on the photograph.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
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