Welcome to the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.
Set in an idyllic park, the palace has a rich history and is today an important part of
San Francisco’s image. The palace was originally built for the Panama-Pacific
International Exhibition which was held in San Francisco in year 1915. The purpose of
the exhibition was partly to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal as well as
the city’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake and fires. The expo lasted for almost 300
days and the exhibition buildings extended about a mile along the shore. The buildings
consisted of 11 exhibit palaces, showcasing objects from all corners of the world.
Just like many other exhibition projects, the majority of these buildings were not meant
to last, but to be dismantled after the exhibition had ended. The Palace of Fine Arts was one
of them, together with two other buildings. This palace was widely considered the most
beautiful structure and the star attraction of the exhibition. The original plan was to
keep using the palace through continuing art exhibits, even after the exhibitions closure.
However, maintenance costs proved to be too high and the funding for its use fell short.
As a result, the loved building was covered up and the area was used for other purposes.
Light tennis courts were placed on the site in the early 30ies. Later, during the Second
World War, the area served as a motor pool of jeeps and other Army vehicles.
After the war had ended, the Army returned the building to the city. From this point,
the palace suffered steady decay. In the early ’50s, the palace hosted a few art exhibitions
and served partly as a storehouse, but it was to a large extent abandoned. The building
and the surrounding grounds were declared unsafe for public use a couple of years later,
due to lack of maintenance. Both the local government, as well as San Francisco citizens,
realized that a Palace of Fine Arts in decay was a big loss to the whole city. In order
to save the palace, a major restoration project needed to be carried out.
A newly created Palace of Fine Arts committee, together with private donators, made it happen.
Together with some state money, they invested several million dollars into the restoration
of the palace. This resulted in the demolition and reconstruction of the palace in 1964.
One of the largest donators was Walter Johnson. After his death, he was called “the patron
who rebuilt the Palace of Fine Arts”, as he alone donated more than 4.5 million dollars
into the project. The palace was fully restored in the 1970ies and thus brought it back to
its former glory. The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard
R. Maybeck. He chose to theme the palace around Roman ruins, with the intention of showing
“the mortality of grandeur and the vanity of human wishes ….” The many beautiful pillars
and columns also clearly show that he was inspired by ancient Greek architecture. The
lagoon surrounding the rotunda and the colonnades added to its beauty. There has been some minor restoration project
since the large one, initiated in the 60ies. These projects have included restoring the
interior of the dome and surrounding walkways. It is now also possible to illuminate the
palace at night. Today the Palace of Fine Arts is host to both
a theatre and a science museum. It is also a reminder of a great exhibition of 1915,
which welcomed the world back to San Francisco. It has served as backdrop for several movies
and has become one of San Francisco’s most loved landmarks.