Palace of Fine Arts


A little piece of heaven

I got such a nice response to my post about the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought I would post something about another of my favorite places in San Francisco. The Palace of Fine Arts was part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and is the only part of that exposition standing in it’s original location. The Palace was rebuilt in 1965, and generally spruced up and retrofitted in 2009. It is a little piece of heaven in the middle of a busy urban environment. I used to love to sit on the bench in front of the lagoon, after a long walk down Embarcadero, checking out the piers, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Fort Mason. I’d watch the ducks dive for fish, their little rumps comically sticking out of the water. The Palace of Fine Arts gives a visitor a sense of what it may have been like on a beautiful summer day in Greece or Sicily in 500 bc. It is an archetypal place brought to life! I notice how people tend to lower their voices or remain silent when they are walking about the grounds, careful not to disturb the serenity.

It is refreshing to discover a place whose only function is to bring pleasure to the senses. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck as a fictional ancient milieu. There were originally ten palaces, representing various human endeavors, education, agriculture, manufacturing. They were designed to be temporary, and the Palace of Fine Arts had to be made into a more durable structure. Originally wood, plaster, and burlap, it was completely redone in light weight concrete. The Exhibition Hall has been used for various purposes over the years. During the Depression it exhibited WPA artists’s works, during WW II it housed trucks and jeeps. It has held telephone books, limos for statesmen, and been the headquarters of the fire dept. I love the sculptures which depict Contemplation, Wonderment, and Meditation. They are typical of the neo-Classical style current in the early twentieth century. They fulfill their function admirably. When you visit this place you are left in wonderment, meditate upon it’s meaning, and sit in silent contemplation of it’s beauty.

  One of the things I love most about San Francisco is it’s love of unique beauty. It preserved the lovely Victorian homes and ornate buildings of yesterday, because it saw it’s value. It is one of the special thrills of San Francisco to walk it’s streets and take in the endless variety of architectural treasures which fill this city. I could post many more stories and photos to document this fact, and I plan to. I love the fabulous statues and gargoyles which grace many of the buildings downtown. I love the intricate art deco designs of many of the older skyscrapers. Much of modern architecture leaves me cold, and San Francisco has it’s share of that. Fortunately, this city is primarily a living museum. I live in a studio apartment which was built in 1907 following the earthquake, to house the Chinese workers who did so much to rebuild this city. I found the date embossed into the iron frame of my murphy bed, 1907. It was a thrill to be living in the midst of history. This is a special city. If my efforts threaten to overtake this blog, I will create a new blog devoted to San Francisco. Think of russell5087 as a nursery, where ideas take shape and find there own home in other blogs I create. Thanks for the great response to The Golden Gate, hope you like this post just as much!

5 responses »

    • I see from your blog that you love pre-Raphaelite paintings. I was going to blog about that as well. Now I will need to. There is an exhibition of Victorian era pre-Raphaelite paintings on exhibit in San Francisco right now. I can’t recall where, Legion of Honor? It might even be at the Palace of Fine Arts! The Palace is great for stimulating your imagination, you can sit there and imagine you are in an ancient setting.

      • Yes, I would love to read a post on that style and I wish I could go visit San Francisco just to sit at the Palace of Fine Arts and pretend I’m in that setting and write. I really did enjoy your post and look forward to more from your blog.

  1. The Palace of Fine Arts has got to be one of my favorite, all-time places to visit! The first time I set foot there made me feel drawn back to Classic Greece. I took a cab to get me there from a Fisherman’s Wharf hotel. It is so gorgeous! I plan to re-visit again soon. Thanks for the great photos and memories! Yes, I left my heart in San Francisco, as the song goes!

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