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Palace of Fine Arts Tips (62)

The Palace of Fine Arts.

We got to the Palace of Fine Arts by number 28 bus. The Palace of Fine Arts was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Its purpose was, and indeed is, to house art exhibitions. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck, who was inspired by classical Roman and Greek architecture. It is located on a lagoon. When we visited, several brides were having their photos taken there.

IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
Feb 26, 2016

Palace of Fine Arts

"In 1915 when the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) opened, it was a time of turmoil for the world and for the City of San Francisco. The City was just recovering from the terrible earthquake and fire of 1906. The nations of Europe were engaged in economic and political troubles that would lead to the start of World War I. The civic leaders of San Francisco envisioned a bold plan to bring the world together to encourage trade and to show the future of the world as it could be, and to demonstrate that a rebuilt San Francisco would be truly an international city.

Bernard R. Maybeck was chosen as architect for the Palace of Fine Arts. A student of the École des Beaux-Arts, his design reflects the impression of a Roman ruin. The inspiration for the Palace, with its soaring colonnade, grand rotunda, and carefully constructed pond, was meant to evoke quiet sadness and solemnity. This is most evident as one observes the “weeping ladies” facing into the tops of the columns throughout the park. While visiting a museum in Munich, Maybeck was struck by the Hungarian artist István Csók’s depiction of a scene where the notorious Polish princess Elizabeth Bathory is seen throwing freezing water on her naked servants.

Maybeck was also influenced by Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead. This popular work depicts a small island with towering rocks surrounded by water, with trees at the core of the island, and a boatman with mysterious passenger approaching a dark inlet. Maybeck’s choice of inspiration from classical painters was interesting, given that the purpose of the Palace of Fine Arts was to showcase artists at a period of time when modern art was beginning to emerge.

After the fair, most of the buildings at the PPIE, which were never meant to be permanent, were torn down. The exception of the Palace of Fine Arts; the citizens of San Francisco felt it was just too beautiful to destroy. Consistent with his design concept, Maybeck had intended that the Palace should just fall into ruin, and so it did for a long time. In the ensuing years the building was used for a variety of purposes. After World War II it was a military storage depot, a warehouse for the Parks Department, a telephone book distribution center, and even temporary Fire Department headquarters.

However, the Palace of Fine Arts was never destined to have the same fate as the other buildings of the PPIE. In 1959 Assemblyman Caspar Weinberger led the effort to completely restore the Palace. Public and private funding efforts were underway, but it seemed the goal was just beyond reach. It was then that businessman and philanthropist Walter S. Johnson stepped up and contributed the additional $2MM needed to completely restore the Palace into a permanent structure.

The Palace of Fine Arts League, a 501(c)3 non-profit, was established in 1962 to provide the means to restore the Palace of Fine Arts. Walter Johnson’s efforts, along with many others, contributed to the creation of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, which opened in 1970. The Palace of Fine Arts League continues to operate the theater today, honoring the legacy of Maybeck, Johnson, and the many others that have contributed to the rich cultural fabric of San Francisco made possible by the success of the Panama Pacific International Exposition."


apbeaches's Profile Photo
Aug 26, 2015

A palace indeed

When you're in this area of San Francisco it's hard not to notice this standout piece of architecture. However, the most extraordinary thing about it is that, like the Eiffel Tower, it wasn't meant to last.
No indeed, it was merely a temporary building constructed as part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Architect Bernard Maybeck chose a Roman ruin as his theme, crumbling before the elements as in a Pirenese engraving. The Commissioners were bedazzled; the hall covered some three acres of ground.
The essentially Corinthian colonnade was framed in wood and then covered with staff (a mixture of plaster and burlap-type fibre). So too was the Romanesque rotunda. Staff was the ideal material for a building of this kind; it was completely pliable and various finishes could make it appear like stone or marble. Although constructed to achieve mood, the Palace was rescued from any danger of superficiality by a firm underlying geometric pattern.

iandsmith's Profile Photo
Aug 01, 2011

Photo Op: Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda

This is one of those most-photographed places. There's probably no earthly need for YET another shot but what the hell.

The rotunda is all that's left of the structures built for The Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915. Actually it isn't even supposed to be here as everything built for the event was designed to be temporary and constructed of materials easily torn down a year later. Someone decided to rescue this one though, and what you see is a concrete duplicate of the original. They were doing some work to the thing when I was there so I couldn't get close to it but the pond and little park are pretty and there are benches for a sit-down. Nice spot for a bag lunch, too.

Attached to it is a theater and the Exploratorium: a hands-on science and art museum. I don't know as I'd make a special trip here unless you were going to the museum but it's located on the far east side of the Presidio, near Crissy Field and not all that far from the Main Post, so if you're in the area it's definitely worth the walk-by.

goodfish's Profile Photo
Jun 03, 2010
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Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco just 9 years after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The structures here, as they were at many of the expositions and world's fairs, were not made to be permanent structures, only built to last until the end of the expo, so the original structure was made of "staff", a mixture of plaster and burlap fiber.

The movement to preserve this one building started in October 1915 and it was the only building left after the rest of the expo was dismantled. Over the years though weather and neglect made the building unusable but the preservation effort was taken back up in the 1950s and by the mid 70s it had been restored. Today it houses the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre and the Exploratorium.

Dabs's Profile Photo
Oct 16, 2009

A Photographers dream! The Palace of Fine Arts

If you are a big fan of the movie 'Vertigo' you will recognize this building as a background shot when Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak were taking a stroll in the park. This is a gorgous park, and the fine arts building is a artistic wonder. This is a beautiful building, built with a Greek flair. Fellow photo buffs will absolutley love shooting in this area. Have fun shooters!

tvdandy's Profile Photo
May 24, 2009

Feed the Birds and Join a Wedding Photoshoot

The Palace of Fine Arts (designed for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition) is a favorite backdrop for a wedding photoshoot. It's easy to see why - lovely gardens, romantic fountain, and historic building.

Mom and I had a fun time feeding the birds (I mean scaring them away) and watching the graceful swans in the pond.

Nearby is the science exploratorium/museum where kids can learn a lot.

Note: This historic building is need of repair so a huge section was cordoned off to tourists.

yellowbell's Profile Photo
Feb 23, 2009

Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally constructed as a temporary structure for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition.

The Exhibition Hall houses one of the most unusual museus in the world.
more on this later

Gypsystravels's Profile Photo
Sep 12, 2008

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Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition by architect Bernard R. Maybeck. It was built to resemble overgrown Roman ruins while still functioning as a museum. Its early years were spent as an art museum, but in 1934 it was modified to house eight tennis courts. During World War II the decaying palace was used by the US army to store vehicles, and these vehicles were used by the newly created United Nations, which was first established in San Francisco.

In 1964 the original Palace of Fine Arts was completely demolished and rebuilt over the next several years. During construction no permanent use of the new palace had been determined until 1968 when University of Colorado physics professor Frank Oppenheimer suggested it be used for the study of science and technology. The museum opened in 1969 and grew rapidly until its expansion in 1980. Oppenheimer was the first director for the museum and continued in this role until his death in 1985.

Interestingly, Oppenheimer was also a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project which developed the first atomic bombs. His brother Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Manhattan Project and the first director of Los Alamos National Laboratories. Oppenheimer was an admitted communist party member and was investigated after World War II for possibly leaking nuclear secrets to the USSR.

Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
Mar 02, 2008

Palace of Fine Arts

This is a must see. It's such a beautiful structure and I think it's very relaxing to walk amongst the structures and just admiring it. It's also a great spot for photographs and the only limitations are you imagination. Take a seat at one of the many benches around the pond and people watch. There's a whole variety of people there, tourists, locals, grand parents and grandchildren, wedding parties, prom dates in formal wear...

joits's Profile Photo
Feb 28, 2008


Built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition (Designed by architect Bernard Maybeck), with a style and grandeur worthy of its name which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and the rebirth of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake.

Today, it's home to the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum, as well as a 1,000-seat theater that's ideal for events, including the stunning Ethnic Dance Festival. At other times, it's used for film festivals, lectures and concerts. But it just looks so pretty--it's even surrounded by a lake with swans. You can walk all around it, under the main arches, and in and out of the huge classical columns. On a sunny day, it's an absolutely beatiful (and romantic) place to go for a picnic.

machomikemd's Profile Photo
Oct 20, 2007

Palace of Fine Arts-con't.

This is such a romantic structure--soaring columns, fine details and classic in design. We felt as though we were exploring an exotic ruin, rather than a San Francisco beauty.

Exposed to the elements, the Palace of Fine Arts was in need of repair by the 1950's. It had endured well beyond the years expected and had become beloved to many.

Finally, Philanthropist Walter S. Johnson stepped up to lead the drive to restore this magnificent structure.

Exact molds were made of the intricate design elements, which had been carefully removed. Concrete castings of the rotunda and colonnades were duplicated and the steel framework retained.

Work progressed until finally on September, 1967, a "stripped down" version of the palace was presented to the public, then finally a more complete version in 1975.

As we marveled at the beauty of this structure, we were gratified to learn that there is a 1000 seat Fine Arts Palace theatre and the EXPLORATORIUM, a hands on science center.

VeronicaG's Profile Photo
Aug 30, 2007

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Getting to Palace of Fine Arts


3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco, California


  • Sunday 06:00 to 21:00
  • Monday 06:00 to 21:00
  • Tuesday 06:00 to 21:00
  • Wednesday 06:00 to 21:00
  • Thursday 06:00 to 21:00
  • Friday 06:00 to 21:00
  • Saturday 06:00 to 21:00