Palace Of Fine Arts: Must-Visit Historic Place In San Francisco

Palace Of Fine Arts: Must-Visit Historic Place In San Francisco

San Francisco boomed big from the start of the mid-1800s gold rush, thrusting into the big time with runaway economic force, quickly becoming the indisputable and indefatigable powerhouse of the United States’ west coast. Then, one day, the earth shook and two-thirds of the city went up in flames. The year was 1906, a year that any true-blooded San Franciscan can recite on command.

San Francisco was determined to rise from the ashes, and it did so breathtakingly quickly for the era. Serendipitously, an even more momentous achievement was courting success in fits and starts. The Panama Canal finally opened in 1914, making San Francisco much more easily accessible from the U.S. East Coast and Europe. A more perfect opportunity for San Francisco to show its resurrection could not have been dreamed. With the pieces in place, the Pan-Pacific International Exposition was born, a part of which was to be the Palace of Fine Arts.

Out of the estuary, into the business of cultural lording

profile view

“What we need,” the designers of the Palace of Fine Arts pictured above might have said, “is something that commands levels of cultural authority that only European architecture can bring us.” As hard as it is to believe today, the 1910s was still a time when California had a bit of an insecurity complex regarding its place in the world. Oh the times, they definitely have changed.

French inspired Greek design, built by an American

columns up close

The central dome is redolent of famous Greek temple rotundas, the Vesta at Tivoli being just one. Bernard Maybeck, who studied at the Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts, neither adhered to the French method nor appeased the American Beaux-Arts community, but he did please the people. The towers and the Palace of Fine Arts’ dome rises high, but instead of merely dominating, they set stage for the appreciation of nature, which is what the architect is said to have intended all along.

Walking around and under the roofline allows for various vantage points to leisurely unfold, partially and alluringly occluded by both the natural and built elements of the monument. The water gently laps at the shore, as the ever present waterfowl – both resident and migratory – add an element of naturally progressing serenity. The design seems to invite and be gifted with the joyous laughter of children, which gently, teasingly takes flight inside the dome.

Looking out from the rotunda

pond view

The rotunda is surrounded by the aforementioned pond on roughly three sides. At the time of the world’s fair, this path was not paved as it is today, but otherwise the landscape remains the same. On a sunny day, a quick sit or lay in the grass makes for a sublime respite. The neighborhood beyond also makes for a nice stroll, both along the marina itself, or through the affluent neighborhood known simply as The Marina, to the nearby shopping district of the same name on Chestnut Street.

Divisive discourse does not detract

Architectural critics may have very mixed opinions on the Palace of Fine Art’s design merits, but visiting the site in person (and really, any time of day will do) makes this discussion academic at best, and downright silly at worst. Stop on by and see for yourself, and bring a sandwich or even your very own contribution to the infectious laughter and happiness.

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Hi, and thanks for stopping by to read my profile. I'm a writer and founder of a travel planning company called Pinpoint Traveler. I'm an American by birth, but on shaky ground with the folks back...Read more

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