The Palace of Fine Arts was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition to house the works of fine arts exhibits. It was a temporary structure made of plaster and burlap and was meant to be torn down after the Exposition along with the other temporary structures, but it was so beloved that a committee was formed immediately for its preservation and with their efforts, saved it from destruction. Today, after extensive renovations, one can appreciate the grace and beauty of the structure with its iconic golden domed rotunda reflected in the surrounding pool, the rows of Corinthian columns flanking it, and the Ancient Greek and Roman inspired architecture and sculpture.
Approaching San Francisco from the north across the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts is a stunning sight, its golden dome gleaming in the sunset, or glowing faintly and mysteriously in the fog, or lit up in all its splendor at night – dominating San Francisco’s Marina District. No wonder preservationists fought so hard to save it. Noted California architect, Bernard Maybeck, designed the Palace for the 1915 Pan Pacific Fair and Exposition and it was an early example illustrating Maybeck’s contention that Grecian-Roman architecture was relevant in a California setting. By the 1950s it was in ruins – built to last for only 2 years, the cheap building materials and poor construction were no match for the San Francisco weather. In 1965, it was torn down and rebuilt using more permanent construction means and materials. And, again, in the past few years, it underwent seismic retrofitting and renovation and just reopened in January of this year. Today it looks as good as it ever has since 1915.
Because of it’s classical motif, graceful form, and beautiful setting, the Palace of Fine Arts is the most popular setting for local wedding photographers to use as a backdrop for wedding parties and it’s not uncommon for a dozen or more couples to be there for their wedding pictures on weekends in May and June. For the Lomographer it is something different: it’s a place to explore the light and shadows of the colonnade and the proportions and details of the rotunda. Sure, it’s somewhat artificial and Disneyesque, but it’s also a thing of beauty and a product of one of California’s most influential architects. Indeed, it’s one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks and one that San Franciscans are proud to share with the rest of the world.
Check it out and let me know what you think!