Palace of Fine Arts

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3601 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123

37.8031511230, -122.44834797

415-376-1704

Dog-Friendly: On leash, yes    Kid-Friendly: Yes

Hours: Sun-Tues-10am-5pm // Mon- Closed

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The Palace of Fine Arts is an historical monument that was built in 1915 for Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Balboa Park in San Diego was also built for the same traveling exposition.  The Palace of Fine Arts is the only structure from the Exposition in SF that survives on site.

Conceived to evoke a decaying ruin of ancient Rome, the Palace of Fine Arts became one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks.  This was originally one of 10 palaces built for the exhibition.  The others included were the Palaces of Education, Liberal Arts, Manufactures, Varied Industries, Agriculture, Food Products, Transportation, Mines and Metallurgy and the Palace of Machinery.

The Palace of Fine Arts was designed as a quiet zone, where exhibition attendees could pass through between visiting the crowded fairgrounds and viewing the paintings and sculptures displayed in the building behind the rotunda. While most of the exposition was demolished when the exposition ended, the Palace was so beloved that a Palace Preservation League, founded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, was founded while the fair was still in progress.

While the Palace had been saved from demolition, its structure was not stable. Originally intended to only stand for the duration of the Exhibition, the colonnade and rotunda were not built of durable materials, and thus framed in wood and then covered with staff, a mixture of plaster and burlap-type fiber. As a result of the construction and vandalism, by the 1950s the simulated ruin was in fact a crumbling ruin.

In 1964, the original Palace was completely demolished, with only the steel structure of the exhibit hall left standing. The buildings were then reconstructed until 1974 in permanent, light-weight, poured-in-place concrete, and steel I-beams were hoisted into place for the dome of the rotunda. All the decorations and sculpture were constructed anew. The only changes were the absence of the murals in the dome, two end pylons of the colonnade, and the original ornamentation of the exhibit hall.

While you’re in the area, make sure to check out the Wave Organ nearby!

Built around a small artificial lagoon, the Palace of Fine Arts is composed of a wide  pergola around a central rotunda situated by the water. The lagoon was intended to mimic those found in classical settings in Europe, where the expanse of water provides a mirror surface to reflect the grand buildings and an undisturbed vista to appreciate them from a distance.

The most prominent building of the complex, a 162 feet open rotunda, is enclosed by a lagoon on one side, and is neighboring a large, curved exhibition center on the other side, which is separated from the lagoon by colonnades. Many forms of wildlife live here including swans, ducks, geese, turtles, frogs, and raccoons.

The Palace of Fine Arts has been seen in films such as Vertigo (1958), Time After Time (1979), Bicentennial Man (1999),The Room (2003), and Twisted (2004). It also served as the backdrop for set pieces in So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993) and The Rock (1996). It also appears in Season 7, Episode 2 of Mission: Impossible, and in Season 8, Episode 7 of Mannix. It was incorporated into the imagery of the Sept of Baelor in Season 1, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones.

The structure was also featured as a landmark in the 2003 video game SimCity 4. In the 2000s, a smaller replica of the rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts was built in Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, serving as the entrance to a theater showing the film Golden Dreams about the history of California.

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