At the turn of the 21st century, one of San Francisco’s favorite landmarks — the Palace of Fine Arts — had fallen on hard times.

Renowned California architect Bernard Maybeck had created the Palace for the historic 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. But more than 85 years later, the Palace was teetering between “graceful ruin” and total ruin. Its elegant Rotunda and Colonnades were deteriorating and seismically unsound. Mold, bacteria, rust, animal deposits, and graffiti were eating away at the Palace’s surfaces. The lagoon was crumbling, its water is stagnant, and the wetland landscape — home to swans, ducks, and migrating birds — needed significant restoration.


For Bay Area residents and visitors alike, the continuing decline of the Palace was a heartbreaking prospect.

As the last monument of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition still located on its original site, the Palace is an important part of San Francisco history and a romantic and breathtaking backdrop to the city. More than 1.5 million people visit each year from a diverse mixture of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The Palace is one of the Bay Area's most heavily used urban parks, where children learn about nature, families share picnics, athletes jog, neighbors walk their dogs, artists sketch, and students study an architectural icon. It is a place for romance — the most photographed wedding spot in the country. History buffs can take a step back in time to visualize one of the most glorious nine-month periods in California's history, the 1915 Exposition. Tourists from many countries make pilgrimages to see one of the most recognized sites in the world.

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Through the decades, San Franciscans have worked together to preserve this jewel in the City’s crown. When the 1915 Exposition’s buildings were slated for the wrecking ball, citizens led by Phoebe Apperson Hearst rallied to make the Palace a permanent part of San Francisco. In the 1930s, $500,000 went into repairing the original wood footings and wood pile caps with concrete grade beams. In the 1960s, the Palace was reconstructed again. And in 1990, neighbors and business leaders mounted a campaign to add exterior lighting.

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But the Palace had remained subject to the ravages of time, nature, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. (see Palace in Need) In 2003, the Maybeck Foundation and the City of San Francisco created a public-private partnership to restore the Palace. Today, the campaign is close to reaching its $21 million goal. The first four stages of the project have been completed and fully funded. They included:

• Creation of a master plan
• Replacement of the Dome roof
• Restoration of the Lagoon and eastern side landscaping
• Seismic upgrading and structural preservation of the Rotunda and Colonnades.

The final phase of the project began on January 11, 2010, with completion scheduled for fall 2010. This phase will:
• Restore historic landscaping on the western side
• Replace the Rotunda floor
• Create a new Rotunda terrace
• Add new entrances and pathways
• Provide new safety lighting
• Reinforce the western edge of the Lagoon.

For more details please see our Work in Progress

You can help us continue to bring this landmark back to life by making a gift to the Campaign for the Palace of Fine Arts today.

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