Campaigns and Close Calls
"Therefore, let us preserve our Palace of Fine Arts as long as possible, six months, six years, or any length of time — maybe someday it can be made permanent..."
Willis Polk, 1915
It is difficult to contemplate San Francisco without the Palace of Fine Arts, one of the city's most beloved landmarks. Bernard Maybeck's masterpiece, part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, had an auspicious start as one of the favorite buildings of the fair. Its fate, however, was not always certain.
Before the PPIE closed, Phoebe Apperson Hearst had already launched a campaign to preserve the Palace. Although San Franciscans eagerly took up the cause, the site managed to escape destruction because of its location on U.S. Army land.
Over the following decades the Palace, built only to last a year, fell into ruin. Its former fine arts galleries were repurposed for such diverse uses as indoor tennis courts, a World War II Army motor pool, telephone book distribution center, and fire department headquarters.
By the 1950s, the site had deteriorated dramatically. In 1959, philanthropist Walter Johnson spearheaded an effort to raise preservation funds and donated $4 million. In 1964, the buildings were stripped to their foundations and a permanent version of Maybeck's design was
reconstructed in steel and cement with details cast from the original.
However, by the end of the 20th century, the Palace of Fine Arts needed further restoration. The "Light Up the Palace" campaign in the late 1980s funded improvements to exterior lighting for the rotunda and colonnades. In 2003, the Maybeck Foundation partnered with the City of San Francisco to raise $21 million for significant seismic upgrades, conservation of the dome, colonnade and rotunda, and improvements to the landscape and lagoon. Once again San Francisco rallied to save its Palace for the enjoyment of future generations.
(marker photo captions
· In 2007, the dome exterior was waterproofed and painted orange, similar to its color in 1915. Most of the recent restoration work is not publicly visible, such as the seismic upgrades inside the structure. Photographer: Charles Duncan
· Walter Johnson (left) and California Assemblyman Caspar Weinberger (right) inspected the crumbling ruin in 1956. Both were instrumental in the 1960s campaign to save the Palace. Courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
· Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Courtesy of the California Historical Society FN-32539
· In 1915, Maybeck incorporated the exposition's color scheme and ice plant walls into the Palace's design. Courtesy of the Maybeck
· The original wood and plaster dome of the Palace of Fine Arts was demolished in 1964. Courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library