Mr Bell Visits San Francisco’s Palace Of Fine Arts


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I am always looking for new places to visit and photograph when I’m travelling and so when I was recently in San Francisco I decided to go to one of the city’s more unusual attractions, the Palace of Fine Arts. From my hotel near Union Square I jumped on the F Line tram for the scenic ride along to its last stop at Jones and Beach Street. From there it was a 20 minute or so walk to my destination.

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The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the Panama Pacific International Exposition that opened in 1915. At the time San Francisco was recovering from the devastating earthquake of 1906 and the exposition was designed to show off the newly rebuilt city.

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Bernard R. Maydeck was chosen as the architect. A student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, his design reflects the impression of a Roman ruin. The inspiration for the palace, with its soaring colonnade, grand rotunda and carefully constructed pond, was meant to evoke quiet sadness and solemnity. The “weeping ladies” facing into the tops of the columns are one of the most evident signs of this.

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None of the buildings built for the fair were meant to be permanent and most were demolished afterwards but the people of San Francisco felt the palace was too beautiful to be destroyed. Maybeck’s design concept had intended that the palace should just fall into ruin, and for a long time it did just that. The building was used for a variety of purposes including a military storage depot, a parks warehouse and a temporary fire department headquarters.

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In the late 1950’s it was decided to save the palace using public and private funds. Eventually the palace was rebuilt into a permanent structure and in 1962 The Palace of Fine Arts League was established to protect its future. In 1970 the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre was opened, this still survives today.

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You don’t need long at the Palace of Fine Arts, it’s a beautiful place and very tranquil. After my walk around I crossed over the road and went to Crissy Field from where there are some great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

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Its then a lovely walk back along the waterfront to the F Line tram stop or if you’re feeling energetic you can continue a little further to Fisherman’s Wharf.

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