The Palace of Fine Arts history

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally built for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition which was held in San Francisco in year 1915. The purpose of the exhibition was partly to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal as well as the city’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake and fires.The expo lasted for almost 300 days and the exhibition buildings extended about a mile along the shore. The buildings consisted of 11 exhibit palaces, showcasing objects from all corners of the world.

Allowed to remain

Just like many other exhibition projects, the majority of these buildings were not meant to last, but to be dismantled after the exhibition had ended. The Palace of Fine Arts was one of them, together with two other buildings.

However, the palace was widely considered the most beautiful structure and the star attraction of the exhibition and was allowed to remain. The original plan was to keep using the palace through continuing art exhibits, even after the exhibitions closure.

Closure of the palace

However, maintenance costs proved to be too high and the funding for its use fell short. As a result, the loved building was covered up and the area was used for other purposes. Light tennis courts were placed on the site in the early 30ies. Later, during the Second World War, the area served as a motor pool of jeeps and other Army vehicles.

Palace decay

After the war had ended, the Army returned the building to the city. From this point, the palace suffered steady decay. In the early ’50s, the palace hosted a few art exhibitions and served partly as a storehouse, but it was to a large extent abandoned. The building and the surrounding grounds were declared unsafe for public use a couple of years later, due to lack of maintenance.

Both the local government, as well as San Francisco citizens, realized that a Palace of Fine Arts in decay was a big loss to the whole city. In order to save the palace, a major restoration project needed to be carried out.


A newly created Palace of Fine Arts committee, together with private donators, made it happen. Together with some state money, they invested several million dollars into the restoration of the palace. This resulted in the demolition and reconstruction of the palace in 1964. One of the largest donators was Walter Johnson.

After his death, he was called “the patron who rebuilt the Palace of Fine Arts”, as he alone donated more than 4.5 million dollars into the project. The palace was fully restored in the 1970ies and thus brought it back to its former glory.

Why visit the Palace of Fine Arts ?

Set in an idyllic park, the Palace of Fine together with its rich history is today an important part of San Francisco’s image.

An enchanting site

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco and is definitely worth a visit. The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard R. Maybeck. He chose to theme the palace around Roman ruins, with the intention of showing “the mortality of grandeur and the vanity of human wishes ….”

The many beautiful pillars and columns also clearly show that he was inspired by ancient Greek architecture. The lagoon surrounding the rotunda and the colonnades added to its beauty.

An illuminated wonder

There has been some minor restoration project since the large one, initiated in the 60ies. These projects have included restoring the interior of the dome and surrounding walkways. The Palace of Fine Arts is now also illuminated during night, which makes a stroll at the palace during the evening something extra special.

The palace of today

Today the Palace of Fine Arts is host to both a theatre and a science museum. It is also a reminder of a great exhibition of 1915, which welcomed the world back to San Francisco. It has served as backdrop for several movies and has become one of San Francisco’s most loved landmarks.

Palace of Fine Arts location

The Palace of Fine Arts is located in western United States, in San Francisco, California. The palaces lies situated in the Marina District, close to the San Francisco Bay. For the exact location of the Palace of Fine Arts, check out the location map to the right!

Palace of Fine Arts Video

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