Palace of Fine Arts reveals Bay culture

SAN FRANCISCO— Two lovers linger on the grass in front of the lagoon, a group of kids run after the ducks and a tourist takes a picture of herself with Greco-Roman ruins as the background. These are commons scenes that take place here at the Palace of Fine Arts each day.

The Palace of Fine Arts was constructed for the Panama Pacific Exhibition in 1915 to commemorate the completion of the Panama Canal and the rebirth of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

Panoramic image of the rotunda and the Palace of Fine Arts in 1915. (Photo courtesy of The Panama- Pacific International Exposition Co.).

A side view of the Palace of Fine Arts in the exposition.

Below, the Palace is an image of the sculptures that were placed in an ornamental pool next to the Palace (Photos courtesy of The Panama- Pacific International Exposition Co.).

“The Palace of Fine Arts is so beautiful and peaceful,” said Carol Park, who lives in the Bay Area of San Francisco. “It architecture is interesting and inspiring, and the kids can have a lot of fun around.”

Although it meant to stand for a year, it has become a landmark of the City of San Francisco offering a variety of spectacles in the theater, a relaxing day in the park, or a fulfilling experience in the Science Museum.

The Palace was built by the architect Bernard Maybeck. It is inspired in Greco-Roman architecture and features a classical Roman rotunda with colonnades walkways on each side. Its sculptured frieze and allegorical figures were created by Ulric Ellerhusen.

The Palace as it is today. The rotunda is temporarily been restored to its original condition (Photo by Rosa De Armas).

It is impossible not to want to stay for a while and relax in this scenery. Trees flourishing, the fresh air blowing your hair and the sun reflected in the water of the lagoon with the ducks performing an elegant dance for the viewers create an enchanting scene. It is not surprising that many couples choose this setting to get married.

The wildlife includes Whooper swans, Muscovy ducks, Black-crowned night herons, Sea Gulls flying from the bay, songbirds and pigeons. Together they chant a non-stopping song that along the tune of the fountain and the whistle of the wind create the perfect scenario for relaxation.

The vegetation along the lagoon makes of the park a colorful and vibrant place. It includes daylilies, Douglas and Japanese iris, sword ferns, willow trees, coreopsis and gunnera.

The vegetation and presence of ducks in the lagoon in the Palace creates a harmony between the architecture and the natural life (Photo by Rosa De Armas).

“The Palace of Fine Arts is a very romantic place,” said Gary and Carmen Scott, who came from Hawaii. “You can have a beautiful day with your lover as you look at the great architecture and beautiful natural area.”

The theater has a sitting capacity for 1,000 people in a continental-style configuration. It is used from community groups to famous artists like Celine Dion and Tory Amos, televised shows like the “Late Show with David Letterman,” and “Wheel of Fortune,” and comedy shows of Whoopie Goldberg and Rosie O’Donnell.

Vegetation along the Colonnades of the Palace of Fine Arts (Photo by Rosa De Armas).

“The Palace is very important to the smaller community based groups that don’t have a lot of money and can’t afford to go bigger houses in San Francisco and do their shows,” said Kevin Taylor, production manager of the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. “They come in and for a reasonable amount of money they can make their show in a quick amount of time.”

The Exploratorium has a Science Museum with interactive science and art exhibits that teach people through experimentation. Its exhibitions are on optics, acoustic, motion, electricity and mathematics among others. It was voted the “best science museum in the world” in an international meeting of museum leaders in 2005.

Detail of the columns next to the Rotunda in the Palace of Fine Arts (Photo by Rosa De Armas).

If You Go

Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon St.
Administrative office: 415-563-6504
Box office: 415-567-6642.

To have weddings and special events in the Rotunda: 415-831-5500.

By public transportation: from Fisherman’s Wharf take the #30 Stockton bus. From other locations, Mini buses #22, 28, 29, 41, 43, 45.

Exploratorium hours: Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Admissions: adults (18-64) $14, students (over 18 with valid ID) and seniors $11, youth (13-17) $11, children (4-12) 49, children under 3 free entrance.

Above, A swan in the lagoon of the Palace of Fine Arts. At right, Vegetation along the lagoon of the Palace of Fine Arts (Photos by Rosa De Armas).

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