THE PALACE OF FINE ARTS – Opening Celebration, January 14th

The fence is coming down!
Friday, January 14th, 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Join the Maybeck Foundation and SF Recreation and Parks in celebrating the completion of the Restoration of the Palace of Fine Arts

Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

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.

After the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was anxious to show the world that it had risen from the ashes. So in 1910, business and civic leaders gathered to discuss making San Francisco the site of the century’s first great world’s fair — a grand exposition that would honor the completion of the Panama Canal. In just two hours, they raised $4 million — and beat out competitors New Orleans and Washington, D.C., to host the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.


Built on 635 acres reclaimed from San Francisco Bay, the exposition featured 11 great exhibit palaces showcasing objects from every corner of the globe, more than 1,500 sculptures commissioned from artists all over the world, 65 acres of amusement concessions, an d an aviation field. Twenty-one countries, 48 U.S. states, and 50 California counties mounted displays in the exhibition’s grand pavilions.

In 1912, colorist Jules Guerin was appointed the Panama Pacific Exposition’s chief of color. He chose colors he saw in San Francisco and the surrounding area: deep cerulean from the sea and the sky, lush greens and tawny gold from the velvet, oak-studded hills of Marin and the East Bay, and subdued hues found in the clay and sand hills of San Francisco. Guerin’s color accents recalled the ancient lands so dear to architects like Bernard Maybeck: rich bronze and copper patina, terra cotta, and above all, the mellow tones of travertine marble. In 2005, the Campaign for the Palace of Fine Arts supported restoration of the Palace dome, returning it to its original color from Guerin’s palette.

Fatty Arbuckle, Mayor James Rolph, and Mabel Normand
San Francisco, 1915

The 1915 exposition began a love affair between filmmakers and the Palace that continues to this day. Comedians Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle, with director Mack Sennett, filmed a silent short at the exposition: Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco . Look for scenes shot at the Palace in films such as Vertigo, The Wedding Planner, The Game, Twisted, and Foul Play. TV shows such as Nash Bridges, Monk, and Crazy Like a Fox have also used the Palace as a backdrop. The Palace of Fine Arts Theater is host to San Francisco’s annual Noir City Film Festival.

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, 1958

Each of the Palace’s Corinthian columns is topped by four maidens — sometimes called “weepers.” The design for the Palace included a planter box at the top of the colonnade but, because funds ran low, nothing was ever planted. Sculptor Ulric Ellerhusen, who created the maidens, originally conceived them as nourishing the planters with tears symbolizing “the melancholy of life without art.”

On opening day, February 20, 1915, 255,149 people walked through the entry gates to experience the first world event of the 20th century. By the time the exposition closed nine months later, more than 18 million people — about 20 times the population of San Francisco at the time — would visit the exposition. And when this spectacular festival came to a close with fireworks and a solitary bugler playing taps, by all accounts, the crowds wept.

When the exposition ended, the Palace lived on — saved from demolition by the Palace Preservation League, founded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst while the fair was still in progress. Today the Palace of Fine Arts is the last reminder of a great gathering that welcomed the world back to San Francisco, and it continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Bay Area residents and visitors. The Palace is truly a landmark to love.

Want to get involved? Click here: PALACE OF FINE ARTS


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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:


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