San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair that celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and the recovery of the city after the devastating earthquake of 1906. Inspired by Greek and Roman architecture, Bernard Maybeck designed the structure, intending to evoke a sense of timelessness and elegance with its classical columns, arches, and domes.
When the fair ended, only the Palace of Fine Arts building remained. It wasn’t maintained over the years and deteriorated. The city rallied to save it, and its reconstruction continued from 1964 through 2010.
The original structure was crumbling by the 1950s, and in 1964, it was completely demolished and rebuilt with longer-lasting modern materials. Builders used a combination of reinforced concrete, steel, and plaster on the dome, rotunda, and colonnades to retrofit the building to seismic durability standards.
The site’s main structure is a massive dome of about 162 feet in diameter— that’s 20 more feet in diameter than the Pantheon’s dome. The dome is supported by columns, arches, and buttresses. Ornate reliefs and sculptures depicting scenes from classical mythology and history adorn the façade. Soaring ceilings and grand arches beautify the interior. Interior rooms showcase the arts, with a series of galleries, a theater, and exhibition spaces.
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