Palace of Fine Arts

My best friend in New York and I always joked that we wanted to go to the Brooklyn Promenade on the first Saturday in June to go Bride-spotting. It’s THE most popular place to take wedding pictures, and I’m sure they line up by the dozens to get that famous pic.  I feel the same way about the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It’s such a beautiful structure, and exists for no discernible purpose … and it’s just the perfect backdrop when you’re wearing a white meringue!

San Francisco held an exhibition in 1915 to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. It was kind of a “Hey! You can get to us a lot faster now, and look how cool we are!” kind of time, and the Palace of Fine Arts was built in the Marina District to house some of the art that was on display at the exhibition.  According to Wikipedia, the structure has had a varied life, going from exhibiting fine art to housing tennis courts, and even (during WWII) was used to store Army trucks and Jeeps. After the war, the palace was used a Parks Department warehouse, a telephone book distribution center, and even as a temporary Fire Department headquarters.

All that seems a bit tragic, especially since the structure is so classically beautiful. Bernard Maybeck, the original architect, designed the palace to look like a Greek or Roman ruin, even though no such ruins actually exist. (I have a complicated theory about how Americans hardly ever come up with anything unique, they just steal stuff from Europe…. but that’s another post for another time!) A simulated ruin that eventually became an actual ruin, but was still just a simulation — is life imitating art here, or what?  Anyway, it was restored and reopened in the latter half of the 20th century, and now is the perfect place for San Franciscan’s to enjoy an afternoon stroll. (We know this for a fact, there were about a million people there!)

I think the structure looks strongly Etruscan, but perhaps that’s just because of the coloring. There are some really beautiful images on the internet, but I’m only going to post the ones that we actually took, but I’m only going to post a few (even though I took dozens) because I’m hoping to go for quality over quantity!

One funny thing did happen while we were sitting on the benches looking out over the lagoon.  There was a guy sitting on the benches next to us. He had a cardboard box on the ground next to him.  I didn’t really look at him twice, but after we were sitting we heard him say “Copy That” quite distinctly.  Now, we’re used to crazy people, so we both just ignored it and looked at the pretty ducks.  But then we saw two people (a man and a woman) come jogging up to the guy on the bench. He removed a silver briefcase from the cardboard box, and then handcuffed it to the woman’s wrist.  It was all done quite quickly.  Then the couple jogged back from the direction they came from.  We saw the guy on the bench touch his ear and say “They’re on their way back. Copy.”  That’s when we saw the white curly wire coming out from his ear.  The guy then picked up the cardboard box and quickly disappeared in the opposite direction!!  We totally saw a hand-off of some kind!   I would suspect that it was for a movie, except we didn’t see any cameras.  There was a helicopter circling overhead, but that was the only other thing out of place. How weird is that??  I really wanted to follow the jogging couple, but Alex said it was probably a bad idea.

Anyway, that’s our exciting story from the trip. Not that exciting, because we don’t know what was going on, but I like to imagine it was some secret CIA-spy stuff.

And here are my pretty pictures!


The rotunda.

The colonnade.

The lagoon.

More colonnade.

Last but not least, I snapped this picture of a guy snapping a picture of a guy walking a lot of dogs!


Posted on 08/02/2011, in travel, Travel to the States and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very intriguing! And great photos!

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