Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda, Colonnade & Landscape Restoration

  • San Francisco, CA

We were honored to be retained by the City and County of San Francisco to perform Phase II restoration services at the Palace of Fine Arts. As specialists in historic building restoration and environmentally-conscientious building practices, the firm took on restoring the Palace’s interior rotunda dome, upgrading the structure for seismic safety, repairing surface damage, and patching and cleaning the architectural elements, including the famous “weeping maidens,” as standard practice. Nothing about this project however, was standard. The restoration paid homage to the vision and work of prominent architect, Bernard Maybeck, and brought seismic safety to a structure originally built to last one year. It was undertaken in a dense residential district while the nearby Exploratorium remained open, with flocks of birds nesting in the adjacent lagoon.

Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts as an exhibit for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.  Then, it was framed in wood and covered in staff, a mixture of plaster and a burlap-type fiber, intended to be demolished after one year. However, when it came time to take it down, a group of San Franciscans led by Phoebe Hearst, “The Exposition Preservation League,” succeeded in saving the Palace from destruction. The wood footings were repaired in the 1930s and the wood pile caps were replaced with concrete-grade beams. Then in the 1960s much of it was reconstructed, with concrete replacing the original wood and staff. During the 1989 earthquake, large chunks of the rotunda dome ceiling broke off and it was clear the structure required seismic upgrading. A net was installed during the process to contain loose plaster ceiling pieces and protect pedestrians.

In 1995, The Maybeck Foundation formed to raise money to restore and preserve Maybeck’s public buildings, and the Foundation raised the bulk of the $21 million restoration budget required to accomplish the project, with assistance from the City of San Francisco. The renovation was completed in 2008.

  • ClientCity and County of San Francisco
  • ArchitectCarey & Co., Inc.