San Francisco’s second World’s Fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (“PPIE”), opened on January 20, 1915. One of the centerpieces of the exhibition was the Palace of Fine Arts that was designed to display works of art. Highlighting the Palace of Fine Arts complex was a huge open Rotunda. With the anniversary of the PPIE, this week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at five of our favorite images of the Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda and surrounding area at the PPIE in 1915.
The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck. He was inspired by classical Greek and Roman architecture. The Rotunda, in particular, drew inspiration from the Temple of Minerva Medica in Rome. The scene in the image above looks almost like it could have been taken today, as preservation efforts have managed to keep the original feel of the site.
On the ceiling of the Rotunda were a series of large murals painted by Robert Reid, who also painted murals at the Library of Congress, the Massachusetts State House rotunda, and the Appellate Court House in New York City. Reid’s eith murals on the ceiling of the Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda were called The Four Golds of California (four panels), Inspiration in All Arts, Ideals in Art, Birth of Oriental Art, and Birth of European Art. While you can see some of the lower part of the Rotunda in the above image, we have no images of Reid’s murals.
By the entrance to the Rotunda was a statue called The Pioneer Mother. The PPIE Women’s Board chose sculptor Charles Grafly to make the monument. It stood 26 feet tall including the pedestal. Below the statue was a plaque with the following quote from Benjamin Ide Wheeler: “Over rude paths beset with hunger and risk she pressed toward the vision of a better country. To an assemblage of men busied with the perishable rewards of the day she brought the three-fold leaven of enduring society – faith, gentleness, and home with the nurture of children.” Do you recognize the statue? It was moved to Treasure Island for the Golden Gate International Exposition in May 1940. After that was over, it was moved to its current spot in Golden Gate Park.
To each side of the Rotunda extends a colonnade that separated the exhibition building from the lagoon. Maybeck sought to evoke the ruins of ancient Rome and Greece. While much of the rest of the PPIE was demolished after it was over, the Palace of Fine Arts and its Rotunda was saved through the efforts of Phoebe Apperson Hearst. She founded the Palace Preservation League before the PPIE was even over.
Besides the Palace of Fine Arts building, the lagoon was also kept after the PPIE. Reid’s murals were removed and replaced by art from WPA artists in the 1930s. However, since the structure was not originally intended to last, it was not built to stand the test of time. The Palace of Fine Arts deteriorated over the years and was eventually largely demolished in the 1960s. It was then reconstructed, mostly conforming to the original design. Among the few missing elements is the absence of murals on the Rotunda ceiling. Further restoration occurred in the early 2000s. Over 100 years later, it remains a top attraction in San Francisco.