The Palace of Fine Arts


Outfit Details: Dress, Purse (Stitch Fix)

Architect or not, a building can leave you with a strong emotion. It could be the comfort of a well-proportioned room. It could be the sense of vertigo when you look over the side of a railing. Or it could be the grandeur of an ornately decorated space. The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood is one of those buildings that gives me goosebumps. Every time I walk through it, I feel like I’ve been transported to a fantasy world. A young boy walked by as we were photographing, declaring: “This is BEAUTIFUL!” And he is quite right. I’m predisposed to like classical buildings – my architecture program at Notre Dame had a strong focus on classical, traditional design. (When I use the term “classical” think columns, ornamentation, inspired by Greek or Roman design). Aside from having a familiarity with classical buildings though, I just really like them. I’m a romantic. On a misty morning or a sunny afternoon the Palace is one of the most romantic spots in San Francisco. There is a reason it’s a favorite of wedding photographers!


The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Maybeck drew his inspiration from a fanciful print of a Roman ruin by Piranesi. The building is made up of two large colonnades that lead to a central domed pavilion. Statues of women by sculptor Ulric Ellerhusen, nicknamed “Weepers”, top the Corinthian columns, representing the melancholy of life without art. The building was originally meant to come down after the Exposition ended, but was so well loved people raised money to keep it in place (not unlike the Bay Lights). In the 1960s, the pavilion was in such poor shape though it had to be completely reconstructed. The Palace was the home of San Francisco’s Exploratorium from 1969-2003 (it’s now relocated to Pier 15). The large theater and event space behind the pavilion were built in the 1970s.


Stepping from the noisy streets into the gardens that surround the Palace, you enter a different realm. Swans and turtles swim peacefully through the reflecting pond and the fountain noise drowns out the surrounding traffic. The sand and red columns are offset by the lush surrounding greens. It can get crowded with tourists (they get dropped off by the bus load!). I would recommend visiting early in the morning or late in the evening. Even during prime times though I’ve been able to sneak between columns to find a quite space and reflect on the beauty of the space. I get caught up in fast pace of daily life – wake up, get to work, work, get home, make dinner, go to sleep, repeat. Parks like the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate, or the Presidio are a quiet reminder of the natural environment that I don’t see that often in my daily city life. Sometimes just taking Sully across the street to our mini park can reset my whole attitude.


It goes without saying, that clothes can do the same thing – completely change your mood. The right dress can make you feel beautiful or glamorous. If you’ve read my other posts, you probably know that I have a huge girl-crush on Gal Meets Glam’s Julia Engel. She has created a collection of dresses (and recently matching separates) with new pieces being released each month. This blue dress is from her first release back in April (and it’s currently on sale!). When I tried this dress on I instantly fell in love. I feel amazing when I wear it. It’s so comfortable and the fabric drapes perfectly – did I mention it also has pockets!? I’ve since bought two more of her dresses, which I love equally as much. The day the new lookbook for the next collection comes out I’m like a kid at Christmas. I constantly reload my email until it arrives and then look, and relook at the dresses available for that month. I’m really excited see what the holiday collections will be like! 


When Dennis and I first started talking about feature locations for the blog the Palace of Fine Arts was top of the list. It’s one of my favorite spots in the city, strangely because you feel out of the city. I wish we lived closer to visit more often. The majesty of the Palace reminds me why I am an architect. These are the moments I want to create for people – transporting you and enveloping the visitor with beauty. Are there places where you live that make you feel beautiful? Or help you reset your headspace? Send me a message or comment below! - Rebecca