Palace of Fine Art

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avondale school blog


Palace of Fine Art

20 September 2019


I recently attended a study tour in California where we visited a number of creative schools and completed two courses over six days. One of the courses, conducted by Brightworks School, was held at the Palace of Fine Art in San Francisco.


The Palace of Fine Art is an extraordinary building. In 1910, business and civic leaders convened to discuss making the site the century’s first great World Fair, a grand exposition to honour the completion of the Panama Canal. Four years earlier in 1906, there had been a huge earthquake followed by fires in San Francisco, destroying a significant portion of the city. The people of San Francisco wanted to rebuild, to show the world that earthquake and fire wasn’t going to destroy them. They would build bigger and better than before, for all the world to see.


Within two hours, $4 million was raised and San Francisco was chosen to host the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The building was designed by local architect Bernard Maybeck and was inspired by a Piranesi engraving that features a Roman ruin and includes a Greco-Roman rotunda and colonnades. It was designed and built on a huge scale with the desire to impress, which it still does to this day.


The Palace of Fine Art was meant to be torn down after the fair, but while the expo was still operating a group of locals began protesting to keep it. The majority of the expo site was torn down, but the colonnades, rotunda and main building were kept. It wasn’t originally designed to last and began to deteriorate so it was rebuilt as a more permanent structure in 1965. While speaking with locals, they shared with me that the main focus had been on making a statement to the local and global community that they would rebuild after the earthquake, that the people of San Francisco were still here and doing well, and that they would come back bigger and better than before.


As I stood there in awe of the monumental rotunda and the huge colonnades, I couldn’t help but think about what else was going on in the world at that time, namely World War I. The Great War began in 1914 and the locals I spoke to hadn’t connected the two events. America finally joined the war on 6 April 1917 and had joined the Western Front by the summer of 1918. They became involved because Germany’s unrestricted submarines were sinking American merchant ships.


It’s a fascinating story, but I wonder how often we get caught up in our own little world without being aware of the bigger picture, of the suffering, injustice, pain and hurting people around us? We live in a global society. How can we participate in helping others, fight injustice in the world, and collaborate with others to support a world that is in such need? How can Avondale School look beyond our walls and connect learning to real life, to make a difference in our world?


Nathan Hill

Acting Head of Primary


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