Palace of Fine Arts reopens after restoration

FILE -- A couple walks around a lagoon past the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Friday, May 8, 2009. The second phase of $21 million restoration is almost complete and fences surrounding the landmark are expected to come down later in the month. The Palace, which was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck, is the only remaining monument from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

January 14, 2011 8:08:44 PM PST
A San Francisco landmark that had fallen on hard times is back as a gleaming jewel. The 96-year-old Palace of Fine Arts has just reopened after a major renovation.

It is a classic landmark restored to its glorious origins. The Palace of Fine Arts was fading and falling apart. Now it has been, replanted and even the swans are back in the clean lagoon.

"We tore everything apart and basically started from scratch? all new concrete, all new paving, all new landscaping, irrigation, drainage," says contractor Michael Bauman.

It is a $21 million plus project that took seven years to complete and $16 million of that money came from donations. Donna Ewald Huggins' grandparents fell in love under the dome. She headed up the fund raising.

"A lot of people have a great deal of passion about the Palace of Fine Arts. They have their memories of feeding the ducks and swans or stories of the 1915 exposition and their relatives being here. So there is a lot of passion out there. Over 1,200 donors came through for us," says Higgins.

"It's a great example where a private-public partnership can work," says Michela Alioto-Pier.

The Palace of Fine Arts was part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It was never suppose to last, but Phoebe Hearst led a drive to save it and it's been patched up over the years.

It was designed by the renowned Bernard Maybeck to reflect the spirit of ancient Rome, looking like a Roman ruin. A roman it still is, but ruin? Not at all. Today about two million visitors come every year.

"Well worth money spent to actually preserve it," says Australian tourist Curtis Harrison.

For some young actors, this setting inspires performance. The Palace of Fine Arts meant to be here for another 96 years.

"We hope that will inspire a lot of people to be involved to help take care of this legacy project," says project manager Toks Ajike.