Legion of Honor Building Replica In San Francisco
By Ira Grossman
A replica of the original Legion of Honor building (Palais de la Legion
d'Honneur) in Paris serves as an art museum in San Francisco. Built
in 1924 on a headland in northern San Francisco overlooking the Golden
Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean, the California Palace of the Legion
of Honor was a product of the inspiration of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels,
the wife of San Francisco sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels.
Way back in 1915, Mr s. Spreckels was visiting the Panama Pacific International
Exposition in San Francisco. While there,
she became captivated by the Exposition's French Pavilion, a replica
of the Legion of Honor building in Paris. This
pavilion, in a sense, was the model of the present Legion of Honor building
in San Francisco.
The Palais de la Legion d'Honneur building, itself, has a curious history.
Located on the left bank of the Seine, this imposing neoclassical
building was call ed the Hotel de Salm when it was first built..
It was designed by Pierre Rousseau in 1782 and completed
in 1788. Its first owner was the Prince de
Salm-Kyrbourg who lived there for only one year. It's next owner was
Madame de Stael. In 1804 it became the headquarters
of the newly established Legion d'Honneur, the order created by Napoleon
as a reward for civil and military merit.
Inspired by the beauty of the French Pavilion, Spreckels persuaded her
husband to build a new art museum for San Francisco in the very shape
of this building that she fell in love with to recapture its beauty.
When the exposition closed, the Spreckels received permission
from the French government to construct a permanent replica of the Parisian
Legion of Honor building.
The Spreckels chose San Francisco Architect George Applegarth and Paris
Architect Henri Guillaume to adapt the original plan of the P arisian
building into functional museum space. A remote
site known as Land's End in the northern part of the city overlooking
the Pacific Ocean was chosen as the future location of the museum.
Applegarth, a graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris,
designed the future museum as a three-quarter-scale adaptation of the
eighteenth-century Parisian original. Within the interior of the building,
the most advanced ideas in museum construction were incorporated . The
museum's walls were designe d to be twenty-one inches thick and to be
constructed with hollow tiles to keep temperatures even.
The building's heating system was designed to eliminate aesthetically
offensive radiators and to cleanse the air that filtered through it
with atomizers to remove dust. In addition, the structure of the building
was designed to contain seven thousand cubic yards of concrete and a
million pounds of reinforcing bar.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the building's construction had to be
delayed until 1921 beca use of World War I.
Officially named the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the museum
was completed in 1924. It
was officially dedicated on Armistice Day of that year and was accepted
by the city of San Francisco as a gift from the Spreckels to honor the
memory of the 3,600 Californians who died on the battlefields of France
during World War I.
After the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, an assessment performed in
the 1980s showed that the landmark building was seismically not strong
enough to withstand a future earthquake. To seismically strengthen the
museum, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, during its seventy-first
anniversary, underwent a major renovation between March 1992 and November
11, 1995 that included seismic strengthening,
building systems upgrade, restoration of historic architectural features,
and underground expansion that added 35,000 square feet. This renovation
also included increasing the visitor services and program facilities,
without altering the historic fac ade or adversely affecting the environmental
integrity of the site. This major renovation and underground expansion
of the museum was coordinated by architects Edward Larrabee Barnes and
The Legion of Honor building replica in San Francisco
is today owned and operated by The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
It is thanks to the vision and inspiration of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels
that San Francisco has such a building to house one of its two art museums.
For Further Reading:
Dre yfus, Renee. California Palace of the Legion of Honor San
Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1995, 2-5, paraphrased.
Nash, Steven A., Lynn Federle Orr., and Marion C. Stewart. Masterworks
of European Painting in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1999, 9-10, paraphrased.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Selected Works San Francisco:
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1987, 13, 15, paraphrased.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2001
[ Miscellaneous Index ]