Research Subjects: Miscellaneous


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 Mark Cavagnero.

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

 

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