Palace of Fine Arts

Seven concept proposals for restoring and re-purposing San Francisco’s iconic Palace of Fine Arts, which was designed by Bernard Maybeck, built for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and served as home to the Exploratorium for 40 years, have been submitted to the city for review.

The proposals include spas and gyms; market halls and retail shops; hotels and event centers; art and cultural facilities; and a mix of public spaces and restaurants as well, with proposed leases ranging from 30 to 99 years in length and base rents of up to $1.4 million a year.

Palace of Fine Arts Central Entry Concept

One sentence summaries for the seven proposals with direct links to each:

1. The Arcadium San Francisco: An arts space, destination market hall and holistic wellness pavilion “supported by foundational pillars of culture, community, commerce, and care.”

2. The Bay Club at the Palace of Fine Arts: A public and private “recreational, social, and cultural hub,” with indoor and outdoor athletic facilities and space for educational and social events.

3. The Bladium Sports and Fitness Club: A hub for recreational activities and community events with an emphasis on team sports.

4. The Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts: A mix of recreational uses, including meeting and event facilities, restaurants, historic displays and a “small-scale, world-class hotel.”

5. The Center for Global Arts and Cultures: A cultural destination, community hub, and events site for “large-venue productions, arts education, international cuisines, important civic celebrations, wedding parties and other special events.”

6. Palace of Fine Arts-San Francisco Arts, Crafts, Community and Hospitality: A renovated public concourse and Exhibition Hall, “that embraces the history, arts, products, crafts and culture of San Francisco,” along with 175 guest rooms across two new mezzanine levels.

7. The San Francisco Museum At The Palace (SFMAP): A publicly accessible museum and great hall, with a renovated Palace of Fine Arts Theater and “a destination fine dining restaurant.”

San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department will be reviewing the concept proposals over the next two months and will then invite a subset of the seven teams to submit detailed plans from which the winning proposal will be selected.

The detailed plans for the Palace of Fine Arts will be due this December. The winning team is slated to be selected in February (2016). And the long-term lease and next chapter for the Palace is expected to be written, approved and inked by next July.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Some guy

    Long live The Exploratorium at PofFA. No, really though:

    1. Holistic wellness pavilion? Ix nay. Marketplace? Too far from anywhere.
    2. Bay Club “public and private” – what proportion private? 20%? or is it >50% only for exclusive rich snobs.
    3. Bladium, absolutely no, no, no, no, and no. Cheezy.
    4. Maybeck center sounds blah and super tame.
    5. Center for Global Arts n Cultures, sounds nice, I’ve loved attending the sf ethnic dance festival at PoFA yearly and think the venue is well suited for that type of thing.
    6 and 7, yah, OK, I wont fight them.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      The use shouldn’t be private – it should play off of and supplement the existing tourist experience (for both locals and people from far away).

      The Maybeck Center is a good idea – there’s actually a dearth of affordable meeting and dinner spaces for small and mid-sized groups (100 to 300 people). And it would be nice to have something memorializing Maybeck’s work.

  2. Posted by Alai

    What is supposed to be going on in that picture? A huge empty space where people pose meaningfully?

    • Posted by ElitistPig

      You idiot, it’s an open space where people can look at their phone / text without bumping into other people doing the same. This city needs more places where people can loosely congregate and use their phones to ignore the other people gathered, it’s really the best use of space.

    • Posted by BobN

      I think the clue is the guy at about 10:30. Apparently the space has invisible bar counters.

      • Posted by soccermom

        Mime heritage site. “I’m in a shrinking box” as metaphor for physical displacement. “I’m in a shrinking box with a big mustache and a straw hat” as a metaphor for cultural displacement.

  3. Posted by EcceMorons

    Gladiator’s training facility. Floating raft/stage on the alligator-filled lagoon. Sunday afternoon fights to the death – free admission.

    SF is losing its cutting edge. This might put us back on the map!

    Don’t forget the fair-trade sow’s ears concession stand.

  4. Posted by Gil

    A gym? The entire Marina from Fort Point to Safeway is one big outdoor gym.

  5. Posted by Oh Dear

    I guess it’s too late for the Fisher Museum huh…

    • Posted by Orland

      Not to mention Lucas’ vanity project.

      John King had actually suggested this space as an alternative to the Presidio site for his Museum of Narrative Art.

    • Posted by SF Social-lite

      And George Lucas…

  6. Posted by Sierrajeff

    I wonder if George Lucas is fed up with Chicago politics yet…

    • Posted by Long-time San Franciscan

      I’d love to see Lucas in that space.

    • Posted by Orland

      I’d still rather see him reconsider the Embarcadero seawall site for his museum coupled with reclamation of Piers 30-32 as park/recreational fields as they are doing with similar facilities in Brooklyn/NYC.

    • Posted by Orland

      The latest I could find on the status of the Chicago proposal. Seems still up in the air.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        Wow, the Chicago Sun-Times site is even more clogged and balky than SF Gate. It takes real effort to be that annoying.

  7. Posted by SFJohn

    First of all it’s Bernard not Barnard (!). Secondly NO gym/spas!! I agree that most of the other proposals are rather lame for such an iconic San Francisco building – #7 seems like a good fit

    [Editor’s Note: Believe it or not, “Barnard” came straight from the City’s official request for proposals for the project and slipped by an editor when we published last night. Since corrected above.]

  8. Posted by Orland

    How about a multimedia museum of the 1906 Quake (with Disney Museum special effects) and the rebuilding efforts culminating in the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition?

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      Good idea. Add in a virtual reality room where you could experience the Pan-Pac pavilions in all their 3-D, life-size glory.

    • Posted by Frisco

      The SF History Museum (proposal 7) would include that in some form.

    • Posted by jlasf

      That’s a really interesting idea.

      Structure it as a multi-media “walk through time”. You enter into the city, pre-quake. The bustle of the Gold Rush, Chinatown, Barbary Coast, Nob Hill, etc. Then, the quake. Use the wrap around images that show the destruction. A documentary presented in a movie theater that shakes. (The movie theater could be used for other purposes: lectures, public meetings, etc.) Then, the rebuilding process of the city, culminating in the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition. Then a view of the future of the City. This would be a digital or VR experience that could be updated.

      Of course, the question comes to funding. A relevant corporate sponsor is found for each segment. Levi’s sponsors the Gold Rush segment. Wells Fargo sponsors the rebuilding segment, Oracle/Apple sponsor the future. There could be a donors’ wall with the names of the donors’ children – the future of the city.

      Bring in the best creative minds of the Bay Area to contribute their ideas: Pixar, Apple, Lucas, etc. To see how imaginative this could be, look at the elevator ride up the Freedom Tower in NYC. It’s a history of New York.

      Toss in a museum store, a cafe/restaurant, and you have a great tourist attraction that is site-appropriate.

      • Posted by Orland

        Thanks for. .. ahh, “fleshing that out ” for me.

        But seriously, what you describe could be a very worthwhile addition.

  9. Posted by eflat

    All boring, and most likely underfunded proposals…too bad Lucas couldn’t see his museum (at least a part of it there)….the Presidio really blew it in they way they handled all proposals over there.

  10. Posted by Aaron Goodman

    *TRAFFIC/TRAFFIC/TRAFFIC
    The solution is to build the F-Line out to the Golden Gate Bridge….

    The prior Pan-American Exhibition line extended out to provide PUBLIC access to the Presidio and Marina areas.

    If you start placing more activities, people will clot the area with cars, tour bus routes, etc.

    We need to solve the transit issues (NorthBay) commuters, coming into and out of SF, make em park and ride downtown… And help co-pay for the transit improvement and parking..

    • Posted by Joshua

      This is the most important issue. In the pipeline:

      * This development
      * Park and event spaces over Doyle Drive
      * Whatever happens to the Sports Basement site
      * Other Presidio projects

      How will people travel back and forth to all of this???

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        In eco-friendly self-driving cars, while sipping their organic soy lattes and puffing away on their “medical” marijuana as they ride – haven’t you visited streetsblog?

        • Posted by Brian M

          LOL. As if a 3,000 pound collection of plastic and metal powered by toxic batteries can ever be eco-friendly And we won’t talk about the amount of water needed to grow the Sacred Herb of Righteoussness.

      • Posted by Frisco

        The Exploratorium used to be here, so the current unused state is exceptionally low traffic, not a new normal. This development will be a return to the baseline. The Sports Basement site and the new Presidio Park will be served by parking within the Presidio, and likely not overflow to the Palace of Fine Arts. And in conclusion, the sky is not falling.

  11. Posted by poor boy
  12. Posted by soccermom

    #7, gingerly.

    We don’t need to commercialize this space. It’s beautiful, it’s grand. It’s always been those things. It’s a sufficient tourist draw as is. Do something great with the Theater and the old Exploratorium space. This is the very definition of city patrimony. We need to sell billboard space on the dome of city hall before we put a gym or a food court in here.

  13. Posted by Can't Think of Cool Name

    The initial build-out of Starfleet Academy, obviously.

    • Posted by Some guy

      Best proposal so far.

    • Posted by Pablito

      I was going for a restaurant – because you see a lot of weddings / celebrations here and that would be nice.

      But Starfleet Academy rules. I bet if you put a proposition on the ballot to put a statue of Leonid Nimoy here in the entrance traffic circle it would win big.

    • Posted by Joel V

      Make it so.

  14. Posted by jamesjr

    No. 7 definitely with the digital 3D earthquake/PPIE thing thrown in.

  15. Posted by MoneyMan

    What’s wrong with just leaving it as a beautiful site, as is? What’s driving this change?

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      I think that the proposals are for what to put into that curved “shed” building where the Exploratorium used to be. The iconic cupola and colonnade pictured in this article’s lead photo would remain untouched.

      • Posted by Frisco

        Exactly. What’s driving the change is that the Exploratorium vacated the building and they’re looking for a new tenant.

      • Posted by moto mayhem

        how about another market area, like the food market in Philly?

        • Posted by Orland

          I love the Reading Terminal Market but question whether this would be an appropriate site for such an operation.

  16. Posted by Aaron Goodman

    The second scheme is the most transformative, and best effort at a large scale reworking of the site and amenities. It looks at the pedestrian issues and getting to the facilities, along with an organization that can financially support the proposed changes, maintenance, and community needs. As long as the club is an open-access amenity, it can be a real positive community physical and rejuvenation area for public recreation and use of the presidio. Couple it with an extension of the F-Line to the Presidio, along the roadway south side of chrissy field for public transit access and you have a solidly designed and programmed space.

    • Posted by Orland

      I recently attended a Market Street Railway function and the issue of the proposed extension of the Foster Line to Fort Mason came up. Our docent advised that “Marina District interests” had either filed or were threatening litigation. She seemed pretty pessimistic. I can just imagine the reaction to extending it the length of Marina Green.

  17. Posted by Some guy

    OK this is even better argued and thought out than the Star Fleet Academy suggestion.

  18. Posted by EBGuy

    Naboo themed laser tag.

  19. Posted by John Fagundes

    Is no one upset that a former museum space if being considered as either a gym or hotel–all except for one seem to want take a public space and turn it into private use.

    Can we let them get away with this

  20. Posted by Orland

    On a somewhat related note, I thought I pretty much knew this town. However, last weekend while walking along Greenwich in Cow Hollow off Scott, I came upon a fabulous old building I was previously unaware of with “North End Police Station” festooned across its rather ceremonial entry.

    Turns out it was built to replace the neighborhood PD station destroyed in 1906 and served as the police station for the 1915 Exposition. Currently, some lucky party’s private residence bought for a steal at $480K in ’96.

  21. Posted by alberto rossi

    Let it slide into ruin like the 18th century architectural follies it is patterned on.

    • Posted by Some guy

      Too late, they just finished a massive structural overhaul on it sometime in the past ten years. So its good for at least another hundred.

  22. Posted by sflawyer

    These all sound awful. A hotel? Really? Instead of doing that, they could just make it a homeless shelter.

  23. Posted by Pablito

    Affordable housing. 🙂
    This neighborhood is probably the most under served for affordable housing in San Francisco.

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