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Home> Destinations> America> San Francisco> See> Museums

Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park

Updated: 2014-07-31 / (sanfrancisco.travel)
[Photo from sanfrancisco.travel]

Built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the Legion of Honor — the gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels to the city of San Francisco—is a beautiful Beaux-arts building located high on the headlands in San Francisco's Lincoln Park. The Legion is most noted for its breathtaking setting, offering overlooks of the Pacific Ocean where it spills into San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a unique vantage point of the city of San Francisco.

In 1915 Alma Spreckels fell in love with the French Pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition. This pavilion was a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, one of the distinguished 18th-century landmarks on the left bank of the Seine. Alma Spreckels persuaded her husband, sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels, to recapture the beauty of the pavilion as a new art museum for San Francisco. Constructed on a remote site known as Land’s End—one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for any museum—the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was completed in 1924, and on Armistice Day of that year the doors opened to the public.

Architect George Applegarth’s design for the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was a three-quarter-scaled adaption of the 18th-century Parisian original, incorporating the most advanced ideas in museum construction. The walls were 21 inches thick, made with hollow tiles to keep temperatures even, and the heating system design eliminated aesthetically offensive radiators and cleansed the air that filtered through it with atomizers to remove dust. Between March 1992 and November 1995, the Legion underwent a major renovation led by architects Edward Larrabee Barnes and Mark Cavagnero for seismic retrofitting. Renovations included seismic strengthening, building systems upgrades, restoration of historic architectural features, and an underground expansion that added 35,000 square feet without altering the historic façade or adversely affecting the environmental integrity of the site.

The 1995 renovation realized a 42 percent increase in square footage, including six additional special exhibition galleries set around the pyramid skylight visible in the Legion courtyard. The glass pyramid sits atop the Rosekrans Court and special exhibition galleries located below. It is a key second focal point in a formal courtyard otherwise focused solely on Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, as well as a light and tensile counterpoint to the heavy stone materials of the Court of Honor, lending scale and interest.


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