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Seismic & Historic
BBI Construction
Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, CA

Client: City and County of San Francisco
Architect: Carey & Co., Inc.

BBI Construction was retained by the City and County of San Francisco to perform Phase II restoration services at the Palace of Fine Arts. As specialists in historic building restoration and environmentally-conscientious building practices, the firm will take on restoring the Palace’s interior rotunda dome, upgrading the structure for seismic safety, repairing surface damage, and patching and cleaning the architectural elements, including the famous “weeping maidens” as standard practice. Nothing about this project however, is standard. The restoration will honor prominent architect, Bernard Maybeck’s, vision and work, it will bring seismic safety to a structure originally built to last one year, and will be undertaken in a dense, residential district while the nearby Exploratorium remains open, and flocks of birds nest in the adjacent lagoon.

Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts as an exhibit for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. It was framed in wood and covered in staff, a mixture of plaster and a burlap-type fiber, and was intended to be demolished after one year. However, when it came time to take it down, a group of San Franciscans led by Phoebe Hearst, “The Exposition Preservation League,” succeeded in saving the Palace from destruction. The wood footings were repaired in the 1930s and the wood pile caps were replaced with concrete-grade beams. Then in the 1960s much of it was reconstructed with concrete replacing the original wood and staff. During the 1989 earthquake large chunks of the rotunda dome ceiling broke off and it was clear the structure required seismic upgrade. A net was installed to contain loose plaster ceiling pieces and protect pedestrians.

The Maybeck Foundation is responsible for raising the bulk of the $21 million dollar restoration project budget. In 1995, The Maybeck Foundation formed to raise money to restore and preserve Maybeck’s public buildings. Since that time the City of San Francisco and the Foundation have worked together to raise private and grant money to fund the Palace’s restoration. Phase I work began in 2004, which included the reconstruction of the Palace’s deteriorating dome, and a $4.5 million upgrade to the lagoon to improve water quality and reconstruct the failing edge.
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