Following the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was inspired to show the world how it had risen from the ashes. So, in 1910, business and civic leaders convened to discuss making the city the site of the century’s first great world’s fair, a grand exposition to honor the completion of the Panama Canal. In two hours, $4 million was raised and San Francisco beat competitors like New Orleans and Washington, D.C. to host the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Widely considered the most beautiful structure at the exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts is the work of California architect, Bernard Maybeck. Inspired by a Piranesi engraving that features a Roman ruin reflected in a swimming pool, Maybeck’s masterpiece was the mirror of a ruin that existed, not for its own sake, but to show “the mortality of grandeur and the vanity of human wishes.” Like other features of the fair, the Palace was meant to come down at the close of the fair — and the rest… is history.