This week’s re-opening of the Palace of Fine Arts after a major renovation is a reason for the entire city to celebrate. After over $21 million and seven years of steady work, the 96 year-old masterpiece by Bernard Maybeck is ready for its next century of visitors to marvel at it. With new pathways, a restored floor and seismic improvements, the Palace is now open for people to stroll beneath its colonnades and gaze upward at the weeping maidens along its crown.
San Francisco sculptor Manuel Palos should feel particularly gratified to see the pink palace brought back to life. He was one of the sculptors who came to the city in the 1960s for that era’s restoration of the aging monument. The building was never meant to be a permanent structure, having been constructed for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Maintaining it through decades of decay, misuse, and earthquakes has been a long and costly effort, but the results are stunning.
Palos, like the Palace, has endured and thrived in San Francisco. Originally from Zacatecas, Mexico, Palos made his life in the city, raising his daughter, Alejandra, and building a highly successful sculpture business on his expertise with large-scale restoration and mold-making techniques. Palos has worked on many of the city’s major monuments, from the eagles atop the Pacific Telephone building on New Montgomery to the mythical figures at the Legion of Honor and fountains in Golden Gate Park. His career here began with the Palace, and he has played an integral role ever since in maintaining San Francisco’s architectural heritage.
Like her father, Alejandra is a sculptor who exhibits her work around the Bay Area. Father and daughter work together at the studio, and operate an artist workshop and guest lodge in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The main villa of “Casa Alexandra” is as lovingly restored as all of Palos’ projects, with the addition of a new, full-service artist studio for groups of sculptors, painters, or writers to use as a workspace and retreat. Palos Talleres de Arte has become a center for international sculptors to practice their art and learn about stone carving techniques from a master artist. Last year Palos helped launch Puerto Vallarta’s first Sculpture Symposium.
When he first arrived in San Francisco, Palos may not have been able to see beyond the aging beauty of Maybeck’s once-grand Palace. He successfully crafted a new future for that building, and in the process built a life in stone that endures today.