Rec center, hotel among ideas pitched for long-term use of SF Palace of Fine Arts 

The City's Recreation and Parks Department has been tasked with finding a new long-term leaseholder for the century-old Palace of Fine Arts. - MICHAEL ARES/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Michael Ares/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • The City's Recreation and Parks Department has been tasked with finding a new long-term leaseholder for the century-old Palace of Fine Arts.
San Francisco has taken its first step in selecting a future long-term tenant for the Palace of Fine Arts.

The Recreation and Parks Department, which has been tasked with finding a new long-term leaseholder for the century-old palace that previously housed the Exploratorium for 40 years, has received seven pitches from businesses and nonprofit organizations for the site. Ideas include a hotel, a recreation center and a museum that tells The City’s story.

The departure of the Exploratorium in 2013 opened up the opportunity for a new use for the site. Constructed for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the palace has become a symbol of San Francisco’s endurance, history and innovation.

“It is a really important, iconic building,” said Cassandra Costello, property manager for the Rec and Parks Department and the project manager for the quest to find a new tenant.

The rotunda and building were originally intended for demolition in 1916 after the world’s fair, but a group of citizens fought to preserve the palace, turning it into The City’s first art museum. San Francisco residents again favored restoring the palace in 1959, when voters approved a $1.8 million bond that helped recast the palace in permanent materials.

The palace also underwent a seismic retrofit in 1993, and a $21 million renovation of its grounds and rotunda in 2010.

Innovation Hangar, a nonprofit that offers exhibits, workshops, community events, educational programming and open workspaces in the palace, opened to the public in February, exactly 100 years after the opening of the world’s fair. It currently holds a short-term lease, and is expected to remain at the site until March 2016.

The next lease awarded for the palace, however, will last up to 55 years.

Each proposal seeks to preserve and honor the history of the palace, and at least two offer some hotel use on the site. Restaurants, an arts technology lab, restoring the theater and an international cuisines pavilion are among the possible uses as well.

Recreational activities also proved a popular proposal from interested tenants. The Bay Club as well as Bladium Sports and Fitness Clubs submitted conceptions for the site, and much of the other proposals included some form of fitness or wellness facilities.

The long-term tenant will ultimately be responsible for nearly $20 million in improvements to the 143,996-square-foot palace, including the former Exploratorium space and theater space.

Interested tenants were required to submit concept proposals by May 22, and a selection panel will narrow down the submissions by August after hearing community input. A final decision is expected in early 2016. Terms for the lease have yet to be negotiated, and will ultimately require approval from the Board of Supervisors.

The public is invited to a meeting to hear from sponsors of the seven proposals on June 23, from 6-8 p.m. at the palace, located at 3301 Lyon St.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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