Built to commemorate the 3,600 Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor is a beautiful Beaux-arts building housing a fine-art collection in San Francisco, California. The name is used both for the collection and for the building in which it is housed. Called San Francisco's most beautiful museum, the palace occupies a fine elevated site in Lincoln Park and displays a collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art, in an unforgettable setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
The building got its name from the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris, although the design was based on a model of the Hôtel de Salm that appeared at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition. Alma de Brettville Le Normand-Spreckels, gave it to the city of San Francisco.
The museum contains a representative collection of mainly European art. Its most distinguished collection is of sculpture by Rodin. Casts of all his most famous statues are on display, including one of "The Thinker." In addition, there are individual works by many of the most important artists, including Rembrandt, Gainsborough, David, and many of the impressionists and post-impressionists: Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissaro, Seurat, Cézanne, and others. There also are representative works by such key 20th century figures as Braque and Picasso, and works of contemporary artists like Gottfried Helnwein and Robert Crumb. Its collections also include ancient art, and one of the largest collections of prints and drawings in the country.
The palace has long been one of San Francisco's most sought-after venues for corporate entertaining, special events, weddings, and private parties. Guests enjoy the grandeur of the Legion's neoclassical architecture, and the museum's spectacular setting provides unforgettable views of the city and the Golden Gate.
From April of 1992 to November of 1995 the California Palace of the Legion of Honor underwent an extensive renovation intended to not only restore the building’s original interior appearance, but also to expand and improve its facilities, both structurally and architecturally, to meet the demands of the 21st century.
Originally called the Little Theater, the Florence Gould Theater opened at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1924. The Gould Theater hosts numerous concerts, plays, operas, lectures, and symposiums, and has seen performances by such diverse artists as Andrés Segovia, Marcel Marceau, Joan Baez, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and Duke Ellington.
Architect George Applegarth designed the Gould Theater (and the museum itself), and decorated it in the Louis XVI style. The ceiling of the 316-seat jewel-box theater boasts an elaborate mural, “The Apotheosis of the California Soldier," painted in 1924 by Spanish artist and decorator Julio Villa y Prades. The Little Theater was re-dedicated as the Florence Gould Theater in 1987, after an extensive restoration and renovation funded by a grant from the Florence J. Gould Foundation.