Untroubled by any afternoon fog, the sun slides towards the Golden Gate before retiring for the night.
Swans glide across the placid lagoon. A small boy runs after a ball, inadvertently kicking it forwards each time he reaches down to pick it up, whilst his mother checks her e mails on her new smart phone. Even the ubiquitous dogs and joggers appear to float past as if in a dream.
I glance to my left at the crippling climb up to privileged Pacific Heights, and feel that I could not be more blessed sat here on this bench, watching the day draw serenely to its close, than if I were observing it from above in a million dollar Victorian.
Built, along with ten other structures, on land created with sand dredged up from the bay for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts was designed to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal, but it quickly became a demonstration of the stunning revival of San Francisco following the great earthquake and fire of nine years earlier.
A wonderful place to re-charge your energies, meditate or wind down, especially in the final hour of daylight, the reflecting lagoon, once a frog pond, and the structures that tower over it, form a beautiful classical harmony.
The forty metre high rotunda with its golden dome, visible from both the hill above and the Golden Gate Bridge to the west, may appear incongruous in a city still so young, but it is a nonetheless glorious, sight. The adjoining colonnade, with its groups of columns depicting weeping maidens and decorated with incomplete stairways and funeral urns, complements it perfectly.
The work of local architect Bernard Maybeck, it was built of temporary materials fashioned to resemble stone or marble. Intended to represent a Roman ruin, ironically it survived alone of all those buildings of the much lauded Exposition. So beloved of San Franciscans was it that it was allowed to stand for decades whilst crumbling into decay, befitting the air of “timeless melancholy” that its founders had aimed for. It helped too that, unlike the remaining edifices, it was built on Army land and escaped the prompt demolition that befell those in the dash to create the residential district now known as the Marina.
And then during the sixties a rich benefactor who lived across the street offered $2 million of his own fortune and roused latent public and California State support for its restoration. It was torn down and replaced by one in reinforced concrete at a cost of $7.5 million.
A further major renovation, concluded in 2008, unveiled the shining glory that it is today. It takes little suspension of disbelief to understand why it is so popular as a location for wedding shoots and film sets.
As the previously balmy bay breeze gives way to the chill of twilight, I move away as the tranquility is temporarily interrupted by a small boy in a toy car noisily chasing the ducks around the perimeter of the lagoon. Needless to say, he loses, and peace is restored as darkness falls.