Palace of Fine Arts History



Portrait: Bernard MaybeckAbout the Architect





Bernard R. Maybeck

Bernard Ralph Maybeck (1862-1957) was born in New York City and as a young man was sent to Paris to study his father's art of furniture woodcarving. While there he decided to become an architect and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Returning to this country, he lived first in Florida and in Kansas City before settling in Berkeley, California, where he found the most satisfying milieu in which to work. There he held a teaching post at the university, and over the years became the architect of many public buildings and houses in California. In 1913 he was chosen to erect the Palace of Fine Arts, later receiving a citation for his work from the American Institute of Architects. In 1951, when he was 89 years of age, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Institute, and at this time public interest in him was revived. He died six years later, at the age of 95.

As Esther McCoy points out in her book Five California Architects (Reinhold, 1960), Maybeck was something of an unrecognized genius during most of his lifetime. Dramatic and mystic by nature, he was highly inventive and his solutions were so correct that they have become part of the common architectural find; his contributions to structure were basic. Largeness and boldness of execution, height, and ingenuity in bringing light into his buildings were keynotes of Maybeck's work. Non-conformist by inclination, he charmed Californians with houses that hid in the landscape, and he made generous use of exposed beams, unpainted finish, huge fireplaces and clerestory windows. Above all else he loved redwood; he had also a strong feeling for concrete. Using his materials with great craftsmanship, at the same time he took full advantage of technology. Throughout his life his great wish was to be understood by the man in the street and to give him a sense of delight.

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