More about Legion of Honor


The Legion of Honor is the sister museum of San Francisco's de Young and holds all the European art, and some well selected Greek, Egyptian, and other near-Eastern bits and pieces.

It’s hard to beat the location, at the edge of San Francisco overlooking the ocean and with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Walking paths go through those classic California cypress trees and coastal pines, and down to little Baker’s Beach below, which has its own amazing view of the Bridge and some belief-stretching expensive, and pretty handsome, houses.

Be prepared for a shock when you see the building, it's as if the very French Palais de la Légion d'honneur in Paris wandered over to California and reproduced. It looks pretty damn impressive, but all the heavy stones and columns are kind of stark against the woody coastline. Alma de Bretteville Spreckels was the formidable engine behind the Legion of Honor and she definitely wanted the contrast between stone building and lush nature. Big Alma (she was 6 feet (1.8 m) tall) should not be dismissed lightly.

The daughter of Danish immigrants, she went from helping mom run a Danish bakery–laundry service–massage parlor [what?!] to one of the most influential art collectors in the U.S. She studied painting, worked as a nude model, won an unlikely case of "personal defloweration" against a rich lover, and then, lack of flower notwithstanding, married the smitten sugar baron Adolph Bernard Spreckels.

Adolph’s father had a temper and shot a Michael H. de Young, co-founder of San Francisco’s main newspaper, three times, and then got himself shot by a gun-wielding newspaper clerk. The Chronicle claimed Spreckels Sugar was defrauding its investors and ran a sugar monopoly in California. De Young was in critical condition but a jury of Spreckel's peers acquitted him. They figured what’s a little gun-play between the powerful. Spreckels went on to become a San Francisco's Park Commissioner and helped create the lovely Golden Gate Park. De Young went on to build the de Young Museum in that very park in 1895.

The museum has a nice connection to the Monuments Men, the movie George Clooney made about a team of art specialists who recovered works taken by the Nazis in WWII. While Madame Spreckels was building the museum and raising funds for war-torn Europe, the future Legion of Honor director was in Europe as a monuments man. Thomas Howe helped find art loot stashedat Hitler's safe-house in southern Germany. After the war, he helped restore over three million objects to their original owners. The Museum’s Monuments, Fine Art and Archives (MFAA) has a lot of the correspondence from the Monuments Men as well as maps, annotated photographs, a scrapbook, and photographs from the remarkable events.

The Legion also has one of the best collections of Auguste Rodin sculptures. Alma met Rodin in Paris around 1914 and bought a ton of his work. The Legion has a Bronze Age, Three Shades and an oversized marble head of Victor Hugo. The collection of Dutch and Flemish masters is small but carefully choosen and includes Rembrandt van Rijn and Peter Paul Rubens. The antique desks and mirrors give the rooms with works from artists like Francisco GoyaEdgar Degas and Pablo Picasso a lot of atmosphere.  

Eat and drink before you leave, there are no other options close to the museum. The café-restaurant is good: first rate pale ales, some good wines, and gourmet food. Across from the café the museum store has the friendliest staff on earth, colorful arts and craft, and for those of us caught off-guard by San Fran’s cool summer breeze, a wind-resistant black cotton summer jacket.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Legion of Honor (museum)

The Legion of Honor, formally known as the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, is an art museum in San Francisco, California. Located in Lincoln Park, the Legion of Honor is a component of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which also administers the de Young Museum.

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