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L'Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur is the highest French order for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte as a substitute aristocracy meant "to bring together all the partisans of the Revolution" under the motto, "Honneur et Patrie" ("Honour and Fatherland"). Its seat is the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur, next to the Musée d'Orsay on the left bank of the Seine river in Paris. Originally the building was the Hôtel de Salm, a nobleman's townhouse built in 1788; but the owner was executed during the French Revolution and his home was taken over by a wig-maker's assistant with a suspect fortune. In 1804 Napoleon expropriated it to house his new Légion. However, as French troops retook control of Paris at the close of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the Communards torched it as thousands of revolutionaries were shot down. In 1878 a replica was built on the original site.Alma de Bretteville, a descendant of a French nobleman who had fled to Denmark during the Revolution, was born in 1881 to poor Danish immigrants trying to farm the sand dunes at the edge of San Francisco, She left school early to help her mother with the family laundry business, then worked as a stenographer before becoming a nude model. In 1902, Adolph Spreckels, the son of Hawaii sugar baron Claus Spreckels, headed a selection committee for a memorial statue in honor of recently assassinated president William McKinley; Alma was hired to pose for the Dewey monument in Union Square to celebrate the American admiral's victory at Manila Bay at the start of McKinley's Spanish-American War, which had led to the annexation of Hawaii and the creation of an American empire in the Pacific. Alma and Adolph began a long affair that culminated in marriage in 1908. In 1913, she hired George Applegarth, an architect trained at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, to build her a neoclassical mansion based on the Petit Trianon at Versailles. To fill it with furniture, in 1914 she went on a shopping spree in France and became friends with sculptor Auguste Rodin. She also threw herself into war-relief efforts on behalf of the French and Belgians, despite the Spreckels family sympathy for Germany. As a result of her activism, she was inducted into the Légion, and in 1915 she persuaded the French to participate in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, despite the war. Architect Henri Guillaume's French pavilion, designed to display some Rodin works, was a 3/4 model of the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur. At the close of the exposition, the French government allowed Spreckels to construct a permanent replica, executed by Applegarth, but groundbreaking was delayed until 1921.
Applegarth copied the existing form but used modern construction methods; for instance, he left the reinforced concrete walls hollow to regulate temperatures, and his heating and ventilation system filtered the air and eliminated the need for radiators. Finally, on 11 November, Armistice Day, in 1924, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was ceremoniously given to the city of San Francisco.The renamed Legion of Honor is a part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF). It is on an elevated site in Lincoln Park in northwest San Francisco, with views over the Golden Gate Bridge. The plaza and fountain in front is the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first (1913) improved transcontinental road for automobiles in the US; it began at Times Square in New York and stretched 3,389 miles (5,454 km) through 13 states. The Court of Honor, the formal peristyle memorial to Californians killed in World War I, opens via a Roman triumphal arch toward the Golden Gate. Ionic columns march past a copy Rodin's “Thinker” to the museum entrance, framed by Corinthian columns. Over the door is the middle panel of a triptych in relief depicting a suovetaurelia, the Roman ritual sacrifice of a pig, a ram, and bull to Mars, god of war. Equestrian statues of Joan of Arc and El Cid stand in the lawn in front. The museum collection spans more than 6,000 years of art and also houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a neoclassical building overlooking Lincoln Park. One of the museum's main attractions is its symphonic organ, commissioned from the Ernest M. Skinner Co. of Boston in 1924 by John D. Spreckels; it is housed inside the museum above the main galleries, has 4 manuals and pedals, 7 divisions, 63 ranks, and 4,526 pipes.
I have been told that once or twice upon a time the bas relief panels flanking the portico would be swung open so that the pipe organ could blast music eastward across the City.
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