On October 15, 2005, amid celebrations, speeches and ceremonies, the people of San Francisco welcomed a new museum building unlike anything they had ever seen before.

A decade later, this striking architectural landmark has been woven into the cultural fabric of our city, hosting groundbreaking exhibitions, iconic art and landscape commissions, pioneering performances, and unforgettable events.

Our friends and neighbors have shared their memories about the de Young, and we’ve collected some highlights.

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the years

1894: origins of the de Young

The original Fine Arts Building from the Midwinter Fair of 1894

The de Young museum originated as the Fine Arts Building, constructed for the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894. Following the exposition, the building was designated as a museum for the people of San Francisco.


June 2002 marked the groundbreaking for the new de Young building. Construction moved forward over the next three years, as the structure slowly rose above the trees of Golden Gate Park.


The decision to embark on a new museum building was not undertaken lightly. The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 uncovered severe seismic flaws in the old building… As it stood, before the earthquake, the old building provided an inadequate home for its art and poor access for its audience.

—Mitchell Schwarzer


Pixilated photographs of the tree canopy in the park were used as a point of departure for the design of the museum’s copper skin. A computer program transformed the images into an abstract pattern of dimples, bumps, and perforations.

—Diana Ketcham

Herzog & de Meuron’s conceptual design specified that the top of the rectangular tower would twist away from the rectangular outlines of the building, aligning itself instead with the city grid.

—Diana Ketcham


The museum reopened its doors to the public in October 2005, four years after the old building closed in December 2000.

Today, the de Young is one of the most visited art museums in the country and a landmark in the city of San Francisco. The museum showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the seventeenth to twenty-first centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.


People can explore the museum a bit at a time. They might walk in from the park to use the shop or café, then come back to visit an exhibition that caught their eye.

—Diane B. Wilsey

the de Young

Some of you have visited the de Young for decades, and others are just beginning to explore our collections. Some have been moved to tears by a painting, and others have swooned over haute couture. There have been marriage proposals, birthday celebrations, and at least one of you has walked up the stairs of Hamon Tower while pregnant with your first child.

In college my art history professor, a former Fine Arts Museums curator, brought the class to an American gallery at the de Young. She pointed to a painting on the wall, and said, “I chose to have that displayed here.” She forever changed the way I experience museums. As institutions built by people and for people, museums reveal more than art and history. They speak to humanity. We come together and gather around objects; we display, curate, and share collections. The acts of a museum are marvelous.

– Kelsey C., San Francisco read more

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Except as otherwise noted, contemporary photographs by Henrik Kam, © FAMSF. Construction photographs by Mark Darley, © Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Historical images from the FAMSF archives. Timelapse courtesy of Ben Morse.

Quotations from Diana Ketcham, The de Young in the 21st Century: A Museum by Herzog & de Meuron. San Francisco and London: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Thames & Hudson, 2005. © 2005 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco