Swans may not only gain an official welcome from The City but also protection.
The Palace of Fine Arts has a distinct look that makes it recognizable around the world — that includes the swans that have long made the lagoon on the grounds their home.
The iconic status of the swans has been shattered in the last year with two incidents. Last month, someone broke the neck of one bird, named Monday. Earlier in the year, another swan was stolen from the lagoon.
That left Blanche.
The stolen bird was her mother. The dead one was her brother.
Swans do not do well alone — they grow depressed. So the San Francisco Zoo is taking care of Blanche. The plan is to return the 13-year-old mute swan — so named for their quiet demeanor — with a new companion to the lagoon in January.
But Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, whose district includes the site, wants to make certain The City will ensure the swans remain safe as well continue the tradition of the their presence in the lagoon for years to come.
She has introduced a resolution that “endorses the presence of swans at the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon.” It also calls on the Recreation and Parks, Police and Animal Care and Control departments to “develop a plan to ensure the safety and long-term viability of the swans in the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon.” The plan would be established in The City’s Park Code.
“A horrific act of cruelty resulted in the death of one of the swans,” the resolution says. “This senseless crime could have been prevented, and other safety issues, could be addressed with appropriate public and private coordination to ensure that the swans at the Palace of Fine Arts are protected for years to come.”
Architect Bernard Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts, which was built in 1915 as part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Swans had been incorporated into the design.
Alioto-Pier hopes to have the Board of Supervisors approve the resolution by Jan. 4, the final board meeting before she is termed out of office.
Blanche depends on the kindness of nature
The longer Blanche, the sole surviving Palace of Fine Arts swan, is removed from the site, the harder it may be to return her there, according to her caregiver.
Blanche has been quarantined at the San Francisco Zoo after she refused to eat for five days straight.
While she seems to be doing better now, the stress of moving, and loneliness after the death of her brother are the likely causes for Blanche’s initial trouble.
“These swans don’t look fragile, but they are,” said caretaker Judy Whilt. “These birds are very sensitive to any change, and obviously this is a major change for her because she was quarantined in a very confined area.”
The lagoon at the Palace of Fine Arts remains empty, but it is hoped that swans will gracefully reappear for the grand opening of the new renovations planned for early January.
Whilt is currently caring for a brother-and-sister pair of swans she had flown in from New York to become bodyguards for Blanche when she returns to her prior home.
The longer Blanche is isolated at the zoo, however, the harder it may be for her to go back to the Palace of Fine Arts. Whilt said she fears that if Blanche becomes too accustomed to being alone, she will have trouble adjusting to being around other swans again.
“It’s not a simple thing to introduce her to other swans,” said Whilt. “If she’s going to be there for more than a month she’ll have even more of a problem coming back.”
— Sarah Haughey