The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, often called Legion of Honor by San Franciscans, refers to both the fine art collection and the building that houses it. It was a gift from Alma de Bretteville Spreckels and is a three-quarters scale imitation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. Built on a former cemetery, the plaza of the Legion of Honor is also the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America.
Social History: Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (March 24, 1881 – August 7, 1968), known both as “Big Alma” (she was 6 feet (1.8 m) tall) and “The Great Grandmother of San Francisco”, was a wealthy socialite and philanthropist who, among her many accomplishments, persuaded her first husband, sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels to donate the California Palace of the Legion of Honor to the city of San Francisco, California.
She was born Alma Charlotte Corday le Normand de Bretteville in the Sunset District portion of San Francisco, the fifth of six children of Viggo and Mathilde de Bretteville, two Danish immigrants. The family was very poor during her early childhood; but, in contrast to Viggo who claimed to be descended from Franco-Danish nobility (he claimed Napoleon Bonaparte as an ancestor) and used that as an excuse to avoid working while simultaneously deriding the “nouveau riche” of California, Mathilde had enough ingenuity and business sense to open a combination Danish bakery–laundry service–massage parlor which became the family’s source of income.