Panama-California Exposition (1915)

Panama-California Exposition (1915)

The Panama-California Exposition was an exposition held in San Diego, California between March 9, 1915 and January 1, 1917. The exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, and was meant to tout San Diego as the first US port of call for ships traveling north after passing through the canal. The fair was held in San Diego's large urban Balboa Park.


Colonel D.C. Collier, at the time often referred to as San Diego's greatest asset, was most responsible for the exposition's success. It was he who selected both the location of the city park and Spanish Mission and Pueblo style. Collier was tasked with steering the exposition in the proper direction, ensuring that every decision made reflected his vision of what the exposition will accomplish. Collier once stated "The purpose of the Panama-California Exposition is to illustrate the progress and possibility of the human race, not for the exposition only, but for a permanent contribution to the world's progress" (Christman 43).

New York architect Bertram Goodhue was chosen as supervisory architect. Goodhue advised use of the more varied Spanish Colonial architecture, and saw the exposition as an opportunity to create a fantasy city. The style employed at the Exposition was never common in San Diego before. Contrasting with bare walls, rich decoration would be used with influences from Mexican and Spanish architecture, including its Muslim and Persian nuances. The design was intentionally in contrast to most previous expositions, which had been done in Neoclassical style with large buildings around large symmetric spaces. This temporary decoration of the park was created with some large spaces and numerous paths, small spaces, and gardens. The location was also moved from a small hillock to a larger and more open area, most of which was intended to be reclaimed by the park as gardens.cite book | last = Winslow | first = Carleton Monroe | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = THE ARCHITECTURE AND THE GARDENS of the SAN DIEGO EXPOSITION | publisher = Paul Elder and Company | date = 1916 | location = San Francisco ]


Between the site of the exposition and the most readily reached edge of the park is Cabrillo Canyon. Cabrillo Bridge was built to span it, and its appearance of ending on the eastern end in a great pile of buildings would be the crux of the whole composition. This design and the bridge were intended to remain as a permanent focal point of the city.

The focus of the fair was the Plaza de California (California Quadrangle), an arcaded enclosure often containing Spanish dancers and singers, where both the approach bridge and El Prado terminate. The permanent California State and Fine Arts Buildings framed the plaza, which was surrounded on three sides by exhibition halls set behind an arcade on the lower story. Those three sides, following the heavy massiveness and crude simplicity of the Mission style, were without ornamentation. This contrasted with the frontispiece of the California State Building, wild with broken lines of mouldings and crowded ornamentation. Next to the frontispiece, at one corner of the dome, rises the tower of the California Building which was echoed in the less permanent turrents of the Southern California counties, and the Science and Education Buildings. The style of the frontispiece is repeated around the fair.

There were three entrances to the site, on west, north, and east. The East Gateway was approached by drive and trolley car winding up from the city through the southern portion of the Park. From the west, the long bridge's entrance was marked with blooming giant century plants and led straight to the dramatic West Gate (or City Gate), which has the city's coat-of-arms at its crown. The archway is flanked by engaged Doric orders supporting a rich, fructated entablature enclosing, in the spandrels, beautiful figures symbolizing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans joining waters together in commemoration of the opening of the Panama Canal. These figures are the work of Furio Piccirilli. While the west gateway is part of the Fine Arts Building, the east gateway was designed to be the formal entrance for the California State Building. The East or State Gateway carries the state coat-of-arms over the arch. The spandrels over the arch are filled with glazed colored tile commemorating the 1769 arrival of Spain and the 1846 State Constitutional Convention at Monterey.

Transformation of a park

Intended to be permanent were the bridge, the domed-and-towered California State Building and the low-lying Fine Arts Building. The Botanical Building would protect heat-loving plants, while the Great Organ would assist open air concerts in its Auditorium. The architecture of the "temporary buildings" was recognized, as Goodhue described, as "being essentially of the fabric of a dream — not to endure but to produce a merely temporary effect. It should provide, after the fashion that stage scenery provides — illusion rather than reality."

Peacock and pheasant wandered through the fair grounds.

The permanent buildings still standing include:
* Botanical Building, one of the largest lath-covered structures then in existence, contained a rare collection of tropical and semi-tropical plants. It is well back from the Prado behind the long pool "La Laguna de Las Flores".
* Cabrillo Bridge (completed April 12, 1914).
* California Bell Tower, completed 1914, is exactly two hundred feet tall to the top of the iron weathervane, which is in the form of a Spanish ship.
* California State Building and Quadrangle, completed October 2, 1914, which now houses the San Diego Museum of Man. The design was inspired by the church of San Diego in Guanajuato, Gto., Mexico.citation|title=PDFlink| [ National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Balboa Park] |32 KB|date=July 19, 1977 |author=Carolyn Pitts |publisher=National Park Service and PDFlink| [ "Accompanying 18 photos, undated"] |32 KB] The frontispiece's sculptures by Furio and Attilio Piccirilli include many local historical characters. At the top is Father Junípero Serra, with busts of Charles V and Philip II of Spain below. Beside the window are the Spanish navigator Sebastián Vizcaíno and Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, in 1542 the first white man to step on the western coast of the United States. The lowest niches are occupied by the Franciscan Father Luís Jayme, first martyr of the Mission period, and Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, the Carmelite histriographer who accompanied Vizcaíno. Just above them are busts of George Vancouver, the first English navigator to enter the harbor of San Diego, and Gaspar de Portolà, the first Spanish Governor of California. A coat-of-arms of the United States seal is at top above Serra, while seals for Mexico, Spain, and Portugal are also on the frontispiece. The large, mullioned transept windows are ornamented on the exterior with rich Churrigueresque frames. The heraldicized state seal and motto "Eureka" are above and below the windows. The ornament of the building was modeled by Horation and Thomas Piccirilli, the stonework being executed in San Diego. The great central dome is encircled with the motto "Terram Frumenti Hordei, ac Vinarum, in qua Ficus et Malogranata et Oliveta Nascuntur, Terram Olei ac Mellis", ("A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey") from the Vulgate of St. Jerome.
* Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi (south side of Fine Arts Building); now the Saint Francis Chapel is operated by the Museum of Man. The rededos is the Chapel's chief glory, to the right of the carved statue of Our Lady and Child is an effigy representing San Diego de Alcala, name-saint of the city, and to commemorate the early Jesuit missions in Arizona on the left is an unknown Jesuit saint. Although not consecrated, it is used for ceremonies and weddings.
* Fine Arts Building (on south side of Plaza of California) is now part of the Museum of Man
* Spreckels Organ Pavilion (dedicated December 31, 1914).

The fair left a permanent mark in San Diego in its development of Balboa Park. Up to that point, the park had been mainly open space. But with the landscaping and building done for the fair the park was permanently transformed and is now a major cultural center, housing many of San Diego's major museums. The exposition also led to the eventual establishment of the now world-famous San Diego Zoo in the park, which grew out of abandoned exotic animal exhibitions from the exposition.

William de Leftwich Dodge painted murals at the exposition.

Temporary buildings

The "temporary buildings" were formally and informally set on either side of the wide tree-lined central avenue. El Prado extended along the axis of the bridge and was lined with trees and streetlights, with the front of most buildings lined with covered arcades or "portales". The Prado was intended to become the central path of a great and formally designed public garden. The fair's pathways, pools, and watercourses would remain while the cleared building sites would become garden. Goodhue emphasized that "only by thus razing all of the Temporary Buildings will San Diego enter upon the heritage that is rightfully hers." [ cite web|url=|title=Ground Plan Map San Diego Exposition |accessdate=2008-02-28 |date=1915 |publisher=Pictorial Publishing Co. ]


While originally opened as Panama-California Exposition, the fair was rechristened the Panama-California International Exposition on March 18, 1916. This was actually valid renaming, for while the fair originally had no international exhibitors, by 1916 it had exhibits from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Most came from the recently closed Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco some of whom were unable to return to Europe due to World War I which had been raging since 1914.

Later exposition and rebuilding

The California Pacific International Exposition at the same site in 1935 was so popular that some buildings were rebuilt to be made more permanent. Many buildings or reconstructed versions remain in use today, and are used by several museums and theatres in Balboa Park.

In the early 1960s destruction of a few of the buildings and replacement by modern, clashing buildings created an uproar in San Diego. A Committee of One Hundred was formed by citizens to protect the park buildings. They convinced the City Council to require new buildings to be built in Spanish Colonial Revival Style and worked with various government agencies to have the remaining buildings declared as a National Historic Landmark in 1978. In the late 1990s, the most deteriorated buildings and burned buildings were rebuilt.

Exhibition schematic map

Additional reading

* "The Official Guide Book of the Panama California Exposition San Diego 1915"
* Phoebe S. Kropp, "California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Past." Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006. ISBN: 0-520-24364-1

External links

* [ "The Making of the Panama-California Exposition, 1909-1915", "The Journal of San Diego History" 36:1 (Winter 1990), by Richard W. Amero]
* [ "The Southwest on Display at the Panama-California Exposition, 1915", "The Journal of San Diego History" 36:4 (Fall 1990), by Richard W. Amero]


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