Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The City of Domes -> Chapter 3

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In the South Gardens

Though the arrangement of the landscape might be French, these flowers were unmistakably Californian. The two pools, ornamented with the Arthur Putnam fountain of the mermaid, in duplicate, decidedly French in feeling, were brilliant with the reflected coloring from both the flowers and the buildings.

The intention at first had been to make a sunken garden here; but the underground construction had interfered. Now one might catch a suggestion of Versailles, except for those lamp posts. "Joseph Pennell, the American etcher, who has traveled all over Europe making drawings, finds a suggestion of two great Spanish gardens here, one connected with the royal palace of La Granga, near Madrid, and the other with the royal palace of Aranjuez, near Toledo. They've allowed the flowers to be the most conspicuous feature, the dominating note, which is as it should be. Masses of flowers are always beautiful and they are never more beautiful than when they are of one color."

"And masses of shrubbery are always beautiful, too,", I said, nodding in the direction of the Palace of Horticulture, where McLaren had done some of his best work.

"There's no color in the world like green, particularly dark green, for richness and poetry and mystery. It's intimately related to shadow, which does so much for beauty in the world."

"The Fountain of Energy almost hits you in the face, doesn't it?" I said.

"Of course. That's exactly what Calder meant to do. In a way he was right. He wanted to express in sculpture the idea of tremendous force. Now his work is an ideal example of what is expositional. It has a sensational appeal. One objection to it is that it suggests too much energy, too much effort on the part, not only of the subject, but of the sculptor. The artist ought never to seem to try. His work ought to make you feel that it was easy for him to do. But here you feel that the sculptor clenched his teeth and worked with might and main. As a matter of fact, he did this piece when he must have been tired out from managing all the sculpture on the grounds. He made two designs. The first one, which was not used, seemed to me better because it was simpler in the treatment of the base. Even the figures at the base here are over-energized, the human figures I mean. Still, in their sportiveness and in the sportiveness of Roth's animals, they have a certain charm. And with the streams spouting, the work as a whole makes an impression of liveliness. But it's a nervous liveliness, characteristically American, not altogether healthy."

The Fountain of Energy and the Tower of Jewels, we decided, both expressed the same kind of imagination. Like the fountain, the tower gave the sense of overstrain. "It's pretty hard to see any architectural relation between those figures up there on the tower and the tower itself. See how the mass tries to dominate Kelham's four Italian towers, but without showing any real superiority."

The heraldic shields on the lamp posts near by attracted us both by their color and by the variety and grace of their designs. How many visitors stopped to consider their historic character? They went back to the early history of the Pacific Coast. For this contribution alone Walter D'Arcy Ryan deserved the highest recognition. Only an artist could have worked out this scheme in just this sensitive and appropriate way.

We stopped at the vigorous equestrian statue of Cortez by Charles Niehaus at our right, close to the tower. "I always liked Cortez for his nerve. He didn't get much gratitude from his Emperor for conquering Mexico and annexing it to Spain. And what he got in glory and in money probably did not compensate him for his disappointment at the end. When he couldn't reach Charles V in any other way, he jumped up on the royal carriage. Charles didn't recognize him and asked who he was. 'I'm the man,' said Cortez, 'that gave you more provinces than your forebears left you cities.' Naturally Charles was annoyed. We don't like to be reminded of ingratitude, do we, especially by the people who think we ought to be grateful to them? So Cortez quit the court and spent the rest of his life in the country."

At our right we met another of the many Spanish adventurers drawn to the Americas by the discovery of Columbus, Pizarro, who presented his country with the rich land of Peru. It was doubtless placed here on account of the relation between Spain and California. "Civilization is a development through blood and spoilation," the architect remarked. "If Pizarro hadn't been lured by the gold of the Incas we might not be here at this moment."

The figures on the tower, insignificant when viewed from a distance, at close range took on vigor: the philosopher in his robes, the bearer of European culture of the sixteenth century to these shores; the Spanish priest, typical of the early friars; the adventurer, so closely related to Columbus; and the Spanish soldier. The armored horseman, by Tonetti, in a row all by himself, suffering from being rather absurdly out of place, might have won applause if he had been brought on a pedestal close to the ground. His being repeated so often up there made an effect almost comic. The vases and the triremes, the pieces of armor, with the battle-axe designs on either side, the Cleopatra's needles, and the richly-girdled globe on top, sustained on the shoulders of three figures, were all well done. The only trouble was that they had not been made to blend into one lightly soaring mass.

"It's curious that Hastings should have gone astray in the treatment of the tower. He must have known the psychological effect of parallel horizontal lines. When skyscrapers were first built in New York a few years ago they were considered unsightly on account of their great height. So the architects were careful to use parallel horizontal lines in order to diminish the apparent height as far as possible. Then people began to say that there was beauty in the sky-scrapers, and the architects changed their policy. They built in straight parallel lines that shot up to the sky. In this way they increased the apparent height."

The inscriptions on the south side of the tower's base reminded us of the Exposition's meaning, Conspicuously and properly emphasized here. The pagan note in the architecture was indicated in the ornamentation by the use in the design of the head of the sacred bull. And Triumphant America was celebrated in the group of eagles.

The dark stains on the yellow columns made us see how clever Guerin had been in his application of the coloring. In most places he had applied one coat only, trusting to nature to do the rest. Most of all, he wished to avoid the appearance of newness and to secure a look of age. On these columns the smoke from the steam rollers had helped out. One might imagine that they had been here for generations.

Here the builders had used the Corinthian column, with the acanthus leaves varied with fruit-designs and with the human figure. "It was a lucky day for architecture when the column came into use. It doubtless got its start from a single beam used for support. Then the notion developed of making it ornamental by fluting it and decorating the top. In this Exposition three kinds of columns are used, the Doric, which the Greeks favored, with the very simple top or capital; the Ionic, with the spiral scroll for the capital, and the Corinthian, with the acanthus flowing over the top, and the Composite which uses features from all the other three."

"Do you happen to know how the acanthus design was made? Well, Vitruvius tells the story. Anyone that wants to get a line on this Exposition ought to read that book, or, at any rate, to glance through it and to read parts of it pretty thoroughly. It is called 'The Architecture of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.' There's a good translation from the Latin by Joseph Gwilt. It has become the architect's bible. According to Vitruvius, the nurse of Corinthian girl who had died carried to the girl's tomb basket filled with the things that the girl had particularly liked. She left the basket on the ground near the tomb and covered it with a tile. It happened that it stood over the root of an acanthus plant. As the plant grew its foliage pressed up around the basket and when it reached the tile the leaves were forced to bang back in graceful curves. Callimachus, a Corinthian architect, noticed the effect and put it into use."

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