Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The Jewel City -> Chapter I - Motive and Planning of the Exposition

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The Jewel City


Motive and Planning of the Exposition

The Panama Canal a landmark in human progress - Its influence through changes in trade routes San Francisco determines, in spite of the great fire, to celebrate its completion - Millions pledged in two hours - Congressional approval won - The Exposition built by California and San Francisco, without National aid - Only two years given to construction - Fifty millions expended.

Human endeavor has supplied no nobler motive for public rejoicing than the union of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Canal has stirred and enlarged the imaginations of men as no other task has done, however enormous the conception, however huge the work. The Canal is one of the few achievements which may properly be called epoch-making. Its building is of such signal and far reaching importance that it marks a point in history from which succeeding years and later progress will be counted. It is so variously significant that the future alone can determine the ways in which it will touch and modify the life of mankind.

First of all, of course, its intent is commercial. Experts have already estimated its influence on the traffic routes. But these experts, who can, from known present conditions, work out the changes that will take place, that are already taking place, in the flow of commerce on the seven seas, cannot estimate the effect those changes will have on the life of the people who inhabit their shores. Changes in trade routes have overwhelmed empires and raised up new nations, have nourished civilizations and brought others to decay. From the days when merchants first followed the caravan routes, nothing has so modified the history of nations as the course of the roads by which commerce moved. Huge a was the Canal as a physical undertaking alone, it is not less stupendous in the vision of the effects which will flow from it.

In this vision, the Western shore of the United States feels that it looms largely. No small part of the benefits of the Canal are expected to fall to the Pacific States. Long before it was completed, the minds of men in the West were filled with it. Its approaching completion appealed to everyone as an event of such tremendous significance as to deserve commemoration. Thus when R. B. Hale, in 1904, first proposed that the opening of the waterway should be marked by an international exposition in San Francisco, he merely gave expression to the thought of the whole West.

The Canal is a national undertaking, built by the labor and money of an entire people. It is of international significance, too, for its benefits are world-wide. The Exposition thus represents not only the United States but also the world in its effort to honor this achievement. San Francisco and California have merely staged the spectacle, in which the world participates.

An international exposition is a symbol of world progress. This one is so complete in its significance, so inclusive of all the best that man has done, that it is something more than a memorial of another event. It is itself epochal, as is the enterprise it commemorates. It bears a direct relation to the Canal. The motive of the Exposition was the grandeur of a great labor. Completed, it embodies that motive in the highest expression of art.

It took eleven years to prepare for and build the Exposition. The first proposal in 1904 was followed by five years of discussion of ways and means. Two years were occupied in raising the money and winning the consent of the Nation, and then four years more in planning, building, and collecting the exhibits. The first plans were interrupted, but not ended, by the most terrible disaster that ever befell a great city - the fire of 1906, which wiped out the entire business portion, with much of the residence section, of San Francisco, and destroyed hundreds of millions of wealth. Before that year ended, and while the city was only beginning its huge task of rebuilding, it again took up its festival idea. A company was formed, but, until reconstruction was largely out of the way, it was impossible to do more than keep the idea alive.

In October, 1909, the idea began to crystallize into a definite purpose. In that month President Taft, at a banquet at the Fairmont Hotel, declared that the Canal would be opened to commerce on January 1, 1915. That announcement gave the final impulse to the growing determination. The success of the Portola celebration that summer had given the city confidence in its ability to carry out a great festival undertaking. In fact, it was at a meeting of the Portola committee that the first move was made toward the organization that later became effective.

A mass-meeting in the Merchants' Exchange, on December 7, 1909, ended in a resolve to organize an exposition company. This found such strong popular support that at a second mass-meeting on April 28, 1910, $4,089,000 was subscribed in less than two hours. In two months the subscription had risen to $6,156,840. Governor Gillett called the California legislature in special session in August to submit to the people constitutional changes enabling San Francisco to issue exposition bonds in the amount of $5,000,000, and the State to raise another $5,000,000 by special tax. In November the people of State and city voted the two amounts. That placed a minimum of $16,000,000 to the credit of the Exposition Company and assured the world that California meant business.

Then followed the struggle for Congressional approval. New Orleans demanded the right to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. All the resources of both cities were enlisted in a battle before Congress that drew the attention of the Nation. Three times delegations went from California to Washington to fight for the Exposition. California won, on January 31, 1911, when, by a vote of 188 to 159, the House of Representatives designated San Francisco as the city in which the Panama-Pacific International Exposition should be held in 1915 to commemorate the opening of the Canal.

During this struggle California gave her word that she would not ask the Nation for help in financing the Exposition. The promise has been kept. The Government has not even erected a national building. It has, however, helped in material ways, by granting the use of portions of the Presidio and Fort Mason reservations, by sending naval colliers to bring exhibits from European countries, and by becoming one of the heaviest exhibitors. The national exhibits include three companies of marines encamped on the grounds, and the battleship Oregon anchored off the Marina.

After Congress had acted, half a year was spent in choosing a site. It was at first expected that the Exposition would be built in Golden Gate Park. A compromise among advocates of different sites was reached on July 25, 1911, when a majority vote of the directors named a site including portions of Golden Gate Park, Lincoln Park, the Presidio, and Harbor View. Before 100,000 people President Taft broke ground for the Exposition in the Stadium of Golden Gate Park. But it was not long before the choice settled finally on Harbor View alone.

The work began with the organization of the architectural staff. The following architects accepted places on the commission: McKim, Mead and White, Henry Bacon, and Thomas Hastings of New York; Robert Farquhar of Los Angeles; and Louis Christian Mullgardt, George W. Kelham, Willis Polk, William B. Faville, Clarence R. Ward, and Arthur Brown of San Francisco. To their number was later added Bernard R. Maybeck of San Francisco, who designed the Palace of Fine Arts, while Edward H. Bennett, an associate of Burnham, of Chicago, made the final ground plan of the Exposition group. When San Francisco had been before Congress asking national endorsement for the Exposition here, the plans which were then presented, and on which the fight was won, were prepared by Ernest Coxhead, architect, of this city. These proposed a massed grouping of the Exposition structures, around courts, and on the Bay front. They were afterwards amplified by Coxhead, and furnished the keynote of the scheme finally carried out. While the Exposition belongs not to California alone, but to the whole world, it is pleasant to find that so much of what is best in it is the work of Californians and San Franciscans.

The architects perfected the plan in 1912. At the same time the actual work of preparing the site was completed with the filling of the tide-land portions by hydraulic dredgers and the removal of the standing buildings. In the same year the department chiefs were named and began their work. John McLaren, for many years Superintendent of Golden Gate Park, was put in charge of the landscape engineering; W. D'A. Ryan was chosen to plan the illumination, and Jules Guerin and K. T. F. Bitter were placed at the heads of the departments of color and sculpture. With these details behind, the ground-breaking for Machinery Palace in January, 1913, marked the beginning of the final stage. In the two years that remained it was necessary only to carry out the plans already perfected. No other exposition has been so forehanded. When the gates opened on February 20, 1915, to remain open till December 4, the Exposition was practically complete. Some of the exhibitors had not finished their installation; some of the foreign nations were not ready, but the Exposition had kept a promise made two years before to have its own work done on time. This achievement was quite unprecedented. It is the more remarkable in that the record was made by a city which had been almost annihilated by fire a few years before.

The entire cost of the Exposition, exclusive of the value of exhibits, is estimated by the Controller at $50,000,000. This total is made up of $20,000,000 spent by San Francisco and California, $10,000,000 laid out in state and foreign buildings and displays, $10,000,000 by private exhibitors, and $10,000,000 by the one hundred concessionaires on the Joy Zone. San Francisco contributed $12,500,000, the State of California $5,000,000, and its fifty-eight counties, $2,500,000. The amounts expended by foreign nations range from $1,700,000 by Argentina to sums as low as $100,000. The State of New York spent nearly $1,000,000.

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