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

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Ground Plan and Landscape Gardening

The Exposition a product of co-operation of the arts - The landscape made part of the scheme - Block grouping of palaces and courts - Plan of the buildings - McLaren's wonders in gardening - Succession of flowers throughout the Exposition - Changes overnight - Unique wall of living green.

The artistic quality which distinguishes this Exposition above all others in America or Europe rests on two outstanding facts: the substantial unity of its architectural scheme, and its harmony of color, keyed to Nature's coloring of the landscape in which it is placed. The site furnished the clue to the plan; co-operation made possible the great success with which it has been worked out.

"Centuries ago," said George W. Kelham, chief of Exposition architecture, "before the modern age of advanced specialization was dreamed of, had an architect been asked to create an exposition, he would have been not only an architect, but painter, sculptor and landscape engineer as well. He would have thought, planned and executed from this fourfold angle, and I doubt if it would have even occurred to him to think of one of the arts as detached from another." These words express the method of the Exposition builders. The scheme adopted was a unit, in which all of the arts were needed, and in which they all combined to a single end. Each building, each court, every garden and large mass of foliage, was designed as part of a balanced composition. To make the landscape an integral part of the Exposition picture, by fitting the Exposition to the landscape, was the common aim of architect, colorist, sculptor and landscape engineer. The Mediterranean setting offered by a sloping bench on the shore of the Golden Gate suggested, as most capable of high expression of beauty, the scheme of a city of the Far East, its great buildings walled in and sheltering its courts. The coloring of earth, sky and sea furnished the palette from which tints were chosen alike for palaces and gardens.

The beauty of this plan is matched by its practical advantages. The compact grouping of the Exposition palaces not only meant a saving of ground and labor, but it makes it easier to handle the crowds, and lessens the walking required of the visitor. There is no monotony. In developing the general idea, each architect and artist was left free to express his own personality and imagination. The result is that varied forms and colors in the different courts and buildings blend truly into the whole picture of an Oriental city, set in the midst of a vast amphitheater of hills and bay, arched by the fathomless blue of the California sky.

The ground plan is as simple as it is compact. Entering through the main gate at Scott Street, the visitor has the Exposition before him, practically an equal section on either hand. (See map, p. 30, 31.) On right and left in the South Garden are Festival Hall and the Palace of Horticulture. (p. 23, 24, 29.) In front is the Tower of Jewels, before it the Fountain of Energy. (p. 47.) The tower centers the south front of a solid block of eight palaces, so closely joined in structure, and so harmonized in architecture, as to make really a single palace. On the right and left of the tower are the Palaces of Manufactures and Liberal Arts; beyond them, on east and west, are Varied Industries and Education. Behind these four, and fronting on the bay from east to west, are Mines, Transportation, Agriculture and Food Products. In the center of the group, cut out of the corners of the Manufactures, Liberal Arts, Agriculture and Transportation Palaces, and entered from the south through the Tower of Jewels, is the great Court of the Universe, opened on east and west by the triumphal Arches of the Nations. (p. 59 and 63.) The Court opens northward between the Palaces of Transportation and Agriculture in a splendid colonnaded avenue to the Column of Progress, near the bay. (p. 57.)

Through the arch on the east the Court of the Universe opens into an avenue which leads to the Court of the Ages, cut out of the intersection of the four Palaces of Manufactures, Varied Industries, Mines and Transportation. (p. 70.) A similar avenue on the west passes to the Court of Seasons, carved from the common junction of Liberal Arts, Education, Food Products and Agriculture. (p. 79 and 80.) Avenues pass east and west and to the north from each of these two courts, and on the south each connects through an arch with a court set back into the south front of the palace group, the Courts of Flowers and Palms. (p. 85, 87, 88, 93, 100.) On east and west of this central group of eight palaces are the Palace of Machinery and the Palace of Fine Arts (p. 105, 112), serving architecturally to balance the scheme. East of the exhibit palaces is the Joy Zone, a mile-long street solidly built with bizarre places of amusement. Balancing the Zone on the west is the State and Foreign section, with the live-stock exhibits, the polo field, race track and stadium beyond, at the western extremity of the grounds. The state buildings stand along two avenues on the north side of the section; the foreign pavilions occupy its southern half.

The Tower of Jewels and the central palace group face south on the Avenue of Palms (p. 18), which, at its west end, turns as it passes the Fine Arts lagoon, and becomes the Avenue of Nations. This latter highway, bordered by the foreign buildings, joins at its western extremity the Esplanade, a broad avenue passing the north face of the palace group and continuing westward between the state and the foreign sections.

On the east, the Avenue of Progress divides the central group from the Palace of Machinery. Administration Avenue on the west separates the central group from the Palace of Fine Arts. Along the bay shore is the Marina, and between it and the Esplanade are the Yacht Harbor and the lawns of the North Gardens.

Surrounding all these buildings, filling the courts and bordering the avenues, are John McLaren's lovely gardens. For multitudes of visitors this landscape gardening is the most wonderful thing about the Exposition. The trees and flowers have been placed with perfect art; they look as though they had been there always. It is hard for a stranger to believe that three years ago the Exposition site was a marsh, and that these trees were transplanted last year.

The Avenue of Palms is bordered on each side for half a mile with a double row of California fan palms and Canary date palms, trees from eighteen to twenty-five feet high and festooned higher than a man's head with ivy and blooming nasturtium. (See p. 18.) These massive plants, soil, roots, vines and all, were brought bodily from Golden Gate Park. Against the south walls of the buildings facing this avenue are banked hundreds of eucalyptus globulus, forty to fifty feet high, with smaller varieties of eucalyptus, and yellow flowering acacias.

The Avenue of Progress is bordered with groups of Draceona indivisa, averaging twenty feet in height. The walls of the palaces on either hand are clothed with tall Monterey and Lawson cypresses and arbor vitae. Between these and the Draceonas of the avenue are planted specimens of Abies pinsapo, the Spanish fir. Banks of flowers and vines cover the ground around the bases of the trees. Administration Avenue has on one side the thickets of the Fine Arts lagoon, on the other, masses of eucalyptus globulus against the palace walls, finished off with other hardy trees and shrubs. Against the north front of the palaces are set Monterey cypresses and eucalyptus, banked with acacias.

The entire city side of the South Gardens is bordered by a wondrous wall of living green, - not a hedge, but truly a wall, - the most surprising of all McLaren's inventions. For this wall, though living, is not rooted in the ground, but is really a skeleton of timbers, three times the height of a man, paneled solidly on both sides with shallow boxes of earth thickly set with a tiny green plant, which, as though crushed down by the weight of its name, Mesembryantliemum spectabilis, hugs the soil closely. Each box, really nothing more than a tray, is barely deep enough to contain a couple of inches of earth, and is screened over with wire mesh to prevent the slice of soil from falling out when it is set on edge. Some thousands of these boxes are required to cover the entire wall, which thus appears a solid mass of greenery. The little plant looks like the common ice-plant of old-fashioned gardens, and is actually kin to it. It asks little of this world, is accustomed to grow in difficult places, and is kept green by sprinkling. If a section of it gives up the struggle, the tray may be replaced with a fresh one. From time to time a blush of tiny pink flowers runs over the wall. There seems to be no season for the blossoms, but whenever the sun shines, this delicate shimmer of bloom appears.

The season opened in the great sunken garden of the Court of the Universe with solid masses of rhododendron. The Court of the Ages was a pink flare of hyacinths, which, with an exquisite sense of the desert feeling of the court, were stripped of their leaves and left to stand on bare stalks. The South Gardens and the Court of Flowers were a golden glow of daffodils. Daffodils, too, were everywhere else, with rhododendron just breaking into bloom. The daffodil show lasted several weeks until, over night, it was replaced by acres of yellow tulips blooming above thick mats of pansies. This magic change was merely the result of McLaren's forethought. The daffodils had all been set at the right time to bloom when the Exposition opened. The pansies were set with them, but were unnoticed beneath the taller daffodils. Unnoticed also were the tulips, steadily shooting upward to be ready in bloom the moment the daffodils began to fail. One night and morning scores of workmen clipped off all the fading daffodils, and left a yellow sea of tulips with cups just opening. When the tulips faded early, because of continued rains, the solid masses of pansies remained to keep up the golden show. With the end of the yellow period came three months of pink flowers, to be followed in the closing third of the Exposition's life by a show of variegated blooms.

This marvelous sequence of flowers without a gap is not the result of chance, or even of California's floral prodigality, but of McLaren's hard-headed calculation. He actually rehearsed the whole floral scheme of the Exposition for three seasons beforehand. To a day, he knew the time that would elapse between the planting and the blooming of any flower he planned to use. Thus he scheduled his gardening for the whole season so that the gardens should always be in full bloom. In McLaren's program there are ten months of constant bloom, without a break, without a wait. No such gardening was ever seen before. Needless to say, it could hardly have been attempted elsewhere than in California.

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