Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The Jewel City -> Chapter III. The South Gardens

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The South Gardens

A charming foreground to the great palaces - Palace of Horticulture and some of its rare plants - Food for pirates - Ancient and blue-blooded forest dwarfs - The Horticultural Gardens - House of Hoo Hoo - Festival Hall, with its fine sculptures by Sherry Fry - A remarkable pipe organ.

Entering the Exposition by the main or Scott Street gate, the visitor has before him the beautiful South Gardens. (See p. 23.) These form an animated and effective foreground for the Exposition palaces. Except for their fountains, the gardens and the structures in them are less notable for sculpture than the central courts of the Exposition. Most of the plastic work here is purely decorative. The gardens are formal, French in style, laid out with long rectangular pools, each with a formal fountain, and each surrounded by a conventional balustrade with flower receptacles and lamp standards. In harmony with their surroundings, the buildings, too, are French, of florid, festival style.

The Palace of Horticulture, Bakewell and Brown, architects, is the largest and most splendid of the garden structures. (p. 24.) Byzantine in its architecture, suggesting the Mosque of Ahmed I, at Constantinople, its Gallic decorations have made it essentially French in spirit. The ornamentation of this palace is the most florid of any building in the Exposition proper. Yet this opulence is not inappropriate. In size and form, no less than in theme, the structure is well adapted to carry such rich decoration. This is the palace of the bounty of nature; its adornment symbolizes the rich yield of California fields.

In harmony also with the theme, the human figure is absent from the sculpture, save in the caryatids of the porches and the groups supporting the tall finials. Fruits and flowers, interwoven in heavy garlands and overflowing from baskets and urns, carry out the idea of profuse abundance. The great dome, larger than the dome of either St. Peter's at Rome or the Pantheon at Paris, is itself an overturned fruit basket, with a second latticed basket on its top. The conception of profusion becomes almost barbaric in the three pavilioned entrances, flanked on either side by the tall finials suggesting minarets. Here the Oriental influence of the architectural form, the mosque, becomes most pronounced, changing to French again in the caryatid porches.

Altogether, the Palace of Horticulture is a beautiful building, but rather hard to see properly from the ground. From an elevation, where it appears more as a whole, it is far more effective. Curiously, it photographs better than any other building here, save the Fine Arts Palace, but in actual view it hardly lives up to the pictures. Perhaps this is because the comparatively small portions of the structure seen between the trees near-by are dwarfed by the huge dome, while in photographs the camera emphasizes the lower and nearer sections and reduces the proportions of the dome.

The exhibit housed under the great dome should not be passed by. A vivid bit of the tropics is the Cuban display. Here, in an atmosphere artificially heated and moistened to reproduce the steaming jungle, is massed a splendid exhibit of those island trees and flowers that most of us know only through pictures and stories of southern seas. Around the central source of light, which is hidden under tropic vines, stands a circle of royal palms; and planted thickly over the remaining space are jungle trees, vivid enough to our imagination, but many of which have never before been seen in this country.

Boys who feel pirate blood in their veins will revel in this reproduction of the scenes of imagined adventure. Any reasonable pirate could be quite happy here. For here is the breadfruit tree, read of in many a tale of castaways; also the cocoanut palm, with the fruits hanging among the fronds, waiting for the legendary monkey to scamper up the trunk and hurl the great balls at the heads of the beholders. Here, too, are the mango, and many sorts of bananas, and the cabbage palm, another favorite resource of starving adventurers. With these there are other jungle denizens, - the bamboo palm, the paperleaf palm, splendid specimens of the world-old cycad family, the guanabana, and a Tom Thumb palm, which, full grown, is no more than a handbreadth high.

Ancient among trees are the two specimens of microcycas from the swamps of Cuba. These Methuselahs of the forest are at least 1,000 years old, according to the botanists. They are among the slowest growing of living things, and neither of them is much taller than a man. They were seedlings when Alfred the Great ruled England, and perhaps four feet high when Columbus first broke through the western seas. In the four centuries of Cuban history they have not grown so much again.

These venerable trees belong to the bluest-blooded aristocracy of the vegetable world. Ages ago they inhabited our northern states. Their family has come down practically unchanged from the steaming days of the Carboniferous period, when ferns grew one hundred feet high, and thronged with other rank tropical growths in matted masses to form the coal measures. The fossil remains of cycads in the rocks of that period prove that they once flourished in the tropic swamps where now are the hills of Wyoming and Dakota.

Scattered among the trees is a host of flowering vines, of huge crotons with variegated leaves, giant gardenias and tropical lilies. When these bloom, the air of this transplanted jungle is heavy with the perfume of their own island habitat.

The Horticultural Gardens south of the Palace belong to it, and contain a large part of the horticultural exhibits. As they were planted for competitive exhibition purposes, they will not show the constant beauty that appears in the South Gardens. Here we must wait for the flowers in their season, and not expect to have them changed overnight for us by the gardeners' magic.

Back of this horticultural garden is the House of Hoo Hoo, in Forestry Court, flanked by the Pine and Redwood Bungalows. It needs but a glance at its beguiling loveliness to know that here is another lesson in art and architecture by Bernard Maybeck. Here again is poetry in architecture, of a different order from the noble theme of Maybeck's Fine Arts Palace, but none the less poetry. This is a sylvan idyll, telling of lofty trees, cool shades, and secret bowers of fern and vine and wild flower, in the moist and tangled redwood forests. There is little used but rough-barked tree trunks, but what delicate harmony of arrangement!

This lumbermen's lodge is one building outside the Exposition palaces that should not be missed, even though almost hidden away against the south wall. It is worth pondering over. No one may want to build a house like it, but it proclaims how beauty can be attained with simple materials and just proportions.

Festival Hall, Robert Farquhar, architect, balances the Palace of Horticulture in the architectural plan of the South Gardens. (p. 29.) It, too, is French in style, its architecture suggested by the Theatre des Beaux Arts in Paris, a design which furnished the dome necessary to harmonize with that of the palace to the west. As architecture, however, it fails to hold up its end with the splendid Horticultural Palace. Its dome is too large, and has too little structure around it, to be placed so near the ground without an effect of squattiness. Its festive adornment is extremely moderate. On the cornice above the main entrance is the rhyton, the ancient Greek drinking horn, symbol of festivity.

The sculpture, all done by Sherry E. Fry, carries out the same idea. The graceful figures poised on the corner domes are Torch Bearers. On the pylons at either end of the semicircular arcade of the main entrance are two reclining figures. On the right is Bacchus, with his grapes and wineskin, - a magnificently "pickled" Bacchus! On the left a woman is listening to the strains of festal music. (p. 32.) Each of the pedestals before the false windows at the ends of the arcade supports a figure of Flora with garlands of flowers. On the ground below the two Floras are two of the most delightful pieces of all the Exposition sculpture. One is a little Pan, pipes in hand, sitting on a skin spread over an Ionic capital. This is a real boy, crouching to watch the lizard that has crawled out from beneath the stone. The other is a young girl dreaming the dreams of childhood. There is something essentially girlish about this. Unfortunately, it is now almost hidden by shrubbery.

Within Festival Hall is one of the half-dozen greatest organs in the world. It has more than 7,000 pipes. The heaviest of them weigh as much as 1,200 pounds apiece. Though mere size is not the essential quality of a fine instrument, it is hard to ignore the real immensity of this. The echo organ alone is larger than most pipe organs. This complementary instrument, which is played from the console of the main organ, is placed under the roof of the hall, above the center of the ceiling. Its tones, floating down through the apertures in the dome, echo the themes of the great organ.

Few organs have so mighty a note as the sixty-four-foot open pitch attainable on the Exposition's instrument. Speaking by itself, this note has no sound. It is only a tremendous quaking of the whole building, as though the earth were shuddering. By itself it has no place in organ music. It is not intended to be struck alone. It is used only as a foundation upon which to build other tones. In combination it adds majesty to the music, rumbling in a gigantic undertone to the lighter notes.

Even the open stops in this organ are of more than ordinary dimensions. The usual limit in a pipe organ is the sixteen-foot open stop. But in this organ there are several pipes, both of wood and of metal, thirty-two feet or more in length.

Two small buildings, balanced on either side of the Scott-street entrance, are the Press Building and the Exposition home of the National Young Women's Christian Association. They are alike, French in style, and fronted with caryatid porches.

The real glory of the South Gardens lies in their flowers, and in the charming setting the landscape engineers have here given to the south facade of the palace group. There is the air of Versailles in the planned gayety of the scene. In this the pools and fountains, the formal gardens, the massed trees and shrubbery, and the two palaces themselves, play their part.

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