Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The Jewel City -> Chapter IV. "The Walled City": Its Great Palaces and their Architecture, Color and Material

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The Tower of Jewels

Imposing as the central accent of the Exposition's architecture - Its magic glow at night - A magnificent Roman arch - "Jewels" of the Tower - An historical landmark - Inscriptions, sculpture and murals - Fountains of "Youth" and "El Dorado" - An epitome of the Exposition's art.

The Tower of Jewels, Carrere and Hastings, architects, is the central structure in the Exposition architecture. (See p. 47.) It plays a triple role. In architecture it is the center on which all the other buildings are balanced. In relation to the theme of the Exposition, it is the triumphal gateway to the commemorative celebration of an event the history of which it summarizes in its sculpture, painting and inscription. Last of all, it is an epitome of the Exposition art.

Towering above everything else, it is at once the culminating point and the center of the Exposition scheme. It links the palaces of the central group, otherwise divided into two sections. Upon it rests the balance of Festival Hall and the Palace of Horticulture, of the courts, the gardens, the Palace of Machinery and the Palace of Fine Arts. It finds its own balancing structure in the Column of Progress. It is intended to be the first thing seen from afar, the point from which the eye travels to lesser things on either hand.

At night the Tower remains the center of the transformed Exposition. Under the white light of the powerful projectors, details disappear, the structure is softened into a form almost ghostly. It becomes ethereal. All its daytime glitter gone, it seems really spiritual. The jewels hung over the upper portion do not flash out a diamond brilliance, as they might have been expected to do; rather they spread the light in a soft film about the Tower. (p. 135.)

From close at hand, the arch and its flanking colonnades are truly imperial. There the ornamentation and color of the upper part are not in the eye. Up to the cornice above the arch, the mass of the Tower is magnificent in proportion and harmonious in line and color. It almost seems that the builders might have stopped there, or perhaps have finished the massive block of the arch with a triumphant mass of sculpture.

Studied from the ground underneath the Tower and around it, the arch and the two little colonnaded courts in the wings are gloriously free and spacious, with the spaciousness that the Exposition as a whole reflects, that of the sea and sky of its setting. I walked here when the ocean breeze, fresh from winter storms at sea, was sweeping through them. There is no confinement, no sense of imprisonment from the boundless depths of air outside. Something which the architect could not include in his plans has come in to make constant this increase in the sense of freedom and space. The openings of the arches, being the only free and unconfined passageways through the south facade of the palace group, provide the natural draft on this side for the interior courts. The air rushes through at all times, even when no breeze is stirring outside. This uncramped movement of air currents, far from being unpleasant, gives the same sense of open freedom that one gets on a bold headland, where the ocean winds whip the flowers and lay the grass flat.

From the court behind the Tower you see the mansioned hills of San Francisco through the colonnades like panelled strips of painting; and, looking northward, the long spaces over the bay to the great Marin hills beyond.

The jewels on the Tower give it a singularly gay and lively touch when the sun is bright and the wind blowing. The wind is seldom absent around the top of so lofty a structure, and there these bits of glass are always sparkling. At night they produce, under the strong white light of a whole battery of giant reflectors hidden on other buildings, the mystic haze that shrouds the Tower. They were a fine idea of the chief of illumination, W. D'A. Ryan, giving just a touch of brilliance to an Exposition otherwise clothed in soft tones. The jewels are only hard glass, fifty thousand of them cut in Austria for the purpose, prismatic in form, and each backed with a tiny mirror. Hung free to swing in the wind, they sparkle and dance as they catch the sun from different angles.

As the great gate to the Exposition, the Tower becomes historical in relation to the event celebrated beyond its archway. Its purpose, from this point of view, is to tell the entering visitor briefly of the milestones along the way of time up to the digging of the Canal. Its enrichment of sculpture, painting and inscription summarizes the story of Panama and of the Pacific shore northward from the Isthmus. The architect has expressed in its upper decorations something of the feeling of Aztec art. The four inscriptions on the south faces of the arches tell how Rodrigo de Bastides discovered Panama in 1501; how Balboa first saw the Pacific Ocean in 1513; how the United States began to dig the Canal in 1904, and opened it in 1915. The four on the north faces epitomize the history of California, thus honored as the state that commemorates the opening of the Canal. They speak of Cabrillo's discovery of California in 1542, of the founding of the Mission of San Francisco by Moraga, in 1776, of the acquisition of California by the United States, 1846, and its admission to the Union in 1850.

The sculpture carries out the same idea. Pizarro and Cortez sit their horses before the Tower, splendid figures of the Spanish conquerors, the one by Charles C. Rumsey, the other by Charles Niehaus. (p. 48.) Above the entablature of the supporting columns are repeated around the outer wall of the arch, Adventurer and Priest, Philosopher and Soldier, types of the men who won the Americas, all done by John Flanagan. Above the cornice, the mounted figures by F. M. L. Tonetti are those of the Spanish cavaliers, with bannered cross. The eagles stand for the Nation that built the Canal. Excellent in spirit are Flanagan's figures of the four types, especially that of the strikingly ascetic Priest. (p. 44.) Besides their symbolism, the statues fulfill a useful architectural purpose in relieving what would otherwise be the blankness of the wall. But the same cannot be as truly said of the Armoured Horsemen above. Vigorous as they are, they are not in the right place. They clutter up the terrace on which they stand. The globe on the pinnacle, with its band, signifies that now a girdle has been put around the earth.

On the side walls of the arch under the Tower, the murals by William de Leftwich Dodge tell the story of the triumphant achievement which the Exposition commemorates. On the east, the central panel pictures Neptune and his attendant mermaid leading the fleets of the world through the Gateway of All Nations. (p. 53.) On one side Labor, with its machines, draws back from the completed task, and, on the other, the Intelligence that conceived the work and the Science that made it possible, move upward and onward, while a victorious trumpeter announces the triumph. One figure, with covered face, flees from the appeal of the siren, but whom he represents, or why he flees, I cannot tell.

In the smaller panel to the left, Labor is crowned and all who served with toil are acclaimed. Its companion picture on the right represents Achievement. The Mind that conceived the work is throned, the Sciences stand at one side, while a figure crouching before the bearer of rewards points to Labor as equally worthy.

On the west side of the arch, the central panel portrays the meeting of Atlantic and Pacific, with Labor joining the hands of the nations of east and west. In the panel to the left, enlightened Europe discovers the new land, with the savage sitting on the ruins of a forgotten civilization, the Aztec once more. On the right America, with her workmen ready to pick up their tools and begin, buys the Canal from France, whose labor has been baffled.

The two lovely fountains in the wings of the Tower draw their inspiration from the days of the conquistadors. Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney's Fountain of El Dorado is a dramatic representation of the Aztec myth of The Gilded One, which the followers of Cortez, in their greed for gold, mistook for a fact instead of a fable. (p. 54.) The Fountain of Youth by Edith Woodman Burroughs finds its justification as a part of the historical significance of the Tower in the legend of that Fountain of Eternal Youth sought by Ponce de Leon. (p. 53.) The interpretation of these sculptures is set forth in the chapter on Fountains.

The Tower of Jewels epitomizes the Exposition's art. The glories of its architecture, color, sculpture, painting, and landscape gardening all find an expression here. In architecture it reflects something of almost all of the orders found in the Exposition. In the main it is Italian Renaissance, which means that the basic characters are Roman and Greek, enriched with borrowings from the Orient and Byzantium. In column and capital, in wall and arch and vaulted ceiling, it represents the architecture of the whole Exposition, and so harmoniously as to form a singular testimony to the unity of the palace scheme.

In color, from the dull soft gold of the columns of the colonnades on either wing, through the vivid hues of Dodge's allegorical murals under the arch, and the golden orange and deep cerulean blue in the vaulted recesses, up to the striking green of columns on the upper rounds of the Tower, the structure summarizes all the pigments which the master of color, Guerin, has laid upon the Exposition.

In sculpture, the conquistadors in front, the hooded Franciscans and the Spanish warriors who stand around the cornice, the corner figures on the Tower above, and, finally, the great globe on top, repeat in varied form the themes of palace, court, facade, and entrance. It has its own fountains in its own little courts.

Then, as a final touch to complete this epitome of Exposition art, the dark cypresses set in the niches on either side of the openings of the arch, gracefully express the debt the whole palace scheme owes to its landscape engineer. In the original models of the Tower, these niches were designed for vases. It was a happy thought that placed the cypresses there instead.

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