Panama-California Exposition

CHAPTER SEVEN: 1917 – The Exposition Mop-Up

As the Panama-California International Exposition wound down, San Diegans prepared plans to perpetuate its buildings and exhibits. The question “What would follow?” was heard on all sides. People hoped that, during the three-month post-Exposition period, this question would be answered.

Despite Chamber of Commerce rhetoric, the first three months of the year are the wettest in San Diego. The year 1917 was no exception. Rain or no rain, the Exposition continued from January 1 to March 31 to allow for “clean-up” (perhaps “mop-up” would be more accurate). Exhibits were reduced, special events were few, Isthmus shows were gone, and the sale of goods by exhibitors was stopped.

Businesspeople hoped the Model Farm would continue as “an advertisement,” but they did not suggest how it would be financed. Supposedly C. L. Wilson, manager of the farm, would stay on.

Structures along the Isthmus and the San Joaquin, Varied Industries, and Canadian Buildings were to be torn down when they were vacated.

The California Building with French exhibits, the Canadian Building with Canadian exhibits, the U.S. Government Building and the Fisheries Building with U.S. Government exhibits, the Fine Arts Building, the Salt-Lake-Union Pacific Building, Japanese Tea Garden, Isthmus Zoo, and Panama Canal Extravaganza stayed open.

San Diego Museum exhibits were permanent. Most of them stayed in the Science of Education Building, but some were moved across the street into the empty Russian and Brazil Building. Directors understood the museum would “be maintained by membership fees and paid admissions on certain days of the week.”

Dr. Humphrey J. Stewart continued to give daily organ concerts with expenses being paid by John D. Spreckels. Tommasino and his band stayed on. The future of the band hinged on whether San Diegans were willing to get up a fund to keep it. The Second Battalion of the 21st Infantry continued to give daily field drills on the Aviation Field and weekly band concerts on the Plaza de Panama.

The Exposition Corporation charged 25 cents for adult admission, 25 cents for automobiles, and 10 cents for children. The money was to cover cost of lighting buildings and grounds. To further reduce lighting cost, the grounds were open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. only. Carl Ferris, Exposition vice-president, talked guilelessly of continuing the admission charge at 10 cents after April 1.

The 1916 Board of Directors carried itself over. With the help of the Board, W. S. Dorland, president of the Chamber of Commerce, organized men’s and women’s committees to welcome visitors.

The Southern California Counties Commission gave their buildings and grounds and the Model Farm and Model Bungalow to the City for $1.00 on January 3. That same day, International Harvester gave its building to the City free with the understanding that it would always be known as the “Harvester Building.” The gift took the Park Commission by surprise as it had no plans for the building’s use. Before the month was over, the Japanese Exhibit Association and the Lipton Tea Company gave their buildings to the City.

On the afternoon of January 2, Madame Schumann-Heink presented colors to officers and men of the Second Battalion of the 21st Regiment at the Plaza de Panama, the first review since the formal New Year’s closure of the Exposition.

In mid-January, Madame Schumann-Heink announced a plan to make San Diego an American Bayreuth. She declared a festival of grand opera and music would be held at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in July and deposited $10,000 as a guarantee of her good faith. Her comments were clearly upbeat:

“For years people of culture and wealth have traveled to Europe to hear grand opera under the most ideal conditions then extant. But the best that Europe could boast is crude beside what we have here — one of the most beautiful parks in the world, glorious architecture and landscape gardening, the most beautiful Exposition the world has ever seen, the only outdoor organ in the world, the most perfect climate in the world.”

Students in the Junior College, then an adjunct of San Diego High School with an enrollment of 70, declared they wanted the college to take over the Southern California Counties Building. Not to be undone, the Montessori Education Association asked for an exposition building in which to conduct a Montessori school.

In a letter to The San Diego Sun, January 11, Elizabeth S. Miller protested the post-Exposition and said Balboa Park “should be developed strictly along public park lines for public park purposes.” A. D. Robinson, editor of The California Garden, piped in: “Were we a Park Commissioner, which the good sense of mayors and our good luck has prevented, we would deem it a prime necessity in parceling out the loaves and fishes from the exposition basket that everyone fell to a legitimate parking use. “H. J. Penfold, secretary of the Exposition, took the offensive by arguing that all Exposition buildings should be retained because it would cost money to tear them down and somebody might need them.

The Park Board on January 20, ignored the Chamber of Commerce’s advice and notified the Pollard Picture Play Company to vacate its studio on the Isthmus.

Of all requests for Exposition property, the military’s was the most certain of success. The Park Board, January 10, allowed the 21st Infantry to move into the Indian Village and the Young Men’s Christian Association to convert the former International Harvester Building into a service facility for officers and enlisted men. The Board on January 22 turned over the Utah, Montana and Washington buildings and former marine camp to the U.S. Marines for temporary occupancy until the marine base at Dutch Flats should be completed.

Indications appeared that all was not sweetness and light. Roscoe Hazard, owner of Pioneer Truck Company on January 17 ordered the driver of a five-ton truck to batter a way through the Exposition gates in protest of a ruling prohibiting horse-drawn vehicles on the grounds. Further discontent surfaced when City Auditor Moody objected to an increase of park employee wages of 10 percent and of Park Superintendent John Morley’s salary from $275 to $300 a month. Mayor Capps added his criticism of the park superintendent s gift of floral decorations for the private wedding of the daughter of a member of the Park Commission. A writer in the San Diego Union speculated that Capps was trying to humiliate George W. Marston, who was president of the Park Board.

Dr. Harry Wegeforth announced, in late January, that the Zoological Society of San Diego was fully organized. It would buy animals from the Isthmus Zoo and put animal cages in the Pepper Grove as soon as it raised $10,000. To help get this sum, he said he would sell annual membership cards to children for 50 cents and to adults for $5.00.

The San Diego Museum Association also began a quest for 1,000 members who would pay an annual fee of $5.00. Life memberships could be purchased for $100.00 each. On January 9, G. A. Davidson succeeded George W. Marston as president of the San Diego Museum. Dr. Edgar L. Hewett stayed on as director.

H.J. Penfold announced January attendance as 29,676. This number did not include the 30,000 at the January 1 closing. Considering only 35,440 attended the Exposition in January 1916, the 1917 figure was respectable.

Mayor Capps on February 5 approved a pay increase for park employees from $2.50 to $2.75 a day, but rejected the $25 per month increase for Park Superintendent Morley.

The 21st Infantry escorted members of the Grand Army of the Republic, Spanish War Veterans, Woman’s Relief Corps, Ladies of the Grand Army, and Ladies Auxiliary of the Spanish War Veterans to the Plaza de Panama on Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12. Soldiers and civilians passed in review before officers who stood on steps in front of the U.S. Government Building.

The Exposition Corporation intended to wreck the Panama Canal Extravaganza in the middle of February; however, because of an unexpected rise in attendance, the Corporation decided to keep the attraction open until the end of the post-Exposition period.

Officials hoped Washington’s Birthday, February 22, would be the first major event of the post-Exposition. Unfortunately, rain forced them to postpone the celebration to February 25. Along with schoolchildren from San Diego County, who were allowed in free, Miss San Diego (Miss Marian Vogdes) marched across Cabrillo Bridge. For the benefit of the children and their parents, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the 21st Infantry gave a manual rifle drill on the Plaza de Panama. Judge W. J. Mossholder, an officer of the Sons of the American Revolution, praised the American colonialists who wrested their independence from Great Britain. He was followed by soloists who sang songs stressing love of country and of freedom.

In mid-February, jeweler Joseph Jessop moved his archery collection into the U.S. Government Building. To get the collection, the Park Board accepted Jessop’s proposal to locate an archery range south of the Organ Pavilion.

Its collections having been enlarged with mineral specimens from the Montana Building, the San Diego Society of Natural History, the oldest scientific organization in Southern California, moved from Hotel Cecil in downtown San Diego to the Nevada Building on the Alameda.

By declaring that the Southern California Counties Building and the San Joaquin Building were dangerous and would have to come down, Fire Chief Almgren and Building Inspector Field upset many candidates with schemes for reusing the buildings.

In a letter to Dr. Hewett dated February 20, Carleton M. Winslow, the only major Exposition architect who had not expressed an opinion regarding the Exposition buildings, asserted most of the temporary buildings would have to come down. He granted the Indian Village and the Administration, Russia and Brazil, and Science and Education Buildings reprieves. Though he claimed he designed the Administration Building, Winslow disliked its many windows and the ornament over its front door. Nonetheless, he thought the building should be kept because “it helped the permanent group from the West.” Of the other two buildings to escape the general demolition, he agreed with Dr. Hewett that they met the needs of the San Diego Museum Association. Moreover, the cost of repairing them would be small.

Winslow considered the California and Fine Arts Buildings “not adequate to the needs of the San Diego Museum,” but did not suggest other uses. He leveled his most severe criticism at the Organ Pavilion, which he described as “unsightly in the extreme.” He proposed relocating a new pavilion at the head of the Plaza de Panama, facing south “to bring the sun to the backs of the audience and into the face of the performers.” The solution is not ideal for if the performers suffer, the enjoyment of the audience is going to be affected.

Winslow caused a rumpus because, as he had moved to Los Angeles, he was no longer a San Diego architect. While he was still living in San Diego, the Park Board commissioned him to design a bear den and aviary in the park. City Auditor Moody and Mayor Capps were critical of the Park Board in general, and of George W. Marston in particular, this time for hiring a non-local architect.

San Diego wives, mothers and daughters held a Woman’s Day, March 1. They dined at the Cristobal, watched a drill at the Plaza de Panama, and listened to Mrs. Earl Garrettson at the Organ Pavilion. While her words may have been no more than complimentary platitudes, one regrets that newspapers did not give the gist of her speech.

Although few were on hand to hear her, the Australian soprano Nellie Melba played the organ and sang “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s Otello at the Organ Pavilion on March 7 during a chance meeting with Dr. Stewart.

A depiction of the early days in San Diego, during Hotel Day, March 8, was the most stunning staged event of the post-Exposition period. R. C. Godfrey, technical director for Pollard Pictures, reproduced a scene of the lobby of the Old Horton House at the Organ Pavilion. H. B. Frisbie, manager of the Hotel Barstow, drove an old stage coach, lent by Thomas P. Getz, from the Kansas Building to the recreated Horton House where guests from the hotel got off. George W. Marston, once a clerk in the real Horton House, welcomed the guests and Orrin L. Chaffin, manager of the U. S. Grant Hotel, assigned them rooms. Bellboys Sam Porter of the San Diego Hotel, Charles White of the Sandford, and William Kemps of the Maryland, stumbled over one another trying to be of service. As part of the program, speakers, singers and entertainers were paged and brought to the lobby where they performed. When speakers talked too long, the clerk rang a bell, bellboys screamed, and the stagecoach came rolling up to haul them away.

The Exposition gave a barbecue at the Tractor Field on March 14, for 700 men from 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 21st Regiment.

In a letter in the San Diego Union, March 18, Reverend R. D. Hollington called Balboa Park “the most beautiful civic center and public pleasure grounds in the nation.” He was not aware that part of his description contradicted the other. Whether the park was a “civic center” or a “pleasure grounds,” Hollington was firm that “no association, organization or firm will be permitted to exist or control one building or one foot of ground in this park that is not for the benefit of all the citizens in San Diego.”

Thieves, who were not seeking to benefit all the citizens in San Diego, broke into the California Building, on or about March 19, and stole two paintings of Egyptian subjects, painted by M. Guignon.

In late March, political rivals George W. Marston and Louis J. Wilde signed a petition asking the War Department to set up a training camp at the Exposition for applicants for military service.

At a time when the Exposition Beautiful was receding in public interest, the fact that George W. Marston was a champion of the City Beautiful movement worked against him in his campaign for mayor. Since Marston had the support of Exposition backers G. Aubrey Davidson, John F. Forward, Jr., and D. C. Collier, those people to whom the Exposition was not a panacea, including ex- mayors D. C. Reed and James E. Wadham and incumbent mayor Edwin Capps, sided with Louis J. Wilde, an energetic banker whose connection with the Exposition was remote.

An entertainment at the Organ Pavilion on March 31 marked the withdrawal of Exposition management from park affairs. Twenty-three year old mezzo-soprano Tsianina Blackstone, wearing a beaded headband and buckskin dress, sang songs of Charles Wakefield Cadman, who accompanied her on the piano. These included, “The Place of Breaking Light,” “From the Land of the Sky Blue Water,” and “Ho, Ye Warriors on the Warpath.” Tickets cost 25 cents each.

The formal farewell took place at an evening dance in the Cristobal to which 400 guests with reservations were admitted.

Sensing that the public was being excluded from the farewell celebration, the Exposition management decided to reduce the admission fee to 10 cents for adults and free for children, to keep the gates open until 10:00 p.m., and to hold an open-air dance on the Plaza de Panama from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with music supplied by the 21st Infantry Band.

Two events occurred in April which shifted San Diego’s attention away from Balboa Park and temporarily stopped plans to transform Exposition buildings and grounds into a public park. These were the election of Louis J. Wilde as mayor on April 3, and the entry of the United States into World War I on April 6. The Park Board, April 5, authorized Colonel D. C. Collier to go to Washington, D.C., to offer the War Department free use of Exposition buildings and grounds.

An auditor’s report dated March 31 showed a net profit of $38,406.10, including net assets of $13,879.10, a revenue surplus of $16,054.27, and cash-on- hand of $8,473.39.

Final accounting of receipts and expenditures is not clear. It is not known how many subscribers fulfilled their pledges and how much of the profits were distributed to stockholders and the Park Board.

Wheeler J. Bailey, chair of the Finance Committee of the San Diego Museum, reported on August 1 that the Exposition still had about $6,500 on its books. Bailey said 50 percent of the stockholders had agreed to release their entitlements to the Museum Association. By the end of July, stockholders had transferred $416,855 in certificates to the Museum. Records show they signed over another batch of $253,340 in September.

As late as June 1919, what remained of the Panama-California International Exposition — which seemed to be President Davidson — was still trying to settle its obligation with the Park Board. The Board was willing to strike from its records charges to the Exposition for maintenance in 1916, with the proviso that if Los Angeles stockholders returned money to the Exposition, it would be given to the Board.

Looked at almost 100 years after the event, some observations can be made about San Diego’s extraordinary two-year Exposition.

The Exposition cost about $3,000,000 and left San Diego with about $2,000,000 in physical improvements — buildings, landscaping, roadways and infrastructure. It acquainted visitors with the resources of the Southwest and stimulated investment and settlement; it brought famous people to San Diego; it accelerated the growth of military installations and the improvement of the harbor; it set new standards in architecture and city planning; it developed an appreciation for music; and it promoted San Diego as a center for archaeological and anthropological exhibits.

The San Francisco Exposition cost about $15,000,000 and left only the Palace of Fine Arts.

On the negative side, the Exposition introduced divisions in San Diego’s political life which still exist. The dichotomy between Louis J. Wilde’s fast-growth and George W. Marston’s slow-growth ideas still polarizes the community. The need for free, open, recreational space still clashes with the need of some people for more restricted spaces or with their unwillingness to give the public any open space at all.

Before the Exposition, Balboa Park had landscaped strips on its west and south sides, sections covered with sage, greasewood and wild flowers, groves of trees growing in Cabrillo Canyon and on the central mesa, a road system for leisurely carriage traffic, a series of picturesque canyons, an assortment of birds, bees, butterflies and wild life, and awesome views of mountains, bay and ocean.

After the Exposition, Balboa Park had lost many of its natural advantages and had obtained in their place a permanent Exposition covering 625 acres in its center, where art, science, education, dance and theater flourished. However, unlike birds, flowers and bees, the amenities of civilization came with a price. Balboa Park also got exotic planting which grew so fast it crowded out indigenous species and hid the buildings. Topiary along El Prado was not kept out. It was short-lived, in any case; and soon reverted to chaos. As trees died or the bougainvillea and clematis became too burdensome to keep up, they were replaced with adventitious plantings at variance with the 1915 design.

On the positive side, John Morley, laboring outside the central mesa, saw to it that sagebrush gave way to grass and shade trees. Morley concentrated on English-style landscaping, while Frank Marsh, superintendent of playgrounds, equipped the Golden Hill section of the park with facilities for sports, dance, drama, storytelling and clay modeling, and conducted an annual May Day Festival at Park Avenue, between Juniper and Kalmia, in Balboa Park for the entertainment of children.

Though the playground movement was strong in San Diego, the Park Board ignored a suggestion by Marian Pounds, a member of the Board of Health, to convert an Exposition building into a gymnasium and to establish golf links, tennis courts, and athletic fields in the park as “playgrounds for grownups.”

Professor of Decorative Design Eugen Neuhaus admired several features of the 1915 Fair that no longer exist. A list of vanished glories would include the small pond at the base of Cabrillo Bridge, the boxed cypresses in the Plaza de California, the Blackwood acacias along El Prado, the walkways behind buildings, the clearing north of the California Building, the lawn behind Montezuma Gardens; the Neo-Classical style pergolas in the Montezuma and Botanic Gardens, the white walls of temporary buildings, the bignonia, bougainvillea and clematis that covered walls, the arcades and patios of the Science and Education Building, the sheltered porch of the Sacramento Valley Building, the Plateresque tower and second-story pergola of the Home Economy Building, the suffused lighting that enhanced the deep relief, and the peacocks, bush fowl and guinea hens that ran freely in the Plaza de Panama.

Many distracting elements have been introduced since 1916 that do not reinforce the image of a vast estate built by a rich Spanish grandee in days gone by. A list of incongruities would include the pallid, moribund Fine Arts and Natural History Museums, the gawky, inharmonious Old Globe Theater and the buildings and terraces around it, the sleek, glossy attachments to the Museum of Fine Arts, the cheap, boxlike, Timken Museum of Art, the automobile congestion in the Plaza de Panama, and the floodlighting of the facade of the Museum of Man and of the northeast facade of the Casa del Prado. It is as though someone decided the shadows in Rembrandt’s paintings should be replaced by the sunlight in paintings by Monet.

San Diego’s decision to turn its principal park into a “city” featuring buildings, rather than into a park featuring plants was not unique. Many cities have used their parks similarly. Some by choosing non-park lands for expositions have avoided the conflict.

In urging the Board of Directors of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to choose some other location for the Exposition besides Golden Gate Park, William Hammond Hall, original architect of the park, wrote: “It is the natural form of the grounds and the natural-like growths upon them which constitute the chief charm of the park, as any and every park most depend on the dominating influence of these qualities for its high ranking as such.”

Realizing that masses of buildings would jeopardize the character of their park, residents of New York City, in 1881, defeated former President Ulysses S Grant’s plan to put a World’s Fair in Central Park.

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted chose Jackson Park on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago to be the site for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. Twenty years before, Olmsted had prepared plans to turn the site into a park; however, these plans were never implemented. Olmsted planned a system of waterways, lagoons, islands, hills and knolls with the understanding that, except for a Palace of Fine Arts (now the Museum of Science and Industry), the rest of the park would revert to a landscaped appearance.

Business people put expositions in parks because parks provide land that “costs nothing” and is used by people of little importance, such as the old, the young, and the poor. Outdoor scenery and wildlife are of doubtful monetary value. Anyway, blotting them out in one place does not mean blotting them out everywhere. Powerful people retained the following buildings put in parks after the Expositions were over that called them into being: Memorial Hall, built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia; the Fine Arts Building and the Japanese Tea Garden, built for the 1894 Midwinter Exposition in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; the replica of the Parthenon, built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Centennial Park, Nashville; the New York State Building, built for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Delaware Park, Buffalo; and the Fine Arts Building, built for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Forest Park, St. Louis.

Planners leased land around Guild’s Lake in northwest Portland, Oregon, on which to build the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. When the Exposition was over, many buildings burned mysteriously. Buyers moved others off site. The sole reminder of the Exposition, a log cabin, burned down in 1963. Developers filled Guild’s Lake with rock and gravel in 1912. Afterward they turned the flats and higher ground into an industrial site.

Sponsors of the 1907 Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia, planned to use its 44 state, government, and exhibit buildings as the core of a “colonial” suburb. These plans went awry when receivers took over the buildings. The U.S. Government purchased the buildings and grounds in 1916. Since then, the Hampton Roads Naval Operations Base has occupied the site.

Seattle’s Exposition promoters located the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the shores of Lake Washington and Union Bay. The 355-acre parcel belonged to the University of Washington, which then consisted of three buildings outside the Exposition’s perimeter. When the Exposition closed, its landscaped grounds and more than 20 temporary and three permanent buildings became part of the University.

Ironically, the gift to the University of Washington of so many buildings proved to be a mixed blessing, for they interfered with a planned program of campus development, were expensive to adapt, presented constant maintenance problems, and brought serious deterioration to the campus.

Seeing how other cities had enhanced their economies and had acquired substantial improvements by holding expositions bolstered the optimism of San Diego businesspeople.

Merchants and bankers in a small town in the southwest corner of the United States dreamed that an exotic Spanish-Colonial city surrounded by lush subtropical plants would be more appealing than any Exposition city yet created. It would attract people, promote culture, and stimulate business. Even a failure, as at Jamestown, had a positive side for it showed that the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps would be willing to pick up the pieces. Despite quibbles from “knockers,” boosters, who wanted to make money and to bring about change, chose the best sections of Balboa Park for temporary exposition buildings and argued later for the conversion of these buildings to commercial, cultural, civic and military ends.

John C. Olmsted, landscape architect for the Panama-California Exposition, resigned on September 1, 1911 because he placed a higher value on the park as open rather than civic space and because he knew that an attempt to combine the two would produce a hybrid that would not serve either goal well. Olmsted’s night letter, August 10, 1911, is below:

“Understand exposition site is to be discussed further. We hope you realize that no advantage for exposition that has been claimed for central site can possibly compensate for ruining the most important part of Balboa Park. All permanent improvements at the site would be utterly inharmonious with any rational landscape development of that part of park. All such formalities should be confined to outer margins of park. This principle would be satisfactorily accomplished at proposed southern site. Our study of scores of large parks justifies us in asserting with the utmost confidence that Balboa Park if left free and open in central part will be worth far more in the long run than any advantage can be secured to the exposition by changing it to the central location. The exposition and especially the permanent buildings are south of Spanish Canyon and bulk of temporary buildings at central site, some of the latter would inevitably be retained, as at Seattle, for proposed agricultural college and other uses and plazas. Straight roads and walks, fountains and other ground improvements must be made permanent there if paid for out of park funds and would be utterly incongruous with naturalistic treatment appropriate for that locality.”

When people refer to Balboa Park as “the jewel of San Diego,” they generally have in mind the remnants of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition that survive on El Prado. To many people, these wedding-cake buildings, the contrasts between shaded arcades and sunny plazas, and the variety of people and entertainers on El Prado afford a diverting experience. It is not, however, a park experience. People do not wander through woodlands nor play and relax on greensward. Those people who go to El Prado on weekends seeking amusement are not overly concerned with the loss of personal spaces or with difficulties encountered in parking their automobiles.

John Burchard, late Dean of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thought the complex of buildings along El Prado in Balboa Park was the nearest approximation in the United States to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, “although, despite the Zoo, these are weighted heavily on the cultural and international side.” He expressed this thought before today’s amusement, theme and marineland parks proliferated, offering food, trees, paths, flowers, marching bands and fireworks.

Though architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable has written “You can’t go home, or to the great World’s Fairs again,” she was only partially correct. In San Diego the Exposition goes on and people from everywhere flock to Balboa Park to see its attractions.