California Pacific International Exposition

CHAPTER ONE: Planning and Preparation

Of the five expositions held in the United States in the 1930’s, the one in San Diego was the most distinct in appearance. Unlike expositions in Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, and New York City, the San Diego Exposition used the Spanish-Colonial Revival Style buildings remaining from the 1915-16 Panama-California (International) Exposition. Buildings added by architect Richard Requa introduced the linear and streamlined adaptations of other fairs. While the antiseptic newness and extraordinary lighting of 1930’s buildings provided a vision of change, in San Diego the fairytale Spanish-Colonial city, created for the 1915-16 fair, struck the spellbinding note.

Bertram Goodhue, master architect of the 1915-16 San Diego Exposition had urged that the temporary buildings on Balboa Park’s main avenue, El Prado, be torn down. Caught by the allurement of the theatrical palaces, San Diego’s citizens scorned this advice. With the assistance of money from the federal government, they patched up the plaster palaces in 1922 and 1933. The yield of this persistence was the presence of spacious exhibit buildings in Balboa Park that were available for a substantial use.

In August 1933, Frank Drugan, a former representative for the Scripps- Howard newspaper chain, came to San Diego looking for a new start. He visited the renovated El Prado, recognized the potential of the buildings, and persuaded local businessmen to use them as the nucleus for a second exposition. As promoter, Drugan acted the role Colonel “Charlie” Collier had performed for the first exposition. Unlike Collier, Drugan knew how to let other people take the credit for what he had done.

Chicago’s 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition was in its final year. Many of its exhibits could be transported easily to San Diego. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Exposition’s displays of consumer goods and mechanical inventions nourished the hope of a Golden Tomorrow in a people who were down but not out. Also, the Chicago Exposition’s ability to finance itself through the sale of admission tickets and exhibit space showed San Diego the task of holding an exposition was not the hurdle doubters had made it out to be.

Oscar Cotton, chairman of a committee to raise subscriptions, proclaimed the San Diego Exposition as a panacea.

“It is within our power to transform San Diego from one of the darkest to one of the whitest spots on the business map of the United States. The holding of this Exposition is the first and foremost link in the biggest chain that ever pulled a community out of the mire.”

Frank G. Belcher, assistant cashier and vice president of the First National Trust and Savings Bank of San Diego, became the second exposition’s president, the office G. Aubrey Davidson had held in 1915-16. Davidson came back as chairman of the Board of Directors.

Principal members of the management team were Zack Farmer, Managing Director; J. David Larsen, Executive Manager; Frank Drugan, Executive Secretary; H. O. Davis, Director of Works;H.H. Barter, Supervisor of Construction; Waldo Tupper, Director of Exhibits; Richard Requa, consulting architect; and Juan Larrinaga, Hollywood artist responsible for decoration. Zack Farmer, former manager of the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles, had been hired at the suggestion of Frank J. Belcher, general manager of the Spreckels Companies and father of Frank G. Belcher.

Local businesspeople were irate that out of 211 executive employees, more than one hundred came from outside the city.

In September 1934, two months after the Exposition had incorporated, a goal of $700,000 had been reached. This amount included $650,000 in public subscriptions and $50,000 to be allocated by the City of San Diego for park improvements. Plans were now realities. By the end of December, alterations had been made on older buildings along El Prado and a start made on the House of Pacific Relations. Construction of new palaces began in January 1935. During the penultimate phase, in March and April, as many as 2,700 workers in three eight-hour shifts rushed the project to completion. Approximately 65 percent of the workers were relief workers whose wages were paid by the federal government. The balance were employees of private construction firms. They prepared foundations for the Palace of Electricity and Varied Industries, the Ford, and other buildings before the final plans for the buildings had been prepared. When it became evident that relief workers could not complete the project in the three months time available, a time that became more frantic as last-minute orders for buildings came in, Requa was compelled to hire private contractors.

While director of works H. H. Barter and general foreman O. B. Cole constructed the majority of the Exposition buildings, contractor M. H. Golden erected the Federal Building; contractor J. A. Hunt erected the Palace of Water and Transportation; and contractor B. O. Larsen erected the Ford Building. The Exposition’s architectural team designed all the structures specifically for the 1935 Fair with the exceptions of the Ford Building that was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague and the model homes that were designed by architects hired by the Federal Housing Administration.

The Exposition Company spent over $1,233,000 on construction, exclusive of State and Federal funds. This money came from approximately $650,000 in subscriptions, $300,000 from the sale of space to exhibitors and concessionaires, and $300,000 from the advance sale of tickets.

Occupants of the Spanish-Colonial buildings on El Prado were told to get ready for an exposition, and they fell into line.