California Pacific International Exposition
CHAPTER THREE: Exposition Exhibits
Exhibit palaces were true to their titles . . . Palace of Better Housing, Palace of Fine Arts, Palace of Food and Beverages, Palace of Education, Palace of Electricity and Varied Industries, Palace of Natural History, Palace of Science, Palace of Water and Transportation, Hollywood Hall of Fame, and House of Charm, the “charm” being feminine cosmetics. Three buildings represented the federal government, three specialized in commercial products, three were carry- overs of museums, and over six displayed industrial products. California put up the only state building. Unlike 1915, when many California counties constructed their own buildings, this time the various departments of the State, headquartered in Sacramento, mounted the exhibits.
A women’s committee composed of former members of the Balboa Park Auditorium Association acted as hostesses in the House of Hospitality (the 1915 Foreign Arts Building) on the southeast side of the Plaza del Pacifico. Having negotiated an understanding that they would continue to operate the building after the Exposition, the women formed the House of Hospitality Association and contributed $3,500 for the building’s rehabilitation and $8,845 for furniture and equipment. SERA, a state employment relief agency, contributed the balance of $75,000. This sum was in addition to an estimated $28,620 of federal relief funds that had been used to stabilize the facades and to cut off a rear portion in 1933-34.
Female college students in the Palace of Food and Beverages (the 1915 Varied Industries and Food Products Building) sold Scottish scones made by Fisher Flouring Company at five cents a piece. They slit the scones down the side and filled them with raspberry jam and butter. The Coca Cola Company, in the same building, mixed carbonated water with syrup and put the mixture in bottles with caps at a rate of 30 bottles per minute. New Sea Island Sugar Company sold lemonade at 10 cents a glass and showed films of its cane fields and refineries in the Hawaiian Islands. The exhibit included a puppet show telling the story of sugar and of the dolls featured on the company s sugar bags. Dressed in a black gown, with her hair covered with a lace mantilla, Thelma Ruff testified to the merits of Santa Fe cigars, in an exhibit mounted by A. Sensenbrenner Sons of Los Angeles. She left the demonstration to a wax figure that smoked a Santa Fe cigar.
A motion picture showing improvements in California housing since 1542, the year Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo arrived in California, by La Mesa and San Diego Realtors F. J. Hansen, Co. had some relevance to the theme of “better housing” conveyed by the name of the Palace of Better Housing (the 1915 Commerce and Industries Building). Not so obvious, however, were exhibits of an avocado farm, by F. J. Hansen, of “Jerusalem, the Holy City,” by Seventh Day Adventists, and other exhibits by the Church of Latter Day Saints, Rosicrucian Fellowship, Salvation Army, Encyclopedia Britannica, Nassau Pen and Pencil Company, Foreign Antique and Art Co. and Owens-Illinois Pacific (Glass) Co. The Exposition Exhibits Committee may have chosen this jumble of exhibits as there was no other way to fill the 36,200 sq. ft. building.
Truer to the intent of the name of the Palace of the Better Housing, but located behind the Palace, the Federal Housing Administration of the U.S. government put up block after block of tiny, simply-designed modern homes, complete in minute detail. Thirty of these turned over periodically, and, in their place, appeared horrible examples of antiquated homes. A display fifty-six miniature model homes nearby, in a variety of styles and floor plans, was meant to stimulate the observer to buy such homes at a cost ranging from $300 to $7,000. Similarly, the California Redwood Association put up a two-room structure next to the models showing exterior and interior uses of redwood. Closer to the southwest end of the Palace, the Palmer Steel Co. set up a 20 by 60 ft. fabricated steel building, designed by architect Richard J. Neutra. A small radio building was also attached to southwest rear of the Palace.
Orville Goldner designed frescoes on the outside and inside of the $90,000 California State Building. These illustrated the history and scenery of the state while exhibits highlighted the state’s agricultural and industrial resources. The State of California and the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles sent in miniature replicas of their respective territories. Park rangers showed a diorama of a raging forest fire that attracted more attention than static displays. The State intended to leave its exhibits in the building after the Exposition was over.
San Diego Consolidated Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison Company, the Los Angeles Bureau of Light and Power, and California General Electric Distributors sponsored most of the exhibits in the Palace of Electricity, on the opposite side of the Plaza de America from the California State Building. A House of Magic in this building showed popcorn being popped by radio waves, music being transmitted by light, and a kitchen in which a talking stove, hot water heater and other appliances discussed which appliance had done the most to prevent a divorce in the family.
Dioramas and murals inside the Standard Oil Tower showed scenes from national parks with greater fidelity to depth, detail and motion than was evidenced by similar scenes on frescoes above the entrance to the building.
The Palace of Water and Transportation, next to the rose garden, had a lively facade at the entrance to the water side of the building. A stylized Indian face looked outward as cascades of water tumbled down on right and left sides. At night, projectors painted the water. This was the most animated facade put up for the 1935-36 Exposition and its best example of the playful Art Deco style. Exhibits inside the building, showing people harnessing natural forces, exemplified the theme of progress.
It took some time for planners to coalesce around the theme of progress, which is surprising since it is the common theme of almost all expositions. As the first exposition celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal, the second would celebrate the completion of the Metropolitan Water District Aqueduct from the Colorado River and other federal projects. Overriding other displays in importance were those showing the taming of the Colorado and Columbia Rivers. Subsidiary to these, models of the Metropolitan Water District Aqueduct, the Grand Coulee, Boulder and Parker Dams, the All-American Canal, the San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridges, and the improved harbors of Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego proclaimed the millennium had arrived. The City of San Diego finally connected to the Metropolitan Water District Aqueduct in 1947 after the U.S. Navy agreed to help with the financing, an agreement brought on by the explosive growth of San Diego during World War II.
Exhibitors showed many models of the same projects in the Palace of Water and Transportation, the Palace of Electricity and Varied Industries, the Palace of Education, the Federal, and the California State Buildings. Even after it had been repeated in almost every building in the Palisades, a concessionaire set up a model of Boulder Dam in the amusement section of the Exposition.
Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Justice, Navy, Marine Corps, Patent Office, Printing Office, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, Tennessee Valley Authority, Veterans’ Administration, and National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics set up displays in the Federal Building. Visitors had fingerprints taken and looked at a $1,000,000 U.S. Treasury Bill, a counter that showed the estimated population of the United States at the moment one was looking at it, a model of the first electric light patented by Thomas Edison in 1879, and a seventeen-pound machine gun that shot a stream of lead through whirling propeller blades without touching them.
In the Hollywood Hall of Fame Building, north of the California State Building, studio sets, stage lights, and mementos of Mary Pickford’s stage curls and Charlie Chaplin’s exaggerated shoes got visitors in a receptive mood for the showing of films spliced together from scenes of already-made movies.
The Palace of Education, north of the Hollywood Hall of Fame, illustrated aspects of education in California, including abstract, agricultural, artistic, blind, crafts, gifted, health, home, Indian, nautical, physical, scientific and visual.
Cynthia Ricketts posed as a dancing figure for a fountain sculpture by Dr. Frederick Schweigardt in the lobby of the Palace of Education. Kneeling women at the base personified Community, Church, Home and School, each being one of the “Four Cornerstones of American Democracy.” After being told funds had run out, Schweigardt donated his labor. There is no logical reason why matrons of democracy should occupy themselves supporting a diminutive nymph in a gleeful high step.
Belle Baranceanu painted a 40-ft. mural illustrating the “Progress of Man” on a wall behind the fountain. Unlike Schweigardt she was paid, most likely with U.S. Public Works Administration funds. Critic Jim Britton described the painting as “a Sears catalog of components,” including a sphinx, pyramids, all manner of transportation, a quill pen, two printing presses, a microscope, telescope, factories, skyscrapers, tractor, and a blond, blue-eye youth with arms extended to embrace the symbols of progress. The artist said that because she was forced to rush the project to completion, she did not fill in the figures properly.
Alpha, a 2,000 lb., chrome-plated, steel giant, received visitors in the Palace of Science (the 1915 California Building). He answered questions, blinked his eyes, sat down, stood up, smoked cigarettes, and fired a pistol on command. When Alpha was asked if he loved his wife, he replied ungallantly, “I’ve a heart of steel. I don’t love nobody and nobody loves me.” Alpha was not the marvel he appeared since Henry May controlled his movements through electronically- transmitted vocal vibrations.
Gold Gulch occupied a canyon between the model homes behind the Palace of Better Housing and Pepper Grove, near today’s horse stables for the San Diego Police Department. Here unpainted shacks, an iron- barred bank, a Chinese restaurant and laundry, a dance and music hall, a sign before a brown shack reading “Gold Gulch Planter – Tin Coffins Made to Order,” and a dummy suspended in midair from a hangtown tree recreated the atmosphere of a mining town in the Days of ’49. Barkers lured “drugstore cowboys” to a “shootin’ gallery,” where, if they were lucky, they could put out the lights everywhere in the Gulch by hitting the bull’s eye.
A colony of about fifty nudists read books, played handball and ate vegetables in Zoro Garden, at the northern tip of Gold Gulch. Patrons of the Gulch were quick at finding knot holes in the wood fence between the two attractions. Compared to “Gold Gulch Gertie,” who was arrested for impersonating Lady Godiva, and to dancers along the Midway, the nudists were models of decorum. Chief of Police George Sears saw that the women wore brassieres and G-strings. The men, who were past their prime, had long beards and wore trunks. The “Zoro” in Zoro Garden was the name of a bogus sun-god whose full name was supposed to be Zoroaster, the name of a Persian prophet.
About 150 Indians from thirty tribes occupied Indian Village, a survival from the 1915 exposition at the northeast end of the grounds. They made arrows, baskets and rugs, portrayed the “Sun Dance” and “Snake Dance,” and took part in pretended stagecoach holdups and attacks on covered wagons. Willow Bird, described as “the son of a Pueblo-Apache chief,” painted kachina images on the ramparts of Indian Village. Unlike the 1915 Indian exhibit, where education was a primary goal, the 1935 exhibit inclined toward commercial exploitation. Many acts were borrowed from Wild West Shows, but were not as exciting. Indians were told to thump heavily on their drums to drown out barkers on the Midway.
The Fair’s most popular attractions were the Ford Building and the Midway. These appealed to the desire to be master of machinery and the desire to be entertained. It took visitors two and one-half hours to move round the Ford exhibits if they followed the lectures one after the other.
A midget city and a farm with midget cows, pigs and grain, along the west side of the Midway led other concessions in the number of visitors. More than 100 “little people” worked and played. Robert Ripley’s “Believe It-Or-Not” offered a four-legged girl, a girl without arms and legs, and a man immune to fire. A judge fined the manager of the Ripley exhibit $150 in December for showing deformed people in violation of a California penal code. In “Sensations”, undulating lights created illusions of beautiful women ascending and descending on jets of water while other women swam around them. A concessionaire showed gangster John Dillinger’s bulletproofed and armed automobile, in “Crime Never Pays,” a misnomer for the concession paid very well. Moving from human to animal, Rossika, an Arabian mare, fired a salute, pulled down a flag, and walked a tightrope in “Days of Saladin.”
An abundance of baby animals at the San Diego Zoo, on the Avenida de Espana to the west of the Midway, captured public attention. Baby antelope, buffalo, deer, goats, sheep, Bengal tigers, Siberian bears, and a solitary young ocelot showed by their survival that they and their parents were receiving the best of care.
Exposition visitors rented roller chairs operated by college students by the hour or by the day. These covered all parts of the Fair and Zoo and went inside some of the buildings.