California Pacific International Exposition

CHAPTER FOUR: The Exposition Gets Under Way – 1935

The U.S. Marine Band and Color Guard marched across Cabrillo Bridge and into the Plaza del Pacifico to mark the opening of the Exposition, on the morning of May 29, 1935. Unlike the Marines, children paid twenty-five cents and adults fifty cents each to get in. Before the day was over, 45,000 people paid to pass through the gates.

In the afternoon, Governor Frank Merriam opened the doors to the California State Building and Secretary of Commerce Daniel Roper opened the doors to the Federal Building. Formal dedication commenced at eight in the evening. President Franklin D. Roosevelt telephoned his greetings from Washington, D.C. Loudspeakers on the grounds broadcast his words. A chorus of 500 voices at the Organ Amphitheater sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” then, as airplanes of the U.S. Army’s First Wing soared overhead, two orphan girls pressed buttons turning on the lights. Columbia Broadcasting broadcast the ceremonies coast-to-coast from a studio in the Palace of Better Housing.

Except for the Palace of Water and Transportation, the U.S. Housing Exhibit, Falstaff Tavern, Camp George Derby, and the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, which opened later, exhibits were ready.

At the Organ Amphitheater, June 2, Dr. Earl Rosenberg conducted a choir of 150 voices singing a cappella “Missa Papae Marcelli,” the celebrated mass composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina for the enthronement of Pope Marcellus, circa 1561. As the original score called for six voices, Rosenberg’s enlargement was startling. Even so, no more fitting piece could have been chosen to honor Catholic Day. On the other hand, no more unfitting act could have been committed than to link this ethereal music with a military field mass. Over fourteen clergymen, wearing robes and vestments, joined approximately 1,400 uniformed members of 210 Holy Name Societies and 50 other societies in a processional and recessional. As the celebrant of the Mass elevated the Host, lay members lowered their colors and banners while one of them sounded a fanfare. Over 50,000 people, most of whom were Catholics, attended the services. In the afternoon, a choir from the Hollywood First Methodist-Episcopal Church sang religious songs at the Amphitheater by J S Bach, Gounod and Sibelius.

A lucky college student rolled Hollywood sex goddess Mae West down El Prado (in a rollerchair) June 9. As she entered Gold Gulch someone hit the bull’s eye and all lights went out. Mae applauded the “little woman,” wearing a clinging black dress and a large-brimmed hat, who swiveled her body into an hourglass shape and said, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” at Midget Village. Upon being told the fleet would be in the following day, Mae remarked, “I’m sorry I didn’t know the fleet was coming in tomorrow as I certainly would have come down then. I’m very patriotic that way.”

The fleet Mae missed arrived June 11, fifty-eight thousand officers and enlisted men in the largest concentration of ships to anchor and dock in San Diego up to that time. Most of the men behaved; however, one red-bearded sailor took several rides in rolling chairs and ate several hot dogs and bags of popcorn without paying, turned a fire hose on the nudists, and induced two sailors to swim across the reflecting pool in the Plaza del Pacifico.

Ex-President Herbert Hoover arrived June 18. Mayor Percy J. Benbough, Chamber of Commerce and Exposition officials, and U.S. Naval officers did not allow him to spend a quiet day at the Exposition as he had hoped. Hoover tried to evade the committees by paying a surprise visit to the grounds in the morning before attending a luncheon at the U. S. Grant Hotel. He listened to flowery speeches and replied in kind. Meanwhile, the distaff side took his wife to the House of Hospitality. The Exposition arranged receptions in the afternoon so that people could see the former President, but he could not see the Exposition.

A contingent of 80 planes attached to the First Wing of the U.S. Army General Headquarters dropped dummy bombs on an enemy supply camp at the Exposition at noon June 19. Fifty-five planes returned in the evening to complete the destruction. The following day, the pilots arrived at the Exposition “to take possession of captured territory.”

Arriving from the Presidio in San Francisco, the 30th Infantry, consisting of 165 officers and men, set up a model camp, June 29, south of Indian Village. The soldiers named the camp “Camp George Derby,” after a U.S. Army lieutenant and humorist who wrote Phoenixiana (1855) and Squibob Papers (1865), describing his misadventures in San Diego’s “Old Town.” Soldiers drilled, paraded, and held flag raising and retreat ceremonies daily in the Plaza del Pacifico.

Julius Wangenheim, chairman of the Exposition finance committee, hinted something was amiss, July 8, when he called for greater economy and fewer promotions. The resignations of Zack Farmer, J. David Larsen and Waldo Tupper, July 17, and their replacements by Philip L. Gildred, Hal Hotchkiss and Douglas Young gave substance to Wangenheim’s misgivings. Since the people leaving were from outside San Diego, it was not a coincidence that their replacements were residents of the city.

Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson spoke at the Organ Amphitheater July 18. She turned down Queen Zorine’s invitation to visit the nudist colony. Zorine reputedly responded: “I did not ask her to take off her clothes. I only invited her to tea.” Aimee told an audience of 20,000, “the world does not need to go ahead. It needs to go back — back to the faith and religion of our fathers,” an interesting point at an exposition devoted to progress at a time when eight million people in the country were unemployed.

The Exposition designated July 21 “Schumann-Heink Day,” to show the affection that San Diegans had for their most famous citizen and symbolic “Mother.” At 74 years of age, she sang the Star-Spangled Banner, in a weak voice that lacked the depth and volume with which she once thrilled audiences. Then Dr. Rosenberg conducted the Exposition chorus and soloists in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Before the performance Schumann-Heink introduced Miss Elsa Mayer, the young contralto whom she had coached for the role of an angel.

On July 27, Le Roy Haines, a 46-year old stunt man, told his wife, “We need the money,” then jumped from a 90-ft. tower into a pool of flaming water at Gold Gulch. His chest was crushed and he died at Mercy Hospital an hour after his leap.

During Children’s Day, on August 5, Jack Dempsey, world’s heavyweight boxing champion from 1919 to 1926, refereed a bout between midget boxers.

To stimulate attendance, the Exposition hired Fanchon and Marco to put on two variety shows at the Organ Amphitheater beginning August 15. Rin-Tin- Tin, Jr., son of the famous dog movie star, did tricks at the opening show; lyric tenor Tommy Jones sang; the Normal Thomas Negro Quintet sang and danced, aerialists walked tightropes, and a chorus of young women danced and kicked in unison. About 20,000 people showed their delight by whistling, yelling and clapping.

About 8,000 Japanese-Americans celebrated the birth of Gautama Buddha at the Organ Amphitheater on the evening of August 17. They put up a 15-ft. temple and placed in the middle an 18-inch solid gold image of the Buddha. Monks wearing richly embroidered robes chanted, adults and children sang, musicians played, and young women danced as thousands of lotus blossoms fluttered down over their heads. The following morning at the Amphitheater, Shinto priests, wearing red robes and tight-fitting black hats, venerated the spirits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

In the afternoon, musicians played Japanese flutes, guitars, and drums as 600 young women in flowing kimonos, 50 children in colorful robes, and almost as many Japanese-American boy and girl scouts marched to the Plaza del Pacifico. Crowds in the Plaza looked on as experts fenced, danced with swords, and wrestled. Exposition officials gave a reception at the conclusion of the exercises at the Organ Amphitheater, where Nisei danced and sang.

On National Negro Day, August 24, more than 20,000 African-Americans visited the Exposition. Negro Tenor George Garner and a chorus of 300 voices sang “Hand Me Down That Silver Trumpet” and “Ain’t Going to Study War No More” at the Organ Amphitheater. Royal A. Brown played the organ and Joseph de Luca conducted the Exposition band. Fifteen thousand people listened to the concert.

Dr. Frank Townsend addressed more than 30,000 at two programs in the Ford Bowl, August 25. He claimed the government could wipe out poverty if it gave everyone over 60 years of age a monthly income of $200. The audience was so rapt it disregarded raindrops falling on their heads.

Exposition directors began holding special “Nickel Days” to attract customers. In response to their invitation, motion picture actor Joe E. Brown led children into the Midway, on Nickel Day, August 26. Brown declined to judge a bicycle contest at the Organ Amphitheater at which the “Duke of Wellington,” a chimpanzee, rode a bicycle, but did not compete for a prize.

Directors set aside September 4 to honor Charles Wakefield Cadman, a composer and a San Diego resident. Cadman is remembered today for his piano music and the songs “The Land of Sky Blue Water” and “Love Like the Dawn Comes Stealing.” Tsianini Blackstone at Indian Village, Royal A. Brown at the Organ Amphitheater, the Exposition Chorus and an instrumental quartet in the House of Hospitality, and the San Diego Symphony in the Ford Bowl all devoted their programs to Cadman’s music. Someone must have forgotten to inform the 63rd Coast Artillery Band–for the band played its usual fare of oompah-pah music.

The First Wing of the U.S. Army General Headquarters sent 416 planes to attack the Exposition for a three-day period beginning September 5. They were supported by 90 combat vessels in the harbor and resisted by batteries of anti-aircraft guns on the grounds, manned by the Coast Artillery. Against such overwhelming odds, the Exposition was devastated, or would have been if the attack were real.

On Constitution Day, September 17, ex-President Herbert Hoover came back to give the principal speech at the Organ Amphitheater. Hoover said Americans could lose their liberties if too much power was concentrated in the federal government at the expense of local governments. He did not mention the Democratic party by name, but most people knew of whom he was speaking.

On September 18, Brigadier General Henry H. Arnold from the U.S. Army Air Corps spent two hours watching people jump into space from a 155-ft. steel tower at the Midway. They were supported by an open parachute with a cable attached. Arnold concluded the mechanism would be useful in training aviators.

The Exposition chose the “Our Gang Comedy” youngsters from Hollywood to be guests at Nickel Day, September 21. Three of them misbehaved in appropriate style on the stage at the Organ Amphitheater, but Buckwheat had stage fright, and, in tears, rushed to the protecting arms of his mother.

Directors honored Kate Sessions, the nursery woman who changed the face of Balboa Park and of San Diego, on Kate Sessions Day, September 24. In honor of the occasion, citizens from Pacific Beach presented a painting of Kate by Mary Belle Williams to the City of San Diego. Kate responded to the many speeches in her praise by saying it was the plants, not she, that had created the city’s beauty.

Aimee Semple McPherson returned to the Organ Amphitheater for three days and evenings of sermons beginning September 27. She wore a flowing white crepe dress and a cape lined with red. In her opening salutation, she declared God had not given us this great nation to use for selfish ends and that true patriotism should have a religion of love and order as its basis. In closing her three-day contest with the Devil, she said the Blue Eagle failed because of “a lack of religious power,” She referred to a symbol representing the National Recovery Administration Act, an act governing labor relations passed by Congress at the beginning of President Roosevelt’s first term. The act failed because businessmen ignored its codes. Overcome by her charismatic personality, people in the audience rushed to the front of the podium to touch her garment.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor came to the Exposition, October 2. They lunched in separate rooms in the House of Hospitality, the President in the Sala de Oro with men and his wife in the Mexican loggia with women. Exposition president Belcher accompanied Roosevelt on an automobile ride through the grounds.

Upon entering the grounds through the west gate, the Roosevelt entourage encountered more than 800 costumed nationals of 32 foreign nations from the House of Pacific Relations in the Plaza de Mexico in front of the Palace of the Science of Man (the 1915 California State Building). Tomokazu Hori, Japanese consul of Southern California) stepped forward to gave the President a large, Cloisonné vase. The President responded: “I will treasure this gift all of my life and I hope for many generations to come this vase will stand to all as a symbol of peace and amity between countries bordering the Pacific.” Frank Drugan used the occasion to explain the goodwill intentions of the House to the President, prompting him to remark (so Drugan claimed) that he hoped the attraction would become permanent. Local leaders took this observation as a promise of future government support.

In an address before 60,000 inside and 15,000 outside San Diego Stadium, a short distance from the Exposition, the President said “the products of American artistic and mechanical genius” shown at the Exposition (products he did not see) spoke “eloquently of what the nation can achieve on a broad scale.” He attributed the success of the Exposition to “individual effort,” which the policies of the New Deal were created to promote. Because of the progressive deeds of his administration, the country was coming out of the Depression. The President concluded by proclaiming American neutrality in the event of war in Europe, a prospect that seemed likely because of the repudiation of the arms- limitation provision of the Treaty of Versailles by Germany and the imminent invasion of Ethiopia by Italy. To show the rest of the world the proper way to settle disputes, the President said the United States would be a “good neighbor” to all the nations of the world. An editorial in The San Diego Union groused that the President did not answer questions rising out of the unemployment problem and the collapse of the National Recovery Act.

Twenty five-thousand children and adults from San Diego relief families entered the grounds free on October 28. Entertainers employed by the Works Projects Administration put on a variety show for them at the Organ Amphitheater.

G. Aubrey Davidson and Representative George Burnham expressed their appreciation of John D. Spreckels at the Organ Amphitheater on October 30, the day set aside to remember him; Spreckels had died June 7, 1926. Davidson, Burnham and Spreckels had signed the articles of incorporation for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Before the speeches, organist Royal A. Brown played selections by Dr. Humphrey J. Stewart, whom Spreckels hired to be the city organist. Stewart, who passed away in 1933, played the organ in Balboa Park almost daily for seventeen years, from 1915 to 1932.

Sam Hamill, junior partner of Requa, Jackson and Hamill, designed a California-Monterey style home, called “Casa de Tempo,” which was put up near the entrance of Spanish Village. The home had twelve rooms, five baths, and “the newest devices known to the housekeeping world.” Roberto Mueller from Navolato, Mexico, an employee of Jorge Almada Salida, son-in-law of Plutarco Calles, president of Mexico from 1924 to 1928, won the home in a drawing at the close of the first season. Mueller transferred ownership to his employer who moved it to 1212 Upas Street. Ex-president Calles lived in the home for five years. When it was built, the home had cost $35,000 with another $15,000 for furnishings.

The Old Globe Theater, to the north of the Palace of Science (the 1915 California Building) developed a devoted following. The theater was a copy of a theater built for the Chicago Century of Progress, which supposedly was a copy of the sixteenth-century Globe Theater in London. Sides were roofed, but the central section was open to the sky. A canopy kept out sun and rain. Actors, directed by Thomas Wood Stevens, presented five roughly one-hour versions of Shakespeare’s plays daily. To see the shows, adults paid twenty-five cents in the afternoon and forty cents in the evening. A seven-year-old boy at one of the performances announced to the world his astounding discovery, “You know, I prefer Shakespeare to Shirley Temple!”

Between plays country and sword dancers sallied forth from the theater to perform folk dances before Queen Bess (Elizabeth Sowersby) to the music of pipers.

Major O. J. Keatinge, as Falstaff, made the rounds of Falstaff Tavern, next to the theater, where he chatted with patrons who were eating mutton chops or kidney pies served by women in Elizabethan costumes.

Music coming from 156 loudspeakers inundated the grounds. Selections varied depending on location. Catchy tunes pervaded the Midway while sentimental melodies blanketed the Plaza del Pacifico. Since everyone on the grounds could hear the loudspeakers, Associated Oil Company, the sponsoring organization, claimed a gate attendance of 100 percent. The Exposition had its own band, under Joseph de Luca, and its own chorus, under Dr. Earl Rosenberg. Wandering minstrels, under Jose Arias, dressed in Spanish costumes, sang and danced on the Avenida de Palacios, in plazas, and on balconies. The same group had performed nineteen years before at the San Diego 1916 Panama-California International Exposition. Choral groups, chamber music orchestras, and soloists concertized daily in the auditorium of the House of Hospitality. High School and College glee clubs and bands demonstrated their skills at the Organ Amphitheater and the Ford Bowl. The 30th Infantry and the 63rd and 251st Artillery Bands and visiting military and club bands alternated in playing jaunty music in the Plaza del Pacifico.

Walter Flandorf played the Laurence Hammond electronic organ at the Ford Bowl twice in the afternoon. Flandorf had been hired by the Ford Motor Company. The organ he played had a two-manual keyboard, a power cabinet that could amplify the music to 2,000 watts, and a bank of 192 speakers over the stage.

Royal A. Brown, the official Balboa Park organist, gave evening organ recitals on the Spreckels organ which with its four manuals, 86 stops, and 52 ranks had enough power to be heard a mile distant without benefit of electronic amplification.

The Ford Motor Company paid for 132 concerts given by the symphony orchestras of San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, and for 14 choral recitals, including six concerts in July by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Columbia Broadcasting carried these concerts three times weekly over national hookups and seven times weekly over Pacific Coast hookups. The Ford Company also hired a South American orchestra, led by Jose Manzanares, to play rumba and dance rhythms twice daily in the patio of the Ford Building.

Colored lights cast on jets of water in the Firestone Singing Fountains near the entrance to the Ford Building changed hues in time to the intensity of music coming from hidden loudspeakers, providing a light show in the evenings that was better than fireworks.

By choice, the California Pacific International Exposition did not present the famous opera singers of the day, such as Grace Moore, Gladys Swarthout, Rosa Ponselle, Lily Pons, Richard Crooks, Lawrence Tibbett, and Lauritz Melchior. Their absence represented a shift in exposition philosophy away from the cultural involvement of 1915 and toward entertainment. Also, compared to the Chicago and Dallas Expositions, the San Diego Exposition operated on a low budget and could not afford the high fees that opera singers charged. It was remarkable that Henry Ford and his son Edsel would finance symphony concerts, but to expect them to pay for opera singers was outside the realm of probability.

Corporal Joe Galli of the 30th Infantry brought the first season to a close at midnight on Armistice Day, November 11, by playing “Taps” from the roof of the Palace of Fine Arts in the Plaza del Pacifico. As soon as the last poignant notes from the bugle had died, a technician turned off seven fingers of lights on top the Organ Amphitheater one by one. The 76,033 people who were present did not engage in a “wanton destruction of buildings and exhibits.” When the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition closed, revelers rioted, looted and destroyed. Was it because San Diego Exposition directors feared a repeat of the Chicago disorder that soldiers of the 30th Infantry, posted in the Plaza del Pacifico, wore steel helmets and carried fixed bayonets?

Approximately 4,784,811 people attended the Fair in 1935, which was not the attendance of 10,000,000 officials had predicted in May. The Exposition had a surplus of $315,833 in the black and another $75,000 in reserve for restoration of the park. If the Exposition had ended in 1935, as had been planned, subscribers would have received a 60 percent refund. But the directors decided to continue it in 1936 after receiving promises of support from Chambers of Commerce, transportation companies, merchants’ associations, and hotel men.