The Rising Tide, 1920-1941
CHAPTER EIGHT: Creating a Fair
The years between the Great Wars were drawing to a close. In Asia, Japanese armies were driving into the mainland of China. In Europe, Adolph Hitler had taken control of Germany. In the United States, the recognition of Communist Russia gave impetus to a wave of radicalism.
Headlines in the newspapers imparted no sense of urgency. The world had not yet been drawn into the intimacy that was to come with the end of isolationism, the swiftness of transportation and the immediacy of communication.
The persistence of the depression was of more concern to the people of the United States. The number of unemployed had failed to diminish and the New Deal of President Roosevelt was running into trouble. The situation in San Diego may have seemed more fortunate. Roosevelt was expanding the Navy. A major aircraft company was moving to Lindbergh Field. Tijuana and Agua Caliente had survived the end of prohibition in the United States and were drawing more and more tourists through San Diego.
A merchant from Los Angeles, R. M. Walker, while flying over San Diego was impressed by the many lines of automobiles moving into the city:
“Caravans they seemed, from all directions. Cars from the coast routes, cars from the mountain roads to the east of us, and more cars from our friendly neighboring republic to the south of us.”
Soon afterward the Walker-Scott Corporation signed a twenty-year lease on the empty building which formerly had housed one of San Diego’s two major department stores. It was reopened as Walker’s department store with George A. Scott, a vice president of the Walker-Scott Corporation, as general manager.
The suggestion of another exposition began to be taken seriously. The first exposition had not only publicized the natural beauty and climate of the area but had brought the Navy and the Marines to San Diego to stay, and now in the White House was the man who largely was responsible for it, while he was Undersecretary of the Navy. What might a second exposition do for San Diego?
Frank Drugan returned from Chicago with colored slides and motion pictures of the Century of Progress and assurances that many of its exhibits could be made available for an exposition in San Diego. Tentative pledges of financial support had come from leaders of industry in New York and government officials in Washington.
The Chamber of Commerce directors in March of 1934 appointed a committee to study costs, financing and organization. Controversies over how the exposition was to be organized, and who were to be the officers and directors, consumed several weeks of time, even though there was an awareness that the exposition would have to be held in the near future, to take advantage of the availability both of federal emergency financing and the exhibits from the Century of Progress.
It did not seem to be a propitious time for such an ambitious undertaking. Governor Rolph had died and been succeeded in office by the lieutenant governor, Frank F. Merriam. Almost immediately Merriam was confronted with a spreading crisis of labor disturbances and radical agitation. While promising a broad program of social and economic relief for California, Merriam also pledged that the state government would resist the “subversive activities of avowed Communists.” When fighting began in San Francisco, in connection with a coastwide longshoremen’s strike, the National Guard was called out to protect state property.
In the Imperial Valley efforts to organize and bring about a strike of agricultural workers, mostly Mexicans, met with vigorous resistance. The American Civil Liberties Union intervened and obtained a court injunction in San Diego, but when the union’s attorney, A. L. Wirin, went to the valley he was taken from his hotel room and deposited in the desert. Wirin had been supported by a number of San Diegans who had organized a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Among them was a daughter of George Marston, Helen, who had participated in various anti-war and social movements. Though Marston himself was not a pacifist, according to another daughter, Mary, who wrote the family history, he did defend the activities of his daughter and ignored a threatened boycott of his store by Imperial Valley customers.
Unrest and discontent was rising with the wind of economic despair. Howard Scott brought his Technocracy movement, which promised economic salvation through a dictatorship of science, from Columbia University to California. A rival known as the Utopian Society blamed the profit system for all the ills of society and contended that in a few hours of each day, people between twenty-five and forty-five years of age alone could produce all that was needed for everybody. An aged physician, Dr. Francis E. Townsend, began gathering adherents for an old age revolving pension plan that would give every person over sixty $200 to spend every month.
These movements were particularly attractive to older people dependent on small pensions or earnings on long-hoarded savings reduced by the depression. In San Diego, as in all Southern California, settlers had remained somewhat as aliens in a strange land, retaining their interest in their home states and cities and dividing into state societies or into other small, isolated social groups. Persons fifty years of age and over accounted for almost a quarter of the population. The average age of residents in San Diego in 1930 was 32.8 years as compared with a national average of 26.4 years. In another decade war and a new and younger migration would sharply reduce the age level.
There was a gulf between residents and the community’s business interests that often was difficult to bridge. Through 1933 and 1934 the city government was embroiled in the continuing argument over the city manager system and who was to run the police department, though it was a series of unsolved murders that finally aroused public anger.
The city manager, Fred Lockwood, defended his choice of chief of police, Harry J. Raymond, who entered the office in January 1933. He was a private detective from Los Angeles who once had been in the office of its district attorney. He was the sixth chief of police in four years. Openly voiced suspicions that Raymond had kept questionable associations in Los Angeles were rejected by a Council majority. In an editorial, The San Diego Union stated:
“People should assemble now to strike while the iron is hot…first rate police protection is not a visionary hope. We believe a department headed by an intelligent and experienced professional for the sole purpose of giving people protection under the law, would give San Diego better service than it is getting now, and better service than it has ever received before.”
Before the year was out, Raymond was fired. Two citizens, Robert R. Hamilton and G. Edward Chase, were instrumental in obtaining 18,000 signatures for a special election in December of 1933 which successfully revised the City Charter to require five votes to hire or fire the manager and reduced the councilmanic salaries from $3000 annually to $10 a meeting, with a maximum of $600 a year.
This was designed to reduce the duties of councilmen to part-time policy-making as envisioned in the Charter. The mayor’s salary, however, was left at $5000, as he was expected to devote a major portion of his time to ceremonial duties. Five months later Forward announced he was resigning as mayor to avoid further humiliation in his efforts to carry out Charter provisions in regard to the manager. Forward, a title company executive, was a second generation mayor. His father had held the office before him, in the early 1900’s.
Again it was the issue of the police department that had split the mayor and the Council. The manager’s selection of a chief was subject to Council confirmation and the Council majority was clinging to its control over the department.
A short time later Lockwood resigned as city manager. In August of 1934 the City Council appointed a medical doctor, Rutherford B. Irones, as mayor to fill out Forward’s unexpired term.
With Irones came a new city manager, George L. Buck, a former city manager of Long Beach, and a new chief of police, George M. Sears, who had been with the police vice squad. Within four months, Irones was in jail. The mayor was driving the city’s limousine when it struck a car driven by a sailor. The sailor’s wife was seriously injured. Irones, who had been drinking, failed to stop. While rumors of his involvement spread throughout the city, the police did nothing. His arrest on a hit-and-run charge was forced by newspaper investigation and a civil suit for personal injury damages. Just before being convicted and sentenced to six months in jail Irones resigned as mayor, and the office was vacant again.
It perhaps was not surprising that efforts to raise money for an exposition were proving difficult. A name had been selected, the California Pacific International Exposition, and attorney Walter Ames was directed to organize a non-profit corporation. As no company had any profits against which. donations could be written off for income tax purposes, it was decided that contributions would be in the nature of loans for which promissory notes would be issued.
G. Aubrey Davidson, president of the 1915-1916 exposition, was elected chairman of the board of directors, and Frank G. Belcher, son of the president of the Speckels companies, president. O. W. Cotton was chairman of the campaign to raise $500,000. He found that everybody wanted the exposition but few were eager to contribute.
At the first fund-raising dinner $300,000 was pledged by the City Council, Board of Supervisors and seven businessmen and institutions, but the pledges were contingent upon raising the entire amount. August came and went with no further subscriptions. Cotton and his committee placed a large advertisement in the newspapers which warned that the exposition “hangs by a thread”:
“The history of our city for the last sixty-seven years, since Father Horton bought San Diego’s main business district for 26 cents an acre, shows five depressions with durations of from two to nineteen years. History also shows that we have never emerged from one of these depressions, except through some gigantic effort, such as the building of a railroad, large community advertising, or the staging of an exposition. Never have we drifted out.”
More than two decades before, when San Diego had a population of less than 40,000, its citizens had pledged $1,000,000 for an exposition and voted another $1,000,000 in bonds to improve Balboa Park.
The 1915-1916 exposition had been inspired by completion of the Panama Canal. As it was the first port of call in the United States northbound from the canal, San Diego had expected to become an important trading center for the entire Pacific. But the canal had merely shortened the route to California from Atlantic ports and the ships passed right on by for the busy terminals at Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In the years just before the depression civic hopes had been raised again when the Panama Pacific liners included San Diego as a stop every other Friday on their run from New York to Havana and through the canal to San Francisco. They were the California, Virginia and Pennsylvania and carried 700 passengers each. An arrival always was an event to be remembered.
But the waterfront strikes that were wracking California were to end the days of the Panama Pacific liners as well as the “floating hotels” which sailed between the coastal ports, with their oriental rugs, sumptuous buffet dinner meals and dance bands. The Yale, sister ship to the Harvard, which was wrecked on Point Arguello, was gone by 1936.
Though the railroads, too, had disappointed San Diego, the exposition might change the course of affairs. A survey showed that visitors to the Century of Progress had spent $750,000,000. Belcher predicted that an exposition in San Diego would attract an attendance of 5,000,000 with financial benefit to everyone in the area, and would “make a difference to all America, turning the minds of millions toward a bright future and away from a dull or even hopeless present.”
By the end of September the fund drive had exceeded its $500,000 goal by $200,000 with 3300 subscribers. Telegrams were sent around the world with invitations to participate in the California Pacific International Exposition.
As San Diegans saw their exposition, it would celebrate development projects in the West that were costing a billion dollars. The Boulder Dam power and irrigation project promised cheap water and power for a vast area. The southland’s Metropolitan Aqueduct was being constructed to augment the water supply for a future anticipated population of 20,000,000. At San Francisco the bridges across the Golden Gate and across the bay to Oakland were unparalleled in the world. The harbors serving Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego were being improved to handle a rising commerce anticipated for the Pacific Basin and through the Panama Canal. In the Northwest, the Grand Coulee power and reclamation project was under way on the Columbia River. Highways were being opened or improved up and down the Pacific Coast.
The scheduled opening was only eight months away, the last possible moment when exhibits from the Century of Progress could be obtained. Frank Drugan, who had suggested the fair, remained as executive secretary. Zack Farmer, who had been in charge of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1932, was hired as managing director at the insistence of the Spreckels interests. J. David Larson was selected as executive manager and Richard S. Requa as director of architecture.
What kind of a state California would be, by the time the exposition opened, was thrown into doubt by the campaign for governor in the Fall of 1934.
Upton Sinclair, the novelist and Socialist, registered as a Democrat and announced his candidacy for governor on the strength of a booklet he had written, entitled, I, Governor o f California, and How I Ended Poverty: A true Story of the Future.
His campaign to “End Poverty in California” became known as the EPIC plan. His candidacy split the Democrat Party. The conservatives deserted to the Republican Party. Socialists complained that Sinclair had abandoned their cause. In a rally in San Diego, Sinclair stated:
“I know how to end poverty. For thirty years that has been my problem…I don’t hanker for the job of being governor of California. In fact, I would rather be dog catcher right here in San Diego.”
Nevertheless, he was waging a vigorous campaign and 1000 persons paid twenty-five cents each to hear him propose land colonies for the unemployed and the operation of idle factories under state supervision.
For the first time in twenty-five years the Democrat Party in California led Republicans in registration. Sinclair easily won the party’s nomination for governor and his margin of victory in San Diego County was 3000 votes. The magazine writer, Walter Davenport, commented that five years previously these same people would no more have voted for Sinclair than they would have voted for Satan himself.
For the general election all conservative forces rallied behind the Republican nominee, Governor Merriam, while Democrat liberals threw their support to Raymond Haight, a Progressive Party candidate. Speaking before an overflow crowd in the Russ auditorium, Sinclair told San Diegans:
“All the massed privilege of the whole United States and Wa11 Street, and all that Wall Street means, is being concentrated here to decide this question: “Can you be lied to and will you believe lies?” “
Merriam won, with 1,138,620 votes to 879,557 for Sinclair and 302,519 for Haight. In San Diego County, where The San Diego Union had described Sinclair as the Kerensky of the Progressive movement, Merriam led by 10,000 votes. In the local races it was a Republican sweep. George Burnham was re-elected to Congress and Ed Fletcher, with water problems laid aside, was elected to the State Senate. Anything to do with the city program, however, was rejected.
With the Metropolitan Water District already at work on its aqueduct to bring Colorado River water to Los Angeles and ten neighboring communities, San Diego in 1933 had executed a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for storage capacity in Boulder Reservoir for its allotment of water, and for its delivery near Imperial Dam which would also divert water for the All-American Canal. A second agreement in 1934 provided for sufficient capacity in the canal to carry water for San Diego as well as for Imperial Valley.
This agreement, however, was dependent on ratification by the people of San Diego. The issue put to the voters was whether or not they wanted Colorado River water. They were warned that all potential sources within the county would provide only for a maximum population of 500,000, and by ratifying the agreement the city would be assured of 100,000,000 gallons daily, whenever it was needed.
The proposal for participation in the construction of the All-American Canal, at a cost of $475,000 over thirty-five years, failed to receive the necessary two-thirds approval. Though El Capitan Dam was under construction, voters rejected a $350,000 bond issue for additional funds for a pipeline to connect it with the city’s distribution system. Repair and strengthening of Hodges Dam, in which cracks had appeared, also was turned down.
Completion of El Capitan Dam resulted in the agreement with the La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley Irrigation District, whereby storage facilities in the city’s dam and the district’s Murray reservoir were shared, in part, and the necessary pipelines jointly built with the aid of federal funds. The wooden flume which had brought water down from Cuyamaca Reservoir since 1889 was at last taken out of service.
The lack of confidence in the city administration drew a number of leading citizens into a Civic Affairs Conference to draft and support a slate of candidates for mayor and the City Council in the Spring election of 1935. Their candidate for mayor was Percy J. Benbough, an English-born mortician. He was not without experience in politics. He had once run unsuccessfully for mayor and served for a brief time as an interim chief of police.
The radical movement found itself aligned in the campaign with those favoring an open town, in opposition to the Civic Affairs Conference candidates. Radicals led by a San Diego State College teacher named Harry C. Steinmetz were trying to capture control of organized labor and he became a candidate for mayor on a fusion ticket, pledging public ownership of all utilities.
Steinmetz received the implied endorsement of the San Diego Sun, which favored public ownership of utilities. While Benbough was described as a good, honest businessman with a social outlook, the Sun commented that with other “thinkers who are not Bolsheviks” it was intrigued by the ideas expressed by Steinmetz. However, Steinmetz was eliminated in the primary election. In the general election Benbough’s opponent was A. Ray Sauer, son of the publisher of a weekly newspaper, the Herald.
All over the country other cities were in the midst of struggles to throw off antiquated systems of government built on patronage or on corruption. While in San Diego as elsewhere in Southern California everybody claimed to be for good government, thousands of persons had invested in real estate or were dependent on the tourist business and feared moves that might discourage any flow of visitors and settlers.
Examination of returns in the primary indicated that Sauer’s strongest precincts were below Market Street in an area of Chinese lotteries and other forms of gambling. His candidacy was based on a plea for a “liberal” and “open” town, which he said would bring millions of dollars into the community from the entertainment of visitors expected for the exposition.
On the other hand, the Civic Affairs Conference said the election of its mayor and four councilmen would assure a majority pledged to good government under the City Charter. In the three years since the adoption of the new Charter, one mayor had resigned, another had been jailed, three councilmen had resigned, and there had been four city managers. The San Diego Union stated:
“It is our conviction that the people want a new deal at the city hall. They have every reason to want one…once we have charter government, a first-rate city manager, and a competent police department, it is going to be very difficult to coax, cajole or bulldoze us into accepting any other kind of outfit at the next election.”
Though Benbough and the four council candidates supported by the Civic Affairs Conference were elected, the results were not overwhelming. Benbough led by 4000 votes out of 40,000 cast.
Anything having to do with increased taxes was rejected, except for the two-cent levy for support of the San Diego Zoo. As for the need to assure the city’s future on water, voters for the second time failed to ratify the contract for participation in construction of the All-American Canal. For the fourth time city and county voters also failed to produce the necessary two-thirds majority for bond issues to begin building the Civic Center. All amendments to the Charter proposed by the city administration likewise were defeated.
Local political resentments, however, were surmounted by the enthusiasm for the exposition. The existing buildings were to be used for exhibit purposes and as far as practicable new structures were to be kept in harmony with the original Spanish-Colonial city that had been created in 1915 by Bertram Goodhue. The architect, Richard Requa, later wrote a book entitled Inside Lights on the Building of San Diego’s Exposition: 1935. In discussing the original buildings and his plans for 1935, he wrote:
“In the exposition group the endeavor had been to provide examples of all of the interesting styles used during the period of Spanish rule in America, from the plain, austere Mission style…through the more striking Churrigueresque…to the flamboyance of the Spanish Baroque.”
In a search for a style that would combine novelty, beauty and authenticity and yet be in harmony with the old buildings, the exposition designers drew on the prehistoric and native architecture of the American Southwest, the Indian pueblos, and the impressive and massive structures left by the Aztecs in Mexico and the Mayans in Yucatan.
The area selected for the expansion of the original exposition plant extended southwest from the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and was known as the Palisades, and, as related by Requa:
“The central position of this mesa was laid out and graded for a spacious Plaza in the characteristic manner of the Latin American cities, around which were later located the new large exhibit palaces as plans for them were developed. These buildings were arranged in an order to exemplify the architectural progression from prehistoric to modern times.”
On the west side of the Plaza were the buildings reminiscent of early Indian pueblo architecture of the United States. They were the Palace of Education, Hollywood Hall of Fame and Palisades Cafe. On the east side was the group designed in Mayan and Aztec styles. They were the Palace of Water and Transportation, the Standard Oil Building, and the Federal Building.
The next two large buildings facing directly on the south section of the Plaza were designed to establish a relationship between the ancient Mayan and a Twentieth Century treatment of masses and to demonstrate the progression from ancient to modern. The California State Building was on the west side and the Palace of Varied Industries on the east side.
This progression came to its point with the Ford Building at the extreme south end of the Plaza, as exemplifying the latest ideas in modern industrial architecture. The interest of the Ford company resulted from Edsel Ford’s visit to the 1915-1916 exposition while on his honeymoon.
Confirmation of the participation of the Ford Motor Company came in February, with the opening of the fair only four months away. Its decision to participate brought many other industries, almost at the last minute. Plans for the Ford Building were completed and construction was about to start when the company requested changes that cost a month of time. As it was Ford’s intention to import symphony orchestras for regular concerts, an adjoining ravine was converted into an open air bowl.
While the management was engaged in trying to meet Ford’s requirements, Congress passed an appropriation bill for a federal building, but the government insisted that it had to be of permanent construction so that it could be converted into a theater after the fair had closed. It was built in two months and was the most outstanding of the prehistoric group. It was copied after the Palace of the Governors in Uxmal, Yucatan, one of the finest of the surviving Mayan structures.
It was through patios and gardens that the exposition was able to add to the Spanish-Moorish heritage left to San Diego by Goodhue. It was a more mature park than the one seen by visitors to the first exposition. The trees and shrubs planted twenty-five years before had filled the canyons, beautified the avenues and plazas and enriched the appearance of the ornate buildings and towers.
Three gardens known throughout the world for their beauty and interest were selected for duplication. The finest of these was in southern Spain, a few hours’ journey from Gibralter in rolling country, in a small town called Ronda. In the old Moorish section, where ancient palaces and houses clung to the sides of hills, was a building known as Casa del Rey Moro, or the House of the Moorish kings, and below it the most exquisite garden Requa had ever seen. It was a comparatively recent addition by a French garden architect.
In renovating the park buildings, one section of the original Foreign Arts Building, which became known as the House of Hospitality, had been removed, and it was here, in a sloping area, that the garden at Ronda was recreated.
Another garden was inspired by a patio in Guadalajara, Mexico. The center of the same building had been cut out, in preparation for other uses, and now a patio was arranged in the usual Spanish manner, with a fountain in the center surrounded by wide paved areas. The corners were left open and filled with palms and shrubs. The patio itself was enclosed by arcaded galleries with iron railing across the arched openings.
The third garden of those found most interesting in the world was in Seville, Spain, adjoining the Alcazar. It was on level ground and was divided into many small plots by massive walls and hedges. The flower beds were outlined with box hedges and at each intersection of the paths there was a low fountain of unusual design. Pavilions, arcades, potted plants and background masses of trees contributed to its charm.
These designs were recreated near the west entrance of the exposition grounds in an area previously known as the Montezuma Garden. Requa wrote:
“Not far distant rose the beautiful California tower, suggesting without too great a stretch of the imagination, the famed Giralda tower of Seville…All the identifying characteristics of a section of the famous Alcazar gardens in Seville are there, the archways, fountains and seats, all faithfully reproduced, even to the design and color of the tile.”
The grand buildings of the original exposition were adapted for exhibits and various other uses. In the central plaza, at the intersection of the main and cross axis of the original exposition plan, a temporary arched structure was erected to house elevated colored lights and loudspeakers. On each side in the center areas of the plaza were two temporary reflecting pools.
New structures which were to remain as community assets were the Old Globe Shakespearean theater, a Spanish Village designed to reflect ordinary Spanish-Colonial life, and a House of Pacific Relations, a series of cottages which primarily housed representatives of Latin American countries.
With the opening day approaching, between 2000 and 3000 persons had taken up residence in San Diego, in connection with the fair, and more than 3000 workmen were putting the finishing touches on buildings and grounds. Sale of concessions and advance tickets helped to keep the work progressing. State and federal relief agencies had made available additional funds and Mexico had contributed an exhibit costing $350,000. In all, twenty-three different countries were represented among the 400 exhibitors.
The day before the opening it was estimated that 60,000 visitors had arrived by train, plane, ship and auto, though, oddly, seven downtown hotels reported they were only ninety percent full.
At 11 o’clock on the morning of May 29, 1935, a color guard of the United States Marines led a parade across Cabrillo Bridge to Plaza del Pacifico, where the national flag was raised to officially open the exposition. At 8 o’clock in the evening, President Roosevelt spoke by telephone and designated two selected orphans, unknown to him, to press the buttons turning on the lights which bathed the grounds in color. In his remarks, heard over the loudspeaker system, Roosevelt said:
“The decision of the people of San Diego thus to dedicate the California Pacific International Exposition is, I believe, worthy of the courage and confidence with which our people now look to the future. No one can deny that we have passed through troubled years. No one can fail to feel the inspiration of your high purpose. I wish you great success.”
It was the lighting effects, installed by an expert from the Hollywood film industry, that at night transformed the park and its buildings into what exposition press agents described as a land of fantasy in the manner of the mystical painter Maxfield Parrish.
The first day’s attendance was 60,000, which, however, was less than expected. The second day it was 56,000. The average for the first five days was about 44,000. Within a few weeks fair directors became aware that much more money had been spent in preparing the exposition than had been planned and operating expenses were running higher than anticipated. In his memoirs, Julius Wangenheim, of the finance committee, traced some of the blame to the inexperience of the young president, Belcher, but most of it to Zack Farmer, the managing director, and his staff:
“It was soon evident that we could not survive the expensive setup, yet, in the face of the dominating personality of Farmer, there was little we could do about it. I was convinced that unless we could get rid of him, we were bound for the rocks.
“An issue was raised, and Farmer, following his own strategy, one day handed us the resignation of the heads of all departments, figuring that we could not get along without all of them at once, and would be forced to come to terms. But it didn’t work that way. Instead, we were able to get rid of Farmer and the whole extravagant organization at once, for we accepted all the resignations. And there was great rejoicing, and without much difficulty we made the necessary adjustments.”
The fair had been planned by professionals; now it was necessary to make it pay. Philip L. Gildred, the financier who had come to San Diego from Peru and erected one of the town’s large buildings, was appointed managing director and two other businessmen, Hal G. Hotchkiss and Douglas Young, were named to serve as a management committee. Wayne Dailard, with a background of theatrical experience and theater operation, was retained as Gildred’s assistant. Advertising was concentrated in California, and particularly in Los Angeles, and in the Southwest region within relatively easy driving distance of San Diego.
The exposition settled into a successful run. The exhibits were supplemented by a large midway, a so-called “nudist” colony and a Western mining town situated in a canyon and named the Gold Gulch. The police, in an unusual burst of activity, harrassed attempts to maintain illegal gambling games in the gulch.
There was Latin music by strolling musicians and Spanish dancing in the gardens, patios and plazas. The West’s best symphony orchestras imported by the Ford company were heard daily through the summer and early Fall. The renovated buildings of the 1915 fair once again were filled with life and excitement.
A trip to see the exposition was an excuse for thousands of persons in the Midwest or East to visit relatives who had left their homes to settle in Southern California. The fame of the area’s climate had been a lure that had never grown dim. The Santa Fe Railroad, which once had promised to make San Diego its principal terminal, and then had moved out and left the city at the end of a branch line, placed advertisements of the exposition all over the country and operated excursion special trains.
In “Fleet Week” in June 114 warships and 400 military planes arrived under command of Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, Commander-in-chief of the United States Fleet. It was described as the mightiest fleet ever assembled under the United States flag. It included forty-eight battleships, cruisers and carriers, with more than 3000 commissioned officers and 55,000 enlisted men. Most of them visited the fair, and in turn, thousands of San Diegans and fair visitors were guests on the various ships.
Two months later 115 warships returning from a summer cruise in Alaskan waters, passed in review between La Jolla and Point Loma, forming a column fifteen miles long. The review was dedicated to the children of the nation and 15,000 school children were assembled on Ballast Point to watch the ships as they steamed into the harbor.
The exposition recreated some of the atmosphere of the boom of the 1920’s. Joseph E. Dryer, who had come to San Diego from Minneapolis to retire, when he was only thirty-eight years of age, but had gone back into business, was walking through the fair grounds. He thought of the attractions that had brought him to San Diego, and which were luring thousands more settlers and tourists, and said to himself, “truly, this is heaven on earth.” With that thought, he organized the Heaven-on-Earth Club which issued promotion literature and distributed “Million Dollar Bonds” and a “Table of Sunshine” around the world.
As a result of the exposition, economic conditions in San Diego were more favorable than they might have been.
However, the end of one of the area’s most important attractions came on July 21, 1935. The new president of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas, issued a decree banning gambling and on Sunday evening all of the games at the Agua Caliente resort came to a halt. The hotel was emptied of its visitors and the horses removed from the race track. A resort estimated then to be worth $10,000,000, and with 1500 employees and 500 stockholders, was taken from the scene with the stroke of a pen.
The early New Deal emergency measures had failed to substantially reduce unemployment nationally, and though business had been stabilized a rising production curve had not kept pace with the increase in population and costs. In the summer of 1935 President Roosevelt inaugurated the Works Progress Administration with its massive construction projects.
The fair’s most important visitor came in the Fall. President Roosevelt arrived by train, stayed at Hotel del Coronado overnight, and the next day, October 2, traveled by auto along a thirty-mile route lined with thousands of spectators. It was the second time he had seen a San Diego exposition. In the stadium he said the exposition was a sign that the economic clouds were leaving the country. Continuing, he remarked:
“Individual effort is the glory of America. The country has a right to look forward to a brighter future, being mindful of the mistakes of the past. As the burden lifts, the federal government can and will divest itself of its emergency responsibility, but at the same time it cannot ignore the imperfections of the former order.”
The report in The San Diego Union said that the President assured the crowd that America’s policy was to keep out of foreign entanglements and remain at peace with the world even though Europe’s clanking swords threatened disaster to civilization:
“We intend to remain at peace with the world…Despite what happens in continents overseas, the United States of America shall and must remain-as long ago the fathers of our country prayed that it might remain-unentangled and free.”
At San Diego he boarded the cruiser Houston to review the fleet at sea and returned to Washington by way of the Panama Canal.
Three weeks later Major Rueben H. Fleet dedicated the new plant of Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Lindbergh Field. The building was 300 by 900 feet. More than 300 selected employees had come with the company. The payroll at the time was 874, and the company expected it to rise to 2000 within six months and 3000 by the next summer. In his dedication address Fleet said that when engines of sufficient power were made available, gigantic flying ships carrying a hundred passengers to Honolulu would cross the Pacific in twelve hours with greater comfort and safety than surface ships. He continued:
“Aviation will become the greatest boon to humanity because it promotes and can guarantee world peace. It looks as though world peace will come only when forced, and that force backs all agreements that stand the test of time…just as the airplane has become man’s greatest means of making neighbors of all nations, will it surely become the instrumentality to guarantee world peace by force until the temperament of mankind changes.”
An eventful year closed with another dedication at the site of the Civic Center. George W. Marston, G. Aubrey Davidson, Julius Wangenheim, and others, had been successful in obtaining federal relief financing for construction of the combined city and county building on the tidelands that had four times failed to win sufficient support from the voters. Through the intervention of Ralph E. Jenney, a San Diegan who was director of the California Relief Commission, about $300,000 in federal funds was made available for an immediate start with an assurance of more to come. San Diegans were certain, however, that somewhere along the bureaucratic line the influence of President Roosevelt had been exerted in their behalf.
In turning over the first spadeful of dirt for the first unit for a grouping of public buildings on the waterfront that had been talked about for thirty years, Marston said:
“Here will rise an impressive group of buildings in fulfillment of our long-time hope of a noble civic center. Here will be the seat of our community government, the physical center of the laws and rights of the people. Therefore, my fellow citizens, let us think of the dignity and surpassing value of this great enterprise.”
It had been five years since the full effects of the depression were first felt. Despite conditions, the population had continued to increase. The city had gained an average of 4000 persons a year, growing from 148,000 in 1930 to an estimated 168,000 in 1935. In the county the population had increased from a little less than 210,000 to about 246,000. Because of the exposition more than $6,000,000 had been expended for WPA projects. The value of building permits almost doubled in 1935 and tourist income rose more than $5,000,000. The value of manufactured products nearly doubled, and the value of agricultural products went up $2,500,000.
Southern California provided a chance for many to start over again, in different pursuits, or to reinvest in an area certain to grow and prosper with time, or to enter new and challenging opportunities appearing with the scientific age. In the border states clouds of dust were beginning to darken the skies and force farmers onto the roads west.
East of San Diego in the Imperial Valley a giant “walking crane” was chewing its way through “America’s Sahara” for the All-American Canal, and to the northwest a tunnel thirteen miles long was being dug under Mount San Jacinto to bring water to the coast–and eventually to save a city which had voted to deny its future.
Return to Books.
THE RISING TIDE
Ch. 1 Envy of Cities
Ch. 2 Charting a Way
Ch. 3 Water is King
Ch. 4 The Flush Years
Ch. 5 The Long Chase
Ch. 6 The Boom Fades
Ch. 7 The Quiet Years
Ch. 8 Creating a Fair
Ch. 9 Making a River
Ch. 10 Changes of War