Panama-California Exposition ~ San Diego ~ 1915-1916

Selecting a Site for the Exposition Buildings


Balboa Park (formerly City Park) was eventually selected as the site for the Exposition.

John C. Olmsted, landscape architect for the Panama-California Exposition, preferred a southwestern site because of its proximity to developed sections of the city, views of the city and harbor from its higher elevations, irregular topography which allowed opportunities for dramatic placement of buildings, and location away from the natural beauty in the interior of the park.

Frank P. Allen, Jr. thought the grading to accommodate roads, terraces and buildings and the two bridges needed to span Cabrillo and Spanish canyons would exceed the meager appropriations available. Against Olmsted’s objections, he advocated shifting the exposition to the Laurel Street entrance on the west side. Collier and Sefton supported Allen. As the Spreckels’ interests wanted to run a tram line through the park, Olmsted was convinced they were the “invisible hand” behind plans to relocate the exposition. Olmsted resigned on September 1, 1911 because he placed a higher value on the park as open rather than civic space.