The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1982, Volume 28, Number 1
Edited by Thomas L. Scharf

By Gregory Montes

Copley Award, San Diego History Center 1981 Institute of History

Images from this article

BETWEEN 1868, the founding year of San Diego’s City Park, now Balboa Park, and 1909, public open space protagonists and antagonists fought frequently over how to use the 1,400 acre tract. But as of 1909 it still was not clear which force would prevail in the long run.

Due to San Diego’s small population (39,000) and economy, caused mainly by its remote location in the southwesternmost United States, City Park represented somewhat of a draw by 1909. On the one hand, the relatively few, albeit vigorous, well-placed park supporters had managed to achieve since 1868 only about 100 acres of spotty, although pleasing landscaping, mainly in the southwest, northwest and southeast corners of City Park and construction of several long, winding boulevards throughout the tract.1 On the other hand, the park poachers had succeeded in permanently gaining only five acres for a non-park use, San Diego (or Russ) High School at the south side of City Park.

Until 1909, public park protectors and town developers had not reached a consensus on how to proceed with City Park. Then came forward an idea which seemed to have something for both sides, more or less. The transformation of that proposal to reality brought divergent San Diegans together on some points and asunder on others. The project led, then and now, to some of the greatest assets and conflicts of Balboa Park and San Diego.

An Optimistic Proposal

On July 9, 1909, at a meeting of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, its President, banker G. Aubrey Davidson, proposed to his fellow directors that San Diego celebrate the official opening of the Panama Canal, scheduled for January 1, 1915, by holding an international exposition in their City Park.2 Davidson noted that a world’s fair could help boost San Diego’s population and economy, both lagging since the Panic of 1893, and also help finance extensive landscaping of City Park, which so far seemed beyond the town’s capacity. The Chamber President declared that after the exposition, most of its buildings could be demolished while the walkways, gardens and surrounding landscaping would remain to adorn the park.3

The Chamber members soon saw Davidson’s point that with the Panama Canal opening, completion of the San Diego and Arizona Railway begun in 1907, and contemplated port development in San Diego’s large natural harbor, their city, the first American port north of Panama, could become a commercial hub for shipping goods to and from much of the United States’ developing Southwest.4 The businessmen realized that if you have a good product, service or situation, you can gain the best profit from it only with good advertising. An exposition could provide that advertisement and also bring more settlers to San Diego and the area to be served by its port — Southern California and the Southwest.

Some Chamber members asked how a city of 39,000 people could pull off a successful international fair. Canadian-born Davidson acknowledged the difficulty but pointed to San Diego’s outstanding climate and scenery and again to the impending developments of canal, railway and harbor.5

Through July and August, 1909, the Chamber of Commerce coalesced around Davidson’s proposal and gained more adherents throughout San Diego’s business community. On September 4, 1909, twenty-one men, all prominent members of San Diego’s Establishment, signed and filed Articles of Incorporation to establish the “Panama-California Exposition Company,” with the purpose of operating a world’s fair in 1915.6 Five days later the company’s Board of Directors was elected.7 The Board Chairman was Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., owner of San Diego’s Hotel Grant and son of the eighteenth President of the United States. The four Vice-Presidents of the board included G. Aubrey Davidson and John D. Spreckels, then San Diego’s wealthiest, most powerful individual.8 The Exposition Directors chose for Director-General of the fair, Colonel D.C. (Charlie) Collier, Davidson’s close ally in the Chamber of Commerce, a successful realtor and always energetic ‘Booster’ of the San Diego economy.9

David and Goliath

The Panama-California directors and staff were not sure how much their 1915 hoopla would cost but they figured that $1 million would make a good start. As one of the directors, banker Julius Wangenheim, later said, $1 million was, “the largest amount that our minds could grasp at that time and one that was almost synonymous with infinity.”10 Thus on November 24, 1909, the Exposition issued $1 million in stock to pay for construction of the fair.11 The stock campaign took off quickly at first and $300,000 were raised in subscription pledges in the first two weeks.12 One writer observed: “The exposition idea was like fire in wild grass, it took the whole city by storm and devoured every particle and vestige of local jealousy, envy and opposition in the community.13 But like most California brush-fires, San Diego’s soon encountered an obstacle and had to alter its course.

As early as January, 1904, San Francisco business leaders had considered holding a “World’s Exposition” in 1915 to celebrate the projected Panama Canal inauguration.14 The idea receded after the disastrous San Francisco earthquake of April, 1906. But in late 1909, when word spread about San Diego’s exposition plans, San Francisco realized that it had better move quickly or else lose the West Coast glory and profits attending the canal opening, to a town not quite one-tenth its size. On December 7, San Francisco’s business and civic leaders met and resolved to hold the “Panama Pacific International Exposition” at their city in 1915.15

Facing a formidable challenge from the Bay Area, little San Diego modified its exposition strategy in two ways. First was to aim for a smaller, regional, Pacific Southwest exhibition which would complement rather than compete with the mammoth, international exposition envisaged by San Francisco.16 Secondly San Diego forged ahead with the Panama California preparation, stronger and more united than ever.17

On March 15, 1910, less than four months after the campaign began, stock subscription pledges for San Diego’s exposition reached the goal of $1 million.18 In late February, John D. Spreckels gave the campaign its biggest single boost with a pledge to purchase $100,000 of stock.19 On August 9, 1910, San Diego voters approved by a 7 to 1 landslide, issuance of $1 million in municipal bonds for Balboa Park landscaping outside the exposition grounds.20

In 1909-10, San Diegans raised, through bond issues and stock subscriptions, almost $5 million, or “$50 for every man, woman and child,” to fund the Panama-California Exposition and indirectly related improvements such as 450 miles of County roads, new City water and sewer systems and even a $700,000 bailout to help strapped U.S. Grant, Jr., Exposition President, to finish his $1.5 million downtown hotel.21 In 1912, San Diego began to build several public docks along the waterfront which were to cost $6 million.22 Seeking Congressional assistance for the exposition in May, 1911, Colonel Collier said that these bond issues and subscription campaigns showed how much San Diego was willing to help herself. In Collier’s humble opinion, San Diego was, “the pluckiest, nerviest and gamest city in the United States of America and probably the world.”23

Why Not the Best?

On May 25, 1910, the Exposition directorate voted provisionally to build the fair at the southwest corner of City Park .24 The board President appointed a seven-man Buildings and Grounds Committee to work out details of planning and building the exposition .25 The committee’s first chairman was George W. Marston, department store owner, generous philanthropist, City Park benefactor and city planning advocate.

The plain name, “City Park,” was replaced by “Balboa Park” on October 27, 1910.26 The renaming, after Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa who crossed Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean on September 29, 1513, gave the park closer association with the projected Panama-California Exposition.

The Buildings and Grounds Committee searched in September and early October, 1910 for nationally known people to design and construct the Panama-California Exposition.27 In early twentieth century San Diego, the search for “the best talent that money could possibly hire,” as Colonel Collier put it, was not just to obtain high quality results but also to better advertise and attract people to the event at hand.28

The committee’s first choice for exposition designer was Daniel Burnham, famous architect and planner of the pinnacle of American expositions up to that time — the huge, Neo-Classical “World’s Columbian Exposition” of 1893 at Chicago.29 But Burnham, a co-founder of the national “City Beautiful Movement,” of which parks and expositions were an important part, was too busy to take the San Diego job.

The Buildings and Grounds Committee moved on to its second choice and hired, at a flat fee of $15,000, Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, then the most prominent American firm specializing in landscape architecture.30 Olmsted Brothers was to design the general layout and landscaping plan of the Panama-California Exposition. The principals of Olmsted Brothers, John C. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., were the sons of Frederick L. Olmsted, Sr., co-designer, with Calvert Vaux, of New York’s Central Park in 1858, and most revered of all American landscape architects to the present day.31 The older Olmsted brother, John, took charge of the Panama-California project, arrived in San Diego in December, 1910 and remained there during much of the time through May, 1911.

The hiring of Olmsted Brothers led to the hiring of one and perhaps two other major figures in San Diego’s 1915 Exposition. Earlier in 1910, John Olmsted did the landscaping plan for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition in Seattle.32 The Director of Works for the event was a thirty-four year old engineer from Michigan, Frank P. Allen, Jr. who was known for having the Seattle fair completely built and ready for opening day.33 Either Olmsted, Col. Collier’ or one of the committee members familiar with Alaska-Yukon, suggested they contact Allen. Drawing fully on his Seattle reputation, Allen demanded the then unusually high salary of $20,000 per year.34 Knowing that their small town needed a good expediter to have Panama-California ready by 1915, the Building Committee hired Allen as Director of Works on January 5, 1911.35

The certain Olmsted contact for San Diego’s exposition was in regard to its architecture. By early 1910, the Panama-California directors had decided that “Spanish Mission” architecture should be the theme style of their undertaking as it would relate to the most romantic part of San Diego’s heritage and would help set them apart from that villain to the north, San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific Exposition, slated to have the grand, “Beaux Arts,” symmetrical layout and much of the Neo-Roman decoration associated with most American and European fairs of 1850-1910.36 The younger Olmsted brother, Frederick Law, Jr., was a good friend of and sometime co-worker with Bertram G. Goodhue, a New York City architect and one of America’s leading practitioners of the Baroque, “Churrigueresque,” “Spanish Colonial” style, antecedent to and much more florid than frontier “Spanish Mission.”37 In mid-December, 1910, Frederick Olmsted asked Goodhue if he would be interested in the San Diego job.38 Goodhue, a longtime sketcher of fantasy “dream cities” in various historicist styles, was elated at the thought of designing a Spanish style exposition in the evocative, Mediterranean setting of Southern California.

The only hitch was that in San Diego the Buildings and Grounds Committee wanted their Chief Architect to be a local designer, Irving Gill, practitioner of an austere, effective brand of Mission Style.39 Hearing about this development, and without knowing of Gill or his work, Goodhue wrote in a fit to Frederick Olmsted:

I suppose it means that they have got some incapable local talent for the job, which was, I suppose, no more than could be expected, since human nature in California is very much like human nature every where, only perhaps more so. I am sorry too for the San Diegans because I consider myself quite a shark on the sort of stuff (Spanish Colonial style) they ought to have and am pretty familiar with California conditions.40

Goodhue was also a “shark” on getting something when he wanted it badly. The New Yorker contacted two Los Angeles architects, practicing the Spanish Colonial style, who reached George Marston and lauded Goodhue.41 Marston’s Building Committee perused Sylvester Baxter’s ten volume work, Spanish Colonial Architecture of Mexico, with plans by Bertram Goodhue. They were steadily swayed to Goodhue and finally hired him on January 30, 1911 as “Advisory and Consulting Architect” for the Panama-California Exposition.42

Goodhue was to prepare “general designs” for the fair’s ground plan (in cooperation with Olmsted) and all of the architecture and detailed designs for several key permanent buildings.43 The detailed drawings for all other structures were to be done by Irving Gill and submitted to Goodhue for approval.44 All working drawings not undertaken by Goodhue or Gill were to be done by Frank P. Allen’s Division of Works.45 Gill soon quit the job, apparently in early Fall, 1911 because he discovered “certain graft in buying supplies for the buildings” — that is in Allen’s Division of Works.46

The Olmsted Plan

In January, 1911, just before Goodhue was hired, John Olmsted completed the first general plan proposal for the Panama-California Exposition.47 The thirty-seven acre fair was to be located on the hill north of San Diego High School which has now become a concrete canyon due to Highway 5, built there in the early 1960s. A 250 foot wide formal avenue, the “Plaza Larga” (Long Plaza), extending for almost a quarter mile, was to have been flanked by twenty-five foot wide, arcaded sidewalks and behind them, as this was still pre-Goodhue, several “Spanish Mission” style exhibition buildings.48 The Plaza Larga ended in a three-acre square, the “Plaza de Musical” also arcaded and surrounded by several major buildings in the Mexican colonial and Spanish style of a “Plaza Mayor” (Main Plaza). North and east of the formal Plaza de Musical the Olmsted plan adapted to a small canyon with informal, curving, “Picturesque” paths leading to foreign government buildings and a terraced, formal Hispano-Moorish garden with cascades and fountains, modelled somewhat on the Alhambra’s Generalife Garden at Granada.49 The extensive waterworks were to be fed by a fifty million gallon reservoir at the top of the hill near the present Naval Hospital parking lot.

Olmsted and Goodhue prepared, between February and mid-May, 1911, several plans which modified the Olmsted Plan of January. The modifications mainly involved changes in some proposed building locations and garden layouts to reduce costs, improve scenic views and monumentality at several points, deal with changing commitments of potential exhibitors and probably to take into account the switch in proposed architecture from Spanish Mission to Goodhue’s Spanish Colonial.50


Apparently soon after Goodhue was hired, Director of Works Allen and Acting Director Joseph Sefton (filling in for Collier away on promotional travels for several months) began to try and convince their Consulting Architect that the Panama-California Exposition would have more exhibitors than first thought. Thus, in their view, the fair must be built on the spacious central mesa (sometimes called “Vizcaino Mesa”) of Balboa Park rather than the more constricted, canyon-cut south site proposed by Olmsted. Goodhue was not fully persuaded about the space problem, but he liked the central site for its higher, more imposing approach.51 Olmsted was unalterably opposed to building in the middle of the park because it would eliminate all chance of creating a sylvan, semi-rural respite from the city, which, as his father’s work consistently taught, was the main function of a large urban park.52

Although Sefton and Collier talked about the need for more exhibition room they seem to have had more pressing reasons for wanting the site change. They wanted to run a street car line south-north through the middle of Balboa Park, near the present route of Park Boulevard, to connect downtown San Diego more directly with the newly developing suburbs of Heights and East San Diego (now called North Park), to the north and east. They knew that if the exposition was located in the heart of the park a car line would be essential to bring there the bulk of tourists from downtown the railway station and port. Once having gotten the tram line halfway through the park for a good civic purpose, the Park Board and public would be more amenable to letting it continue on to the north edge of the park and the large potential suburbs beyond.

While real estate investors Sefton and Collier could benefit from the Balboa Park street car line, the one who stood to gain the most and may have first advocated it, the central site and even the original exposition idea, from behind the scenes, was John D. Spreckels, multimillionaire town builder. Spreckels owned the San Diego Electric Railway Company. Since 1892 he had a line which went from downtown on Fifth Street (now Avenue), near the west border of Balboa Park, and after transfer to the “University Avenue shuttle,” over to University Heights and Mission Cliffs Gardens which he improved as a park to attract excursionists on his street cars.53 That roundabout route was fine for Sunday outings, but Spreckels and colleagues realized that they needed a more direct, quick, daily commuter line through the park, where there would be fewer stops, to achieve the full residential value of the land beyond.54 The goal of a Spreckels line through Balboa Park seemed all the more attractive in Spring, 1911 because G.W. Purcell, then building a car line through the park’s southeast corner in Switzer Canyon, had financial problems and his rail franchise was temporarily revoked by the Park Board.55

The time was ripe and Spreckels apparently began to apply pressure. By early June, 1911, the Panama-California Exposition Company was “practically bankrupt” and $12,000 in debt because, as John Olmsted wrote to Goodhue: “Those who favor an electric railway up through the middle of the park and an exposition site in connection with that up on the central mesa don’t want to pay up (on their stock subscription pledges) until that site has been agreed upon.”56 Of course the largest single subscriber was John D. Spreckels.

Away from San Diego, Col. Collier made his contribution to the street car and real estate cause by announcing in late June that he had obtained “promises” from at least four South American governments and “most” of the southern states of the United States to construct exhibition buildings for San Diego’s 1915 celebration.57 As Collier told it, the central mesa would provide the only adequate site in canyon-riddled Balboa Park for an exposition with these additions In the end, no foreign governments and no southern states exhibited at the 1915 Exposition.

When Collier visited Olmsted in the East in July, 1911 and tried to convert him to the central location, Olmsted noted that the exposition at the south site could be enlarged along Midland Drive (now Park Boulevard) to take in more buildings. After arguing some more and getting caught up further on Olmsted’s logic, an exasperated Collier ended the discussion by averring that a majority of the Exposition’s Building Committee favored the central site and they would decide the question.58 The final decision of the full Exposition Board on the fair site was postponed until late August, 1911 when Colonel Collier was due to return from the East.59

In late May, 1911 Goodhue produced blueprints of the latest version of the Olmsted Plan (Plan #3) on the south site, his reworking of the Olmsted Plan (Plan E) and what Goodhue at first called, “Allen’s scheme” (Plan F) for an exposition on the central mesa site.60 In mid-June Olmsted wrote to Goodhue his reactions to Plan E but withheld comment on Plan F for the central placement as he hoped it would ultimately be rejected due to its “excessive injury to the landscape value of the park.”61 Several days earlier, Olmsted was a bit blunter in writing George Marston about all the railing for the central site. He said: “I do wish you could devise some way of making Allen and Goodhue shut up.”62 Diplomatic Marston was not in the custom of making anyone ‘shut up,’ but he did speak to Allen and thought he obtained the designer’s commitment to stop pressing for the choice of Vizcaino Mesa.63 Whatever pledge was made, Allen and Goodhue continued to make plans for the center of the park.64

Labor Pains

While the elite of San Diego made their move on Balboa Park for real estate reasons, organized labor and local professionals maneuvered for their part of the action — namely a greater role in design and construction of the Panama-California Exposition.

In late Spring, 1911, San Diego labor unions, contractors and architects began to complain loudly to city officials that the exposition’s Division of Works, and Frank P. Allen in particular, were using non-union labor, not awarding enough construction contracts locally and employing too few local draftsmen.65 The San Diego County Building Trades Council protested that Allen was a “fancy priced architect” with an “exorbitant” salary and if the letting of contracts for exposition buildings was left to him, “the contractors of our city and the laboring men as well, will not be employed.”66 The trade unions informed Mayor James Wadham, whom they had helped elect, that for his political health, the City and its Park Board had best abrogate the contract of January 11, 1911 which handed over to the Exposition Company control of the design and construction of everything within the exposition grounds.67

On the other hand, the Panama-California Directors, which included John D. Spreckels and all the main bankers in town, wanted to retain full control over the exposition to assure its success and the success of their plans for developing San Diego. The rich men decided to call the bluff of the working men. On June 17, 1911, the Exposition’s entire Board of Directors submitted their resignations, to be rescinded only if the Park Board would formally agree to cease arguing for full control of the exposition work.68

Caught between San Diego’s two strongest forces, Mayor Wadham was apparently driven to distraction. On June 17, it was reported that: “The Mayor for several days has been in San Francisco, and although wired for, does not return. Rumor has it that he is on one of his occasional drunks and therefore does not pay any attention to the many telegrams sent him.”69 The Park Board President, Clark Braly, did not want to sign a new contract without word from “his boss,” the Mayor.

Apparently Braly finally managed to get some utterance out of Wadham because on June 20 and 21, the Park Board and Exposition Board signed a new contract which was partly a compromise, although mostly in the Exposition’s favor. The contract stipulated that the Exposition’s Division of Works would: design all structures built anywhere in Balboa Park between that date and the end of 1915, build all structures unless the Park Board received a lower bid from an outside contractor and would maintain the structures at the Park Board’s expense.70

This would have seemed to settle the matter. But realizing that it had the upper hand and considering the new contract’s clause that it should control design of structures throughout Balboa Park, the Exposition then demanded full authority over expenditure of the $1 million bond issue passed in August, 1910 to pay for park improvements outside the exposition grounds.71 This was too much for Wadham’s Park Board. All three members resigned on June 24, 1911.72 In his misery, Wadham gave in and appointed a new Park Commission in which all three members — Julius Wangenheim, John Forward, Jr. and F.J. Belcher, Jr. were Directors of the Panama-California Exposition.73

Grounds for Fun

With the divisive labor dispute just behind and the crucial question of site still not decided, the Exposition Board and people of San Diego needed to unwind some. Although the Exposition was in debt, its never-ending faith in the value of advertising led it to schedule an elaborate exposition groundbreaking ceremony and associated activities on July 19-22, 1911, which ended up costing $25,800.74 San Diego’s Mayor Pro-Tempore Percival Wood, acting in Wadham’s frequent absence, declared July 21 a city holiday in which people should “set aside their business cares.”75

The four days of ground-breaking events were meant to give a “fore-taste” of the 1915 Exposition’s projected Anglo-Saxon interpretation of Spanish California.76 Advance billing for the frolic said: “Once more across the stage will march padres and peons, senoritas and cavaliers, and all the sunny life of centuries ago.77

The festivities began at 10:00 a.m. on July 19 with a “pontifical military mass” at an outdoor altar in Balboa Park, celebrated by Father Benedict, Provincial of the Franciscan Order, and attended by about 25,000 persons.78 In the afternoon a three hour military parade culminated at 3:00 p.m. in the Park, immediately north of San Diego High School, at Olmsted’s site for the exposition.79 Joseph W. Sefton, Jr., the Exposition’s Acting Director-General, loosened some earth with a silver spade and handed the shovel to the Honorable John Barrett, Director-General of the Pan-American Union in Washington, D.C. (predecessor of the Organization of American States) and President William Howard Taft’s official representative at the ceremony.80 Mr. Barrett then turned the first spadeful of earth for the Panama-California Exposition. Old Glory unfurled and the national anthem was played. Then the Presidential flag was let loose at the electronic command of a button pushed at that moment by President Taft in Washington.81 Button hook-ups were a favorite device in the pre-jet Age for ceremonies needing Presidential involvement.

Mr. Barrett read a letter from President Taft wishing the exposition all success, especially in fostering stronger ties with Latin America, In an interesting postscript to the letter, Taft noted that he had been to San Diego twice, that his parents and sister lived there for some years, his father died there and in closing, about San Diego: “I appreciate the singular beauty of its situation and the wonderful character of its climate. And all these circumstances give me a personal interest in promoting its welfare and in helping to assure the success of an enterprise like this.”82

In contrast to these genial remarks, Colonel Collier accused President Taft in February, 1912 of having sought San Francisco’s Congressional aid in his 1912 re-election bid by orchestrating Senate defeat of a bill for Federal recognition of San Diego’s fair.83 The charge was never proven and if true, Taft got a bad deal because California forsook him and he lost the election.

At sunset of July 19, some facsimile of a Spanish caravel crossed from North Island to Broadway Pier, with “King Cabrillo” (a local portraying explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo) standing at the prow.84 The King was borne in a sedan chair, by down-trodden “Indians,” up Broadway to the County courthouse to crown “Queen Ramona,” waiting on a throne. The royal couple, dressed in frilled, California Edwardian interpretations of Spanish Renaissance clothing, and trailed by 10,000 raucous revelers, proceeded up Broadway to “the Isthmus,” a streetful of thirty carnival entertainments beginning at Broadway and Union.85 A longer, more substantial Isthmus of games and shows, an allusion to Panama, was later built at the exposition.

The second day of the ground-breaking fiesta featured a floral parade in the morning and an “Historical Pageant” parade in the afternoon with floats depicting ten “episodes” in Latin America and San Diego history.86 Several floats represented the explorations of Balboa and Cabrillo and the evangelization of Father Junipero Serra but others portrayed the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and then the American defeat of the “Californios.”

Thus in 1915 the San Diego Union said that the exposition expressed an “idea” about the confrontation of “Saxon” and “Latin” people in which:

… the weaker was absorbed by the stronger; but with the passing of the weaker they left a legacy of their art and culture, which the survivor has g ladly possessed to beautify and decorate his own. We have received this tradition gladly; we have made of this romance the background of our own history … in the fair port of San Diego and on this golden coast of California.88

The third day of ground-breaking, July 21, saw a “fine industrial parade.”89 On the fourth and last day there was a “Pageant of the Missions” with twenty-one floats representing each of the California missions.90 The floats were accompanied by almost 1,000 people dressed in the costumes of Indians, Spanish soldiers and Franciscan friars.91 The four-day “fiesta of mirth and music” revived the old Spanish spirit of care-free and pleasure loving California…92

Final Decisions

Colonel Collier returned to San Diego on August 29, 1911 and on August 31, a majority of the Exposition’s Buildings and Grounds Committee and all three members of the City’s pro-Exposition Park Board voted to definitely move the fair site from thirty-seven acres at the south side of Balboa Park to 167 acres on Vizcaino Mesa at the very center of the park.93 On the Exposition’s Building Committee only George Marston, Thomas O’Halloran and judge M.A. Luce voted unequivocally to retain the southern site.94 Receiving this news by telegram, Olmsted Brothers on September 2, 1911 wired back their resignation as landscape architects for the exposition and Balboa Park, stating that, “our professional responsibility as park designers will not permit us to assist in ruining Balboa Park.95 A regretful Wangenheim, a sorrowful Marston, a slightly panicked Goodhue and even a surprisingly contrite Frank P. Allen implored Olmsted Brothers to reconsider, to stay on the job and use their landscaping abilities to minimize undesirable impacts on the park from the centrally located exposition.96 But Olmsted Brothers replied that their decision was final and that they could not be a party to a deep, massive, permanent encroachment on Balboa Park’s existing and potential natural landscape.97

With Olmsted gone, Bertram Goodhue and Frank P. Allen pressed forward feverishly and by late September presented a new exposition ground plan for the central site.98 That plan, although modified several times thereafter, provided the basis for what was built in 1912-14, along the basic axes of Prado, Isthmus and Via de los Estados. The plan was approved on October 27, 1911 by the Exposition Board of Directors and the City Park Commission.99 Only nine days later, on November 6, grading began for the first exposition structure, the permanent, two-story Administration Building next to the main, western gateway of the fair.100

In late November, 1911 the Exposition leadership changed some, even more in favor of the fair over its host, Balboa Park. Colonel Collier resigned as Director-General to be elected President of the Exposition Board (reelected in 1913, he remained in that post until March, 1914); Joseph Sefton, Jr. went from Acting Director to Director-General and Russell C. Allen replaced George W. Marston who resigned as Chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee.101 With these changes, Frank P. Allen, Jr. had free rein to develop the central mesa site as fully and quickly as possible.102

George Marston said in San Diego that he resigned for business, health and “other personal” reasons.103 In a confidential letter to John Olmsted Marston wrote that his main personal cause was the Olmsted Brothers resignation in September and “the changes contemplated by Allen and adopted by the exposition.”104 In closing, Marston said, “…it will be a life-long regret to me that San Diego lost the services of you and your firm.”105


San Diego’s decision in 1909 to hold the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 helped spur the local economy and real estate market which in turn placed greater development pressure on Balboa Park. George Marston and like-minded people had long fended off attempts to encroach on the park with non-recreational uses. But once the local economy reached a certain threshhold, it was almost inevitable that a semi-frontier town such as San Diego could not keep intact and unfettered a 1400 acre park. The Panama-California Exposition was used as a stepping stone in developing new suburbs north and east of Balboa Park. In 1914, John D. Spreckels obtained his street car line from downtown to the exposition and in 1917 he extended it to the north side of Balboa Park and the suburbs.106

The exposition built on Vizcaino Mesa left one of the more evocative, complete assemblages of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the United States. A discussion of the design, construction, landscaping and historical antecedents of that ornate fantasy of a Spanish “dream city” is immediately beyond the scope of this article. And further on is the story of how the location of those charming buildings in the heart of Balboa Park led to a freer, quicker depredation of the park — on a scale probably never imagined even by John Olmsted. The culmination of what began in 1909 is the Balboa Naval Hospital — the world’s largest military hospital, taking up seventy-nine acres of the park. One would think that San Diego’s growing, increasingly concentrated population, facing serious inflation and higher gas prices, would clamor overwhelmingly to protect what remains of Balboa Park. But that has not yet happened. Some still threaten or worry, as did their predecessors in 1911, that if they cannot build something large and expensive exactly where they want it, they will not or cannot build it at all. Perhaps San Diego has been blessed with too many other assets of bay, beaches, ocean and viewpoints to need that urban respite and pressure release that John Olmsted wanted to create in Balboa Park.



For assistance I have received in using research facilities, I would like to thank Sylvia Arden, Librarian, and her staff at the San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection; and staff at the California Room, San Diego City Public Library; at the San Diego City Clerk’s Office and in the Manuscript and Photographs divisions, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

This article is dedicated to my dear friends and teachers, Margaret Lappe Wheeler, Augusta Irving de Ramirez and Cathy Connell.




1. Gregory Montes, “San Diego’s City Park, 1868-1902: An Early Debate on Environment and Profit,” The Journal of San Diego History, XXIII (Spring, 1977), pp. 48, 54. Gregory Montes, “San Diego’s City Park, 1902-1910, From Parsons to Balboa,” The Journal of San Diego History, XXV (Winter, 1979), pp. 9-14. Elizabeth C. MacPhail, Kate Sessions, Pioneer Horticulturist (San Diego: San Diego History Center, 1976), p. 71.

2. G. Aubrey Davidson, “History of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915…,” in History of San Diego County by Carl Heilbron, ed. (San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936), pp. 401-02.

3. Panama-California Exposition News, Dec. 1911, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 13. Item 2 (Hereinafter: I2)-Folder 5 (F5)-Box 1 (B1), 1915 Exposition Box File (15 Expo BF), San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection (SDHC).

4. D.C. Collier, ‘What An Exposition is For,” Sunset Magazine, July, 1913, Vol. 31, No. 1, p. 145.

5. Panama-California Exposition Company (PCE), “Panama-California International Exposition, San Diego, 1915,” (San Diego: PCE, n.d., ca. 1911), 1 sheet foldout, text on side 1.

6. PCE, “Articles of Incorporation,” San Diego, 9-4-09 (11-1710-131, 15 Expo BF, SDHC), pp. 1, 4, 6 (unnumb.).

7. San Diego Union (SDU), 9-11-09, (page) 1: (column) 3; 9-27-09, 3:7.

8. SDU, 9-11-09, 5:1.

9. Heilbron, p. 171. D.C. (David Charles) Collier, Jr. was born in Central City, Colorado in 1871, moved to San Diego in 1884, was admitted to the California Bar in 1891 and formed the D.C. Collier Realty Company in 1908. Collier earned the honorary title of ‘Colonel’ in 1908-09 when he served on the staff of California Governor James M. Gillett. Collier was called by some, the “driving force” and “creative genius” of the Panama-California Exposition in 1909-14. (Heilbron, pp. 171-4. SDU, 4-29-84, 3:1; 8-20-91, 5:1). G.A. Davidson himself said that Collier was “correctly referred” to as the 11 creative genius” of the fair (Heilbron, p. 404).

10. Julius Wangenheim, “Autobiography,” California Historical Society Quarterly, XXXVI (March, 1957), p. 66.

11. SDU, 11-18-09, 9:1; 11-24-09, 5:3.

12. SDU, 12-04-09, 4:1.

13. West Coast Magazine, June, 1913, p. 9.

14. Frank Morton Todd, The Story of the Exposition, Being the Official History of the International Celebration Held at San Francisco in 1915… (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1921), Vol. 1, pp. 35-7.

15. SDU, 12-08-11, 1:2.

16. “San Diego’s Unique Exposition,” San Diego News, Panama-California Exposition Prosperity Edition, May, 1910, p. 1. (II-F5-Bl, 15 Expo BF, SDHC).

17. SDU, 12-09-09, 5:1,2; 12-15-09, 1:1, 1-15-10, 5:1.

18. SDU, 12-16-10, 1:1; 3-20-10, 9:1-4.

19. SDU, 2-25-10, 1:2. PCE, “Subscription Campaign Committee” (Subscriber’s List), (San Diego: n.d., 19107), p. 57. 15 Expo BF, SDHC). As of the unknown date of this list, Mr. Spreckels had paid $50,050 of the $100,050 in stocks he had subscribed to buy.

20. SDU, 8-10-10, 1:1-2. The City Council had voted in mid-April, 1910, at the request of the Exposition, to hold the bond issue election in August (SDU, 4-12-10, 8:1; 3-30-10).

21. Committee on Industrial Arts and Expositions, U.S. House of Representatives, “Panama-California Exposition, Hearing … On House Joint Resolution No. 99,” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911), pp. 5, 7. Sunset Magazine, April, 1911, p. 406.

22. West Coast Magazine, June, 1913, p. 9.

23. Committee on … Expositions (U.S. House of Representatives), p. 5.

24. SDU, 6-19-10, 25:2,3.

25. SDU, 8-25-10, 10:2-4. Besides Marston, the first committee members were A.G. Spalding (a highway commissioner), Leroy A. Wright (city park commissioner), Russell C. Allen (fruit grower), Howard M. Kutchin (“capitalist”).

26. SDU, 10-28-10, 12:1; 5-27-16, 36.

27. George White Marston (GWM) to John Nolen, 9-22-10 (this is date of letter unless noted otherwise, such as for a telegram), p. 1 of 2; I1F4-B6, George Marston Collection (GMC), SDHC. Marston wrote Nolen, the author of San Diego’s first comprehensive plan, of 1907, that the Buildings and Grounds Committee had sent letters, requesting proposals for designing the exposition plan, to Daniel Burnham (in Chicago), Olmsted Brothers (Brookline, Mass.), Warren H. Manning (New York) and John Galen Howard, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley.

28. Committee . . . on Expositions (U.S.House of Representatives), May, 1911, p. 5.

29. GWM to John Nolen, 9-22-10, p. 1 of 2; II-F4-B6, GMC, SDHC.

30. John C. Olmsted (JCO) wrote to Marston on October 1, 1910 that his firm could do the park and exposition design work for an overall cost of $15,000 plus costs for travel and salaries of an on-site “designing draughtsman,” an on-site “designing and supervising plantsman” and an office draughtsman. (JCO to GWM, 1-01-10, p. 1 of 3, Job File 4051, Boxes 281 and 282. (Hereinafter: JF4051), “San Diego Exposition,” The Records of the Olmsted Associates (OA); Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress (MDLC). Marston wired Olmsted on October 15, 1910 that the Buildings and Grounds Committee accepted his work bid (GWM to JCO, 10-15-10, telegram (tgm.), 1 p; JF4051, OA, MDLC).

31. Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934), Vol. 14, pp. 24-30.

32. “Alaska Yukon Exposition,” JF 2739, Box 132, OA, MDLC.

33. PCE, “Panama-California International Exposition . . . ” foldout, side 1. Eugen Neuhaus, The San Diego Garden Fair; … (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Company, 1916), p. 79.

34. Richard Amero, “The Making of the Panama-California Exposition, 1909-1915” (San Diego: unpublished paper, 1979), p. 9.

35. SDU, 1-6-11, 1:1, 5:4.

36. Mary G. Marston, George White Marston – A Family Chronicle (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1956), vol. II, p. 34.

37. Among the jobs on which Goodhue (or Goodhue Associates) worked as architect and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. as landscape architect were: the Fine Arts Commission for redesign of the Capitol Mall, Washington, D.C. (Boxes 148-9, JF 2845), Connecticut Women’s College (B310, JF 5726), the Mountain Lake Corporation (B 328-30, JF 6081) and the New York State Building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1913-14 (B 296, JF 5380, OA, MDLC).

38. Frederick went to New York City to ask Goodhue and the latter recounted the visit in the following letter: Bertram G. Goodhue (BGG) to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (FLO), 1-19-10, pp. 1 of 2; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

39. The Building Committee had passed a resolution to negotiate with Gill to take on the exposition project. And John Olmsted’s view was that: “As they seemed so set on having him (Gill) and as his late work pleased me pretty well and his spirit still more, I assented.” (JCO to FLO, 1-04-11, p. 3; JF 4051, OA, MDLC).

40. BGG to FLO, 12-28-10, 1 p.; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

41. Esther McCoy, Five California Architects (New York: Praeger, Inc., 1975), pp. 87-8. Goodhue wrote Elmer Gray on December 28, 1910. On January 3, 1911, Gray received Goodhue’s letter, immediately called Myron Hunt who called Marston the next day. from the sale of the $1 million bond issue approved in August, 1910.

42. JCO to FLO, 1-04-11, pp. 3-4; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

43. Panama-California Exposition (PCE), “Memorandum of Agreement between Bertram G. Goodhue and the PCE,” 1-30-11, p. 1-2; Folder 1, “Architecture,” Box 3, PCE, Papers, Ledgers & Accounts (PLA), Special Collections, San Diego Public Library.

44. ibid, p. 2. JCO to C. Howard Walker (architect, Boston, Mass.), 2-02-11, 1 p.; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

45. PCE, “Memorandum p. 2.

46. McCoy, p. 89.

47. See date on plan signed by “HHB,” Harold H. Blossom, Olmsted’s drafting assistant in San Diego.

48. Olmsted Brothers (OB), “Panama-California Exposition, Description of Preliminary Plan,” typescript, p. 2, 11-26-10 (printed in SDU, 1-0211); JF 4051-3, OA, MDLC.

49. lbid, pp. 2-3.

50. BGG to JCO, 3-20-11, pp. 1-4; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. JCO to BGG, 5-17-11, pp. 1-4; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

51. BGG to JCO, 5-25-11, p. 1 of 3; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

52. JCO to GWM, 6-30-11, p. 2 of 6; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

53. James Mills, “San Diego…, Where California Began…, San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, VI (January 1960), p. 28.

54. Richard V. Dodge, Rails of the Silver Gate, The Spreckels San Diego Empire (San Marino, Ca.: Pacific Railway Journal, 1960), p. 65.

55. SDU, 4-28-11, 8:1. The half-built rail line left deep, permanent scars of cut and fill in Balboa Park.

56. JCO to BGG, 6-02-11, p. 1 of 4; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

57. Frank P. Allen, Jr. (FPA) to JCO, 6-26-11, p. 1 of 2; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

58. JCO to GWM, 7-07-11, pp. 3-6 of 13; I12-F4-B6, GMC, SDHC. This letter was Olmsted’s report to Marston on a meeting he had on July 5, 1911 with Col. Collier who came to see him at his office in Brookline, Mass.

59. GWM to JCO, 7-08-11, tgm, I p; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. Marston, vol. II, p. 37.

60. BGG to JCO, 5-25-11, p. 1 of 3; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC. BGG to JCO, 5-26-11, 7 pp. + attached cost estimate; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

61. JCO to BGG, 6-13-11, p. I of JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

62. JCO to GWM, 6-03-11, p. 4 of 6; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

63. GWM to JCO, 6-14-11, p. 1 of 2; I6-F4-B6, GMC, SDHC.

64. BGG to JCO, 6-30-11, p. 1 of 2; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

65. JCO to BGG, 6-2-11, pp. 1-3 of 4; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC.

66. W.H. Carson, Secty., San Diego County Building Trades Council, to Mayor of San Diego, 5-27-11, p. I of 2; Correspondence, 1911, Board of Park Commissioners; PCE, PLA, Special Collections, San Diego Public Library.

67. JCO to BGG, 6-02-11, p. 2 of 4; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

68. SDU, 6-18-11, 5:1-3. Marston, Vol. 11, p. 35.

69. Harold Hill Blossom to James F. Dawson, 6-17-11, pp. 1-2 of 3; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. Blossom was Olmsted’s supervising “plantsman” in San Diego and Dawson was a junior partner of Olmsted Brothers, who during this time was mainly in Seattle, finishing up the Olmsted work on the Alaska-Yukon Exposition.

70. SDU, 6-20-11, 1:1; 6-21-11, 5:3-4; 6-22-11, 5:1. Also the new contract provided that the Park Board did not have to pay any bills owed to the exposition until it received money

71. SDU, 6-24-11, 20:1.

72. SDU, 6-25-11, 14:1-3. GWM to JCO, 6-26-11, tgm., 1 p.; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. Marston wired Olmsted on June 26, “Building Committee stand forced Park Commissioners resignation.”

73. Marston, Vol. 11, p. 36. D.C. Collier to JCO, 7-01-11; tgm., 1 p.; JF 4051, CIA, MDLC. Collier wired to Olmsted, “Mayor has completely surrendered and new Park Board appointed consisting of Exposition Directors.”

74. PCE, “Official Program, Four Days’ Celebration During Which Ground Will Be Broken for the First Building of the Panama-California Exposition, July 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1911” (San Diego: Frye & Smith, printers, 1911), pp. 25-57 contain full program of events. Palethorpe, McBride and Probert (Accountants and Auditors), Panama California Exposition, Report on Pre-Exposition Operations, From Nov. 1909 to Dec. 31, 1914 (Los Angeles: March, 1915), p. 80.

75. Percival Woods, Mayor Pro-Tempore, “Message from Mayor, Declaring Friday, July 21st, 1911, a holiday,” Document No. 43479, Filed 7-1711, p. 2; Folder 12, Clerk’s Office, City of San Diego.

76. John S. McGroarty, “San Diego Pageant, Exposition Ground-Breaking,” The West Coast Magazine, Vol. XI (Oct. 1911), p. 26.

77. Santa Fe Railway Co., “Ground Breaking Ceremonies, Panama California Exposition, San Diego, July 19-22, 1911,” p. 7. (I5-F12-B2, 15 Expo BF, SDHC). 78. SDU, 7-20-11, 1:1-7.

79. SDU, 7-21-11, 1:1-7.

80. SDU, 7-23-11, 1:1-7.

81. McGroarty, p. 13.

82. McGroarty, p. 16. President Taft’s parents moved to San Diego in 1889 and his father, Judge Alphonso Taft, died there in 1891. (Elizabeth C. MacPhail, “The Order of Panama,” Brand Book Number Six, The San Diego Corral of the Westerners (San Diego: The San Diego Corral 1979), p. 146, fn. 1.

83. SDU, 2-29-12, 10:1-7.

84. McGroarty, p. 19.

85. Ibid.

86. Amero, pp. 24-5.

87. Robert Rydell, “All the World Is a Fair: America’s International Expositions, 1876-1916 (UCLA: Ph.D. dissertation, 1980), pp. 412-13.

88. Yorick, “On the Margin,” SDU, 1-10-15, 1. (quoted by Rydell, pp. 412-13).

89. McGroarty, p. 26.

90. SDU, 7-23-11, 1.

91. Florence Christman, The Romance of Balboa Park (San Diego: The Committee of 100, 1977), p. 40.

92. Santa Fe Railway Co., “Ground Breaking Ceremonies p. 2.

93. SDU, 9-3-11, 16:2. SDS, 9-06-11, 3:3. SDS, 9-06-11, 3:3, stated that the central site covered 350 acres with 145 acres in exhibits and the rest in grounds.

94. HHB to JCO, 9-01-11, pp. 1-2 of 2: JF 4051, OA, MDLC. On the first vote Wangenheim voted for the south site but when he saw that the majority on the Building Committee was going for the central location he changed his vote to join them. He may have felt obligated to do that because he had been appointed to the Park Board as a pro-Exposition person and he had to carry out the Exposition’s majority will on key issues.

95. OB to Julius Wangenheim (JCO, 9-02-11, tgm., 1 p.); JF 4051, OA, MDLC. OB to GWM, 9-01-11, 1 p.; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. SDU, 9-1011, 8:1.

96. JW to JCO, 9-02-11, pp. 1-2; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. Wangenheim said that the majority of the Buildings and Grounds Committee favored the central site and were, “induced to that course by Collier’s and Sefton’s statements that the Exposition would be a failure on any other site.” GWM to JCO, tgm., 9-1-11, 1 p. (I18,-F4-B6, GMC, SDHC). BGG to FLO, 9-04-11, tgm., 1 p.; JF 4051, OA, MDLC; 9-07-11, tgm., 1 p., JF 4051, OA, MDLC. Goodhue was concerned some about continuing to get jobs through FLO. FPA to JCO, 9-05-11, pp. 1-4 of 5; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

97. OB to JW, 9-08-11, tgm., pp. 1-2 of 2; JF 4051, OA, MDLC and Document File, Balboa Park, SDHC.

98. SDS, 9-25-11:1 (whole page). Carleton Monroe Winslow, Jr., “The Architecture of the Panama-California Exposition, 1909-1915 (University of San Diego: Thesis towards Master of Arts in History, 1976), p. 23.

99. SDU, 10-28-11, 3:1.

100. SDU, 11-7-11, 7:2.

101. SDU, 11-23-11, 11:2-3; 11-26-11, 25:1. SDS, 11-23-11, 12:2. SDS, 1-10-13,1:6-7 (re Collier’s re-election in 1913).

102. GWM to JCO, 2-20-12, p. I of 2; JF 4051, OA, MDLC. Marston wrote to Olmsted, “Mr. Frank Allen, as you may imagine, makes most of the decisions and there is far less consideration by the committee than formerly.”

103. GWM to D.C. Collier, 11-23-11, 1 p; I36-F4-B6, GMC, SDHC. Marston said here, I shall have to give up public business for probably a year.”

104. GWM to JCO, 1-05-12, pp. 1-2 of 2; JF 4051, OA, MDLC.

105. Ibid, p. 2. Marston added here: I sometimes think that I might have done more to avert the change (to the central site). While this is true, I still believe that the greatest possible exertion I might have put forth would have been unsuccessful. The other side was too strong for us, and this is continually confirmed by the later decisions, not only of our exposition managers, but by the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.”

This letter, of January 5, 1912, was sealed in an envelope at Olmsted’s office on January 12, 1912 and instructions typed on the front, said, ” . . . per order of Mr. John C. Olmsted not to be read by ANYONE.” The envelope remained sealed until January, 1981 when the author found it in the Olmsted Associates papers in the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division. An employee of the Manuscripts Division then opened it. This was the only item in the Olmsted Collection, related to San Diego’s 1915 Exposition, which was sealed.

106. Dodge, Rails of the Silver Gate …, .pp. 61, 65.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of John Olmsted is courtesy of the National Park Service. All others are from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.