by Larry and Jane Booth
Do You Want An Exposition? The California Pacific International Exposition Company, composed of civic and business leaders, put the question forcefully to San Diegans in 1934. They agreed that the only way to recover from the Depression’s dismal slump in economy and morale was to make a “Gigantic Effort.” It was agreed that timing was right for several reasons:
1. After years of numbing financial problems, people could be expected to travel to attend an exposition in the West. The estimated 5,000,000 visitors would bring millions of dollars into San Diego’s economy, create new jobs and businesses, and either decide to stay here to increase our population and economy, or go home singing the praises of our wonderful city as an ideal place to visit.
2. San Diego’s proposed 1935 exposition would not have to start from zero. Already in well-located, city-owned Balboa Park were mature landscaping, the 1915-16 exposition’s Spanish Renaissance and Colonial style buildings (being refurbished), and there was ample space to build a new section in the park’s Palisades area.
3. Timing was right, but critically short, for San Diego’s Exposition planners to arrange to bring exhibitors, attractions and performers from Chicago’s successful 1933-34 Century of Progress here for our fair.
4. The federal government could be expected to contribute heavily with funding and labor.
The exposition’s promoters’ financing goal was a modest $500,000, of which $300,000 was pledged early on by the city, county and a few large contributors. The people of San Diego were asked for $200,000, and though it took a while, they subscribed twice that amount.
Recognizing the importance of publicity, the exposition planners determined to spend $50,000 on advertising. Brochures and ads were distributed widely with glowing copy and excellent photographs of Balboa Park’s existing buildings and grounds along with drawings of the new buildings as they would look when completed.
A major key to success became timing. The monumental job of planning and constructing new buildings, streets and gardens of the new Palisades area, of staging hundreds of exhibits, growing thousands of plants, hiring and training hundreds of employees, making arrangements for restaurants, theatres, health services, security and transportation, and thousands of other details were accomplished by opening day, May 29, 1935.
One reason for the exposition’s success was the wisdom of its board in hiring talented professionals to plan and build the exposition and other qualified management experts to make it pay.
The exposition offered something for everyone. There were hundreds of exhibits from history, music, art, scientific and industrial developments, botanical gardens, consumer products, theatre, government functions, international groups, and midway attractions — literally from Alpha, the Mechanical Man to Zorine, Queen of the Nudists. And, somewhere in between, there was a scientific exhibit about the Lost Continent of Mu.
Richard Requa, Director of Architecture, assumed the formidable assignment of integrating refurbished Spanish style buildings of the 1915 exposition with those quickly constructed ones of the 1935 Palisades area where building styles ranged from American Southwest Pueblo to Central American Mayan and Aztec to Industrial Modern. With so little time to prepare the old buildings and construct the new ones, he used three devices to bring it all together: gardens, spectacular night lighting and thousands of hanging plants which were placed in trough-like parapets and cornices on the large new buildings to soften their stark, boxy lines.
The staff of California-Pacific International Exposition Company posed before headquarters on Broadway in the Grant Hotel in 1934.
Aerial view shows new part of 1935 Exposition and its relation to the older 1915 section. Naval Hospital and residential area are in background. The sinuous road looping around three sides of the Ford Building is the Ford Roads of the Pacific attraction, fourteen different 200 foot sections simulating famous old or new roads of countries bordering the Pacific. Visitors were driven around the course in new open V-8 Fords by college students who explained the trip and demonstrated the car radio, comparatively rare equipment in a car at that time.
In this view of the Palisades Area from the Standard Oil Tower, look at the central garden and pools of the Firestone Singing Fountains, now replaced with a parking lot. The large building to the left was the Electricity and Varied Industries Building (now Gymnasium). At center background is the Ford Building.
Visitors to the Ford Building below, saw vintage automobiles and other vehicles. Visible in upper right of the photograph is a small part of the transportation mural now restored and on view in the Aerospace Historical Center which now occupies the Ford Building.
From the top of the Ford Building looking northeast the length of Plaza de America to the Standard Oil Building. In foreground is the Firestone Singing Fountain with colored lighting controlled by tones and pitch to the music. Many benches were welcome resting places and provided seats for enjoying evening performances of the fountain. Low building to the left of Standard Oil Building was Palisades Cafe with al fresco dining and dance floor.
In the 1935 Palace of Photography, a refurbished 1915 building, was an exhibition of over 500 salon photographs from many countries, and an Eastman Kodak Company display explaining the history of photography. There was a complete store offering camera equipment and supplies, among them “The New Fool-Proof Film” called kodachrome for small movie cameras. Kodachrome was 50 years old in 1985. In place of this building today are the West Wing and Sculpture Garden of the San Diego Museum of Art.
The Federal Building on Plaza de America (now a parking lot) on opening day, May 29, 1935. Still existing, this permanent building funded by the Federal Government’s $350,000 reflects Mayan design. It was windowless with light from above. Exhibits included historical objects of the West, coin making, finger printing, mail service and others of twenty departments of the federal government.
The Hollywood Motion Picture Hall of Fame Building (now the Palisades Building) was designed in American Southwest Pueblo style. It is on the east side of the 1935 Plaza of the Americas (now Pan-American Plaza and used as a parking lot). The Screen Actors’ Guild sponsored a museum in this building with scenes from outstanding films, a complete motion picture sound stage, and movie memorabilia such as Shirley Temple’s shoes and two giant cows used in Eddie Cantor’s “Kid Millions”.
Design of the 1935 Spanish Village (which still exists) was inspired by arched doorways, recessed windows, thick walls and tile roofs of small cottages and shops of Spain. Over fifty attractions, restaurants, galleries and shops offered foods, fabrics, candles, perfumes, jewelry, religious goods, dates, voice recordings, art and novelties.
Alpha, The Robot, was one of the exhibits in the Palace of Science (now Museum of Man). The 1935 Official Guide Book stated that Professor Harry May, Alpha’s inventor, could make the 6 ft., 2 in., 2,000 pound mechanical man roll its eyes, open and close its mouth, shake its head, sit down, stand up, move its arms, fire a revolver, and answer questions with amazing precision.
The exposition’s Old Globe Theatre was built with an open center like the English original. Audiences could enjoy 45 minute versions of Shakespeare plays and San Diego’s balmy weather at once.
Little People entertaining elephants at tea charmed visitors at Midget Village and Farm on the Zocalo (Midway Amusement Thoroughfare).
Among Midway attractions visible below are ones called, “Crime Never Pays” (about murder), “Monsters”, “Sensations” (girl show), “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”, and “Streets of Paris” indicating crowds in 1935 were interested in subjects that interest people in 1985. Two visitors, right center, rode in De Luxe Roller Chairs manned by “Competent College Men Well Trained in the Art of Helping People Enjoy a Stay Here”.
Gold Gulch was described in the Exposition Guide Book as “a moviefied” version of riproaring ’49 days by Harry Oliver, a well known Hollywood designer of Western sets. Located in the canyon south of the present Reuben Fleet Space Theatre and Casa de Balboa, Gold Gulch charged no admission, but its shops and attractions did. One could buy coffee in a tin cup, beer by the scupper, medals and rings made from horse-shoe nails by the blacksmith, and have a photograph taken with beard, six shooter, ten gallon hat and a burro.
The handsome terraced garden adjoining the House of Hospitality’s Cafe del Rey Moro looked much as it does today. Its design was influenced by a garden of Casa del Rey Moro in Ronda, Spain.
Zoro Gardens, located between the present Casa de Balboa and Reuben Fleet Space Theatre, was an open-air amphitheatre and naturalistic glen where visitors paid to view activities of “nudist” performers including Queen Zorine. Some of the performers came here from a similar attraction at Chicago’s 1933-1934 Century of Progress Exposition. In this and other 1935 photographs, the “nudists” wore loincloths (men) and G-strings (women) or revealing amateurish costumes, often with shoes appropriate for street dress.
The Ford Bowl under construction. At the time of the 1935 fair, seats for 3,000 persons were benches without backrests.
President Franklin Roosevelt visited America’s Exposition on October 2, 1935.
Among the many nationally prominent persons visiting the exposition were former President Herbert Hoover and Mrs. Hoover escorted by Frank Belcher and Mrs. Belcher.
The fairgoers above enjoyed Mexican music in the garden of the House of Hospitality.
The Arch of the Future and reflecting pools in 1935 were temporary. That area is now called Plaza de Panama and is used as a parking lot. In the left foreground was the House of Photography, now replaced by the San Diego Museum of Art West Wing and Sculpture Garden. Beyond the center pool was the Cafe of the Worlds, now replaced by the Timken Gallery.
A night photograph of the California State Building entrance showed murals that told the story of California’s diverse riches.
The Electricity and Varied Industries Building is also seen at night. A large bas relief showed workers, a factory-like structure, anvil, and electrical and mechanical equipment.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS are from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.