The Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 – Part 1

May 1, 2017 | By | Reply More

… Smiling at Fortune’s Golden Kiss,
A great, new-born metropolis
That stands, beneath its sun-lit skies,
A monument to Enterprise …

Exposition slogan from poem by David W. Taylor

For almost an entire year, from February 20 to December 4, 1915, a proudly rebuilt San Francisco was host to the world.

The city, over which some had sung a premature requiem in 1906, had decided to celebrate, and this on the grandest of scales, the completion of the Panama Canal to its south as well as its own return from devastation and partial ruin.

Even though it had been preceded by the impressive Midwinter Fair of 1894, and was to be followed by the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939, there is solid room for the opinion that the ”PPIE” of 1915 was, all things considered, just about the best of them all. The days centering in “Harbor Cove,” i.e. the modern Marina district, will always be memorable in the history of San Francisco.

When, on May 1, 1904, construction of the Panama Canal was begun, it found some prominent San Franciscans already planning something special to celebrate its completion, whenever that would be.

Earlier, in January 1904, R.B. Hale of Hale Brothers had written to his fellow directors of the Merchants Association of San Francisco proposing an international exposition to celebrate the completion of the proposed canal.

The year 1915 had already been set by engineers for the completion of the project and Hale, shrewdly anticipating the rivalry that was sure to ensue between various American cities anxious to host such a commemoration, indicated that 1904 was not at all too early to set machinery in operation with the idea of capturing such an exposition for San Francisco.

The merchants promptly and enthusiastically endorsed Hale’s proposal, and followed this approval with the appointment of a committee to begin preliminary planning for such an event: $15 million was indicated as a tentative fiscal goal.

It was proposed that one-third of this sum be raised by popular subscription, another third be in the form of a federal subsidy, and the final third at city indebtedness to be authorized by the state of California.

When, later on in 1904, Congressman Julius Kahn of San Francisco introduced a bill authorizing the federal appropriation, it died in committee for, obviously, other cities would have to be heard from before any such allocation could be made to San Francisco.

With the disaster of 1906 came the thought, at least on the part of some, that the proposed exposition would never come into being because of the urgencies now devolving on a stricken city; however, by December 1906, it had become abundantly clear that San Francisco would indeed rise again and that there was no reason to postpone long-range plans for the 1915 Exposition.

First, a Pacific Coast Exposition Company was established and it was decided to have a ”trial run” in 1909 in the form of a Portola Festival commemorating the 140th anniversary of the discovery of San Francisco Bay by Don Gaspar de Portola; actually, this exposition was planned to see if a city which it was hoped would be successfully reborn by that time, was ready for an international celebration only six years later.

Since the Portola Festival was an unqualified success, a new and more powerful corporation was formed in 1910, complete with thirty directors.

This was given the title of the ”Panama Pacific International Exposition Company”:

it was, despite setbacks and obstacles that were to be expected in planning an event of such magnitude, to bring outstanding success to carefully laid plans. When, on April 29, 1910, a mass meeting was held for the purpose of subscribing to the stock of this company, $4 million was subscribed within two hours.

On January 31, 1911, the House of Representatives voted, 188-159, to make San Francisco the official site of the exposition, leaving New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Boston to lick their civic wounds because of the rejection of their respective claims.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog

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