PPIE –  Creation of a City in a City – Part 2

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When on January 31, 1911, the House of Representatives voted, 188-159, to make San Francisco the official site of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, had the victory not come lightly or without much strategy and planning on the part of determined San Franciscans.

This involved a change in fiscal plans: instead of asking the federal government for any direct subsidy, it was proposed that approval of San Francisco, as the site was all that would be asked of the federal government at this time.

In August 1910, Governor increased. At the end of the planned ten months, during which little else was talked of in the city than the PPIE, an impressive attendance total of 18,756,148 (many of them repeats) had been reached. No doubt, then, that the exposition had been a success and no doubt either, that San Francisco had demonstrated to its own satisfaction as well as that of the world, that it had definitely recovered from the wounds inflicted upon it less than ten years before.

On December 4, 1915, when the PPIE finally closed, with ample evidence that San Francisco had made a success of it all, it was with great civic pride that its citizens bade a fond farewell to the physical aspects of the exposition while fully conscious that its memories would continue to linger on.

It has already been noted that a great many people contributed to the memorable days that marked 1915 in San Francisco; however, several personages were outstanding.

First was the civil engineer, Harris de Haven Connick (1873-1965) who bore the title of Director of the Division of Works and therefore was responsible for the ”building of the set.”

From 1911, when Connick received his appointment, he labored successfully in facing the many problems that were his, for he had to create a city within a city with every necessary convenience; among the multitude of his concerns were those centering about sewers, water and gas mains, electrical conduits, wharves, access roads, railroad Spurs, fountains, pools, and fire protection.

Also, proper housing had to be provided for livestock as well as for human performers, including some aborigines who required special treatment. Connick’s drawing boards were already covered with blueprints when the land where all of this was to take place was still under twelve to twenty feet of water.

He enclosed seventy acres of the Harbor Cove area by a seawall while the ground was filled from the adjacent bay by means of suction pumps.

With the approval of the Secretary of War, Connick made use of additional acreage from Fort Mason and the Presidio, amounting to 588 acres in all. Connick proved to be a great general executive, as the results were to show.

Another man of distinction was the architect, Bernard Ralph Maybeck (1862-1957) who designed the Palace of Fine Arts which, in its completely reconstructed form, still stands as a lone monument to the earlier glories of 1915.

Maybeck was serving on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley; there he established the Department of Architecture and was responsible for much of the present campus since he designed some of its earlier buildings. Presumably, both Connick and Maybeck would be quick to acknowledge the invaluable help of many of their confreres; out of their combined efforts came the greatness that was associated with the PPIE.

An idea of the wonderful enthusiasm engendered by the exposition is found in the rhapsodic words penned by the future poet laureate of California, Edwin Markham; he thus described the Opening night:

I have seen tonight the greatest revelation of beauty that was ever seen on the earth. I may say this meaning it literally and with full regard for all that is known of ancient art and architecture and all that the modern world has heretofore seen of glory and grandeur. I have seen beauty that will give the world new standards of art and a joy in loveliness never before reached.

While time and the critical historian might wish to amend some of Markham’s rhapsody, it was evident to all who beheld those opening scenes that here was no ordinary spectacle. In commemoration of December 4, 1915, the last night when the lights were finally extinguished, George Sterling, San Francisco poet wrote these appreciative lines which will conclude our treatment of what had, truly, been a ”Monument to Enterprise”:

The hour has struck, the mighty work is done –
Praise God for all the bloodless victories won;
And from these courts of Beauty’s pure universe,
Go forth in Joy and Brotherhood and Peace

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog

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