Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Mystique of the Panama-California Exposition

[Image: Guide_Book_of_the_Panama_California_Exposition.jpg]

The Mystique of the Panama-California Exposition

By Jeff Danforth-Manning
The Daily Magi
November 19, 2047


The Panama–California Exposition was an exposition held in San Diego, California, between March 9, 1915, and January 1, 1917. The exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, and was meant to tout San Diego as the first U.S. port of call for ships traveling north after passing westward through the canal. The fair was held in San Diego's large urban Balboa Park.

Intended to be permanent were the Cabrillo Bridge, the domed-and-towered California State Building and the low-lying Fine Arts Building; the latter are now part of the National Register of Historic Places-listed California Quadrangle. The Botanical Building would protect heat-loving plants, while the Great Organ would assist open air concerts in its Auditorium.

The architecture of the "temporary buildings" was recognized, as Goodhue described, as "being essentially of the fabric of a dream—not to endure but to produce a merely temporary effect. It should provide, after the fashion that stage scenery provides—illusion rather than reality."

The "temporary buildings" were formally and informally set on either side of the wide, tree-lined central avenue. El Prado extended along the axis of the bridge and was lined with trees and streetlights, with the front of most buildings lined with covered arcades or portales. The Prado was intended to become the central path of a great and formally designed public garden. The fair's pathways, pools, and watercourses were supposed to remain while the cleared building sites would become garden. Goodhue emphasized that "only by thus razing all of the Temporary Buildings will San Diego enter upon the heritage that is rightfully hers". However, many of the "temporary" buildings were retained and reused for the 1935 fair. Four of them were demolished and rebuilt in their original style toward the end of the 20th century; they are now called the House of Charm, the House of Hospitality, Casa del Prado and Casa de Balboa, and are included in the National Register of Historic Places-listed El Prado Complex.

William de Leftwich Dodge painted murals at the exposition. Peacock and pheasant wandered through the fair grounds.

One of the main considerations for San Diego leaders concerning the Panama-California Exposition was transportation. In order to service the large number of people that were to attend the Exposition, John D. Spreckels and his San Diego Electric Railway Company (SDERy) began work on streetcars that could handle the traffic of the event as well as the growing population of San Diego. The routes ultimately spanned from Ocean Beach, through Downtown, Mission Hills, Coronado, North Park, Golden Hill, and Kensington, even briefly serving as a link to the U.S.–Mexico border. Today, only three of the original twenty-four Class 1 streetcars remain in existence.

The Exposition's permanent buildings, still standing, include:

  • Botanical Building, one of the largest lath-covered structures then in existence, contained a rare collection of tropical and semitropical plants. It is well back from the Prado behind the long pool, La Laguna de Las Flores.
  • Cabrillo Bridge (completed April 12, 1914)
  • California Bell Tower, completed 1914, 198 feet (60 m) feet tall to the top of the iron weathervane, which is in the form of a Spanish ship; one of the most recognizable sights in San Diego as "San Diego's Icon".
  • California State Building, completed October 2, 1914, which now houses the San Diego Museum of Man. The design was inspired by the church of San Diego in Guanajuato, Mexico.
  • Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi (south side of Fine Arts Building); now the Saint Francis Chapel operated by the Museum of Man.
  • Fine Arts Building (on south side of Plaza of California), now part of the Museum of Man.
  • Spreckels Organ Pavilion (dedicated December 31, 1914).

The fair left a permanent mark in San Diego in its development of Balboa Park. Up to that point, the park had been mainly open space. But with the landscaping and building done for the fair the park was permanently transformed and is now a major cultural center, housing many of San Diego's major museums. The exposition also led to the eventual establishment of the now world-famous San Diego Zoo in the park, which grew out of abandoned exotic animal exhibitions from the exposition.

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