Panama-Pacific International Exposition – 1915 -San Francisco, CA

Purpose: To celebrate opening of Panama Canal; to commemorate 400th anniversary of discovery of Pacific Ocean; to celebrate rebuilding of San Francisco following 1906 earthquake and fire.

Organization: Suggested as early as 1904; one of our six largest World’s Fairs. New Orleans and San Diego made strong bids; latter finally yielded when awarded second exposition. Two Fairs not competitive but complementary; San Francisco’s “universal, all-inclusive, final summary of man’s past achievements”; San Diego’s to have “distinct, outstanding … differentiating purpose.” Panama Pacific International Exposition Co. chartered March 1910, public subscribed to $7,500,000 stock; city and state each granted $5,000,000 (bond issues); California counties $3,000,000. “Endorsed” by 62nd Congress, with $5,000,000 grant to include cost Federal displays. Ground broken by President Taft Oct. 14, 1911.

Site: Natural amphitheater facing Golden Gate, now Marina district; 635-acre area, extending 2 1/2 miles along Bay. Palace of Fine Arts was only permanent structure; post-exposition viewing of many exhibits held there until Oct. 31, 1916.

Dates, Attendance: Feb. 20-Dec. 4, 1915; Opened by President Wilson pressing gold key at Arlington, Va., causing doors to open and mechanical exhibits to operate. Attendance over 18,000,000; 13,000,000 paid.

Participants: Forty-four states and territories, 58 California counties and 42 foreign countries represented; 28 of former, 22 of latter and New York City erected own buildings. Exhibits totaled 80,000. Many Federal displays included Mint Exhibit.

Comment: Eleven exhibition palaces and 240 other buildings created “City of Domes.” Designing exposition buildings and grounds had become “almost a profession.” Architectural approach here followed “novel plan,” series of courts “which met climatic need by trapping sunlight and sheltering visitors from brisk breezes” blowing across Bay; buildings were secondary but color used lavishly.


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