The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and showcased San Francisco’s emergence from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire as a center of beauty, progress and innovation. PPIE100, a yearlong celebration of the exposition, includes special events, exhibits, and multiple publications.
Two handsome books – “San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition” and “Panorama: Tales from San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition,” both by local authors – capture the excitement of planning for and attending the world’s fair, which spread across 635 acres in what are now 76 city blocks in the Marina district.
Filled with reproductions of maps, photographs, posters, postcards (many hand-tinted), promotional materials, souvenirs and other ephemera, the volumes bring the expo’s miniature city to life. Dominated by a 43-story Tower of Jewels, it included courtyards, formal gardens and palaces, each filled with exhibits and events showcasing turn-of-the-century achievements and possibilities.
Visitors – nearly 19 million – rode around a 5-acre reproduction of the Panama Canal on a moving platform. The Scintillator beamed 48 lights in seven colors across fog banks, and a steam locomotive was available to generate artificial fog.
Performers included opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini, Wild West legend Buffalo Bill Cody, and ace aviators Eddie Rickenbacker and Art Smith. French composer Camille Saint-Saens composed “Hail, California” for a 300-voice chorus, and pioneering female composer Amy Beach wrote “Panama Hymn.” John Philip Sousa led the band. Celebrity visitors included film stars Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin. Anne Sullivan spoke in honor of Helen Keller Day, and Laura Ingalls Wilder came with her mother.
Today, apart from Bernard Maybeck’s iconic Palace of Fine Arts, nothing remains of the fair.
“Panorama,” written by Bruno Lee, grandson of Reuben Brooks Hale, a visionary businessman who spearheaded organizing the fair, offers full-page images and succinct informational essays.
In twice as many pages, “Jewel City” – by architectural historian Laura Ackley – offers a more detailed account of the fair’s history and more than 200 images. Remarkably, there is negligible overlap in the reproductions, so these volumes complement each other nicely.
If your PPIE fever isn’t quelled by these publications, two more academic offerings accentuate the exposition’s expression of empire: “Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition” by Abigail M. Markwyn (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) and “Empire on Display: San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915” by Sarah J. Moore (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013).
San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915
By: Laura A. Ackley
Published by” Heyday Press and the California Historical Society
Panorama: Tales from San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition
By: Lee Bruno
Published by: Cameron + Company