Sunday, May 28, 2017

(14) Every Great Highway Needs a Great Destination

1915 Panama Pacific Exposition

San Francisco is always ready for a party, but by 1914 the City was really ready for a party. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 1906 and the resulting fire destroyed 80% of the city. Residents were living in a tent city near the waterfront. Temporary kitchens were set up to feed the thousands of homeless. What was salvageable from the collapsed structures was often sold to Bay Area residents to raise money for the rebuilding of the city. The San Francisco disaster devastated the city, California and shocked the nation.
Jewel Tower
Standing 435 feet above the fair

Every great Highway needs a great destination. For Route 66 it was Hollywood, Southern California and the Santa Monica pier. For the Yellowstone Trail it was, initially, Yellowstone National Park. For the Lincoln Highway the great destination was the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The destination was a Duesy. The fair provided San Francisco with a place to strut its stuff. California and America got in on the act. The fair opened less than a year after the completion of the Panama Canal. (In fact, the fair featured a working model of the canal.) The nation was feeling its oats.

The years leading up to World War I were an incredibly optimistic time. That optimism is reflected in the Lincoln Highway and the Panama Pacific International Exposition. The fair occupied 635 acres just east of the Presidio. Much of the fairgrounds was built on fill land. Many of the razed buildings from the earthquake and fire made up the fill.

It is certainly not an unrelated coincidence that plans for the Lincoln Highway were announced as San Francisco was getting ready to host the world. Great visionaries, like Carl Fisher, knew how to exploit events in order to accomplish goals. When Carl Fisher announced: "Let's build it while were still young enough to enjoy it!" he had in mind driving to the fair. At the September 1912 organizational meeting, Fisher proposed that the Highway be ready for travel by May 1, 1915 in order to accommodate "a corps of 2,500 automobiles that can be taken over this road to the opening of the Exposition in either May or June, 1915." Indeed, Henry Joy, president of the Packard motor Company and later president of the Lincoln Highway Association made the trip from Detroit on the Lincoln Highway and arrived at the fair to show off the mud and road grime on his Packard.

The fair was magnificent! All the more remarkable is the fact that the fair opened less than 10 years after the City's total destruction. I doubt that the United States of today would even have completed the application, planning or the permit process for the rebuilding of the city. Let alone deal with the protests or lawsuits.

 Of course attractions at the fair included a carnival midway. But also included were some of the wonders of the world and the wonders of this confident new age of 1915. The horrors of World War I had not yet reached America, while other nations participated in the fair perhaps as an antidote to that war.

Model T Assembly Line at the fair
Amongst the plethora of exhibits, the Ford Motor Company set up an assembly line for Model Ts and fairgoers could watch the Model Ts being assembled. Fairgoers could also obtain a birds eye view of the fair in the magnificent Aero-Scope. The Aero-Scope featured a 370 ton counterweight to help it lift the many visitors who stood in the car to obtain an aerial view of the magnificent fair below.

The fair featured the worlds 7th largest pipe organ, submarines and it appears from photographs that part of America's fleet was anchored offshore in the bay. No doubt some of the ships used the newly completed Panama Canal to get to the fair. And in case sailors were below deck when transiting the canal or had forgotten what the canal looked like, the fair featured a scale model complete with working locks. The model of the Panama Canal was located between what is now Webster and Buchanan streets and Chestnut and Bay streets. The Moscone Recreation Center and Park now appear to occupy that site.

Scale  Working Model of  Panama Canal

The buildings and structures at the fair were constructed of a lumber framework and then covered with a material called staff. Staff is made of burlap covered with plaster. It is temporary at best and consequently practically nothing remains of the fair. The most famous remaining structure is the Palace of fine arts. As a child I remember driving by the Palace of Fine Arts and seeing it surrounded with a chain-link fence looking like it was ready to fall over. It was.
Palace of Fine Arts, 1915
In the 1960s San Francisco rebuilt the Palace of Fine Arts and the structure that can be seen today is a replica of the temporary structure built for the fair. Another replica of a fair structure is The Palace of the Legion of Honor located at the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway in Lincoln Park. Yet another structure from the 1915 world's fair can be found south of San Francisco, Van's restaurant in the city of Belmont. In1915, it was a Japanese Tea House, part of the Japanese pavilion. After the fair, it was hauled to the bay, placed on a barge and towed to Belmont. Further south, part of the fair's miniature railroad survives near the town of Los Gatos.
Japanese Pavilion

The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition served as a sort of coming-out party for San Francisco. San Francisco would no longer be seen as a rough-and-tumble frontier town. Instead it would take its place as one of America's and indeed the world's great cities.

Souvenirs and memorabilia from the fair, including an exhibitor's
badge for the first day, a Voltamp model PFE car made for the Southern
Pacific Railroad exhibit, a letter opener and a paperweight. These
items once belonged to Elbridge Russell who, attended the fair and
ran the trains at the Southern Pacific Exhibit. At his death, Elbridge
left the items to my brother, Fritz


More Family Souvenirs from the 1915 fair. The spoon and
 paperweight are from my family. Linda's Great Aunt Jesse
bought the ceramic sailboat on her visit to the fair.
San Francisco and California scored a home run with the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Even before the fair, California was seen as a land of hope and a Garden of Eden for the nation. Both Emily Post and Effie Price Gladding wrote glowingly of their journeys through the golden state.

San Francisco was one of the truly great World's Fairs. I regret not being born 60 years earlier.

The Fair  at night

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