Tuesday, August 4, 2015

July 29th Program Review - Gabe Selak on "History of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition"

Gabe Selak, the Public Program Manager of the San Diego History Center, presented the history of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego's Balboa Park during 1915-1916.  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. 

Gabe outlined the planning of the exposition, the competition with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, the building of the exposition buildings along El Prado on the central mesa, renaming the Park, transportation to the exposition, and much more.  He used period photographs to show the buildings and street scenes of the exposition.  

In 1910, San Diego city had about 39,000 people, and the focus of the exposition was on the local economy and architecture.  Exhibits were invited from California counties and western states.  The main  architect was Ferdinand de Lessops, who had designed the Panama Canal.  The buildings were Spanish Revival style.  The California Tower was based on the Santa Presca Cathedral in Mexico. 

 Groundbreaking occurred in 1911, with a parade and church services.  

The large pipe organ was gifted to the Park by John D. Spreckels as long as it played free concerts.  Mr. Spreckels donated $100,000 for the streetcar from downtown San Diego through the Park to Mission Cliffs Gardens.  Other wealthy residents donated 5 million dollars, and residents bought scrip for $10 each and raised another one million dollars.

A contest was held in the newspaper to pick a name for City Park.  The name drawn was "San Diego City Park" so the planning committee decided on Balboa Park to recognize Balboa's discovery of the Pacific Ocean from the isthmus of Panama.  

There was a "fun zone" near downtown San Diego, and a military encampment on Inspiration Point to "protect the exposition."

Annual passes for the exposition were $10 per year.  40,000 people attended opening day, and there were 3.4 million visitors during the two years.  

More information about the 1915 Panama-California Exposition can be found on Wikipedia.org - see  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama%E2%80%93California_Exposition .  A detailed chronology of the exposition can be found at https://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/90winter/expo.htm .

The San Diego History Center (http://www.sandiegohistory.org/has formed the Balboa Park Conservancy to rebuild or refurbish the California Tower (completed), the Botannical building, the Arcade, and to install a drought resistant landscape.   

The San Diego History Center has a 30 minute documentary film about the history of Balboa Park.  Joining SDHC for two years ($100) includes a copy of the film.

For San Diego area residents, this was a fascinating look at the San Diego of 100 years ago.  

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