Digital Commonwealth

Panama Pacific International Exposition

Lawrence Public Library

The Panama Pacific International Exposition was the 1915 worlds fair held in San Francisco, California. Taking over three years to construct, the fair had great economic implications for the city that had been almost destroyed by the great earthquake and fire of 1906. The exposition was a tremendous success, and did much to boost the morale of the entire Bay Area and to help get San Francisco back up on its feet.

Officially, the exposition was a celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal, and also commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovering of the Pacific Ocean by the explorer, Balboa. San Francisco was only one of many cities hoping to host the PPIE. New Orleans was its primary rival, but in 1911, after a long competition of advertising and campaigning, President Taft proclaimed San Francisco to be the official host city.

There was some initial uncertainty about where exactly to hold the fair (Golden Gate Park had been the main contender), but it was later decided to fill in the mud flats at the northern end of the city, and to build in the location currently known as the Marina. The 635 acre fair was located between Van Ness and the Presidio -- its southern border was Chestnut Street and its northern edge bordered the Bay.

The tallest, most well-recognized building of the PPIE was the Tower of Jewels. Standing 43 stories tall, the building was covered by more than a hundred thousand colored glass "jewels" that dangled individually to shimmer and reflect light as the Pacific breezes moved them. There were many other palaces, courts, state and foreign buildings to see at the fair -- however most of them were made of a temporary plaster-like material, designed to only last for the duration of the fair. Luckily, one of the primary exposition buildings, the Palace of Fine Arts, was not torn down with the rest of the buildings, and was completely reconstructed in the 1960s.

The fair ran from February 20th until December 4th, 1915 and was widely considered to be a great success.

The Lawrence delegation was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The tour left Lawrence September 30 and returned October 22. The tour was managed by the Walter H. Woods Company of Boston and the group stayed and ate at Fred Harvey establishments. The city had four records: the only city to take a grand prize; the first to take space at the fair; the delegation that had the longest distance to travel; and the largest delegation with the exception of New York.

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