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Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

by Abigail M. Markwyn
Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

by Abigail M. Markwyn


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When the more than 18 million visitors poured into the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco in 1915, they encountered a vision of the world born out of San Francisco’s particular local political and social climate. By seeking to please various constituent groups ranging from the government of Japan to local labor unions and neighborhood associations, fair organizers generated heated debate and conflict about who and what represented San Francisco, California, and the United States at the world’s fair. The PPIE encapsulated the social and political tensions and conflicts of pre–World War I California and presaged the emergence of San Francisco as a cosmopolitan cultural and economic center of the Pacific Rim.
 Empress San Francisco offers a fresh examination of this, one of the largest and most influential world’s fairs, by considering the local social and political climate of Progressive Era San Francisco. Focusing on the influence exerted by women, Asians and Asian Americans, and working-class labor unions, among others, Abigail M. Markwyn offers a unique analysis both of this world’s fair and the social construction of pre–World War I America and the West.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803267824
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 10/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 392
File size: 27 MB
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About the Author

Abigail M. Markwyn is a professor of history at Carroll University. She is the coeditor of Gendering the Fair: Histories of Women and Gender at World’s Fairs.

Read an Excerpt

Empress San Francisco

The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

By Abigail M. Markwyn


Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-6782-4


The Spectacle of the Fair

"One of the most spectacular and interesting special events of the exposition period," according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was the June celebration of the "Night in Hawaii" that the fair's Hawaiian Commission staged on the Palace of Fine Arts' lagoon. Socialite Marion Dowsett Worthington ruled as queen for the evening. The event featured five princesses representing the territory's five major islands, men in native costume rowing outrigger canoes, fireworks, and musical accompaniment by the popular Philippine Constabulary Band. The colonial implications of this performance could not be missed. A white American socialite queen ruled the islands, bringing them civilization and progress. The princesses and canoeists evoked nostalgia for the supposed traditional Hawaiian past while implying that the presence of American culture would doom that Hawai'i to fade away and remain simply as a tourist attraction. Territorial governor Lucius Pinkham's speech earlier in the day spelled out the relationship between Hawai'i and the United States even more clearly when he focused on the military significance of Hawai'i to the safety of the Pacific coast. "It is not for Hawaii that this great military and naval outpost is being established," he stated, but rather for the protection of "your Pacific Coast, your cities, your commerce, and the mighty material and political progress of the United States of America." It would be difficult to find a more naked statement of U.S. intentions in the Pacific.

This performance contained complicated messages about race, gender, and U.S. expansionism. Although Hawai'i's queen for the day was unequivocally white, the princesses who accompanied her were of mixed race, and they and other young mixed-race Hawaiian men and women featured prominently in performances at the Hawaiian Building. Sometimes these young men and women appeared at celebrations and in newspaper reports dressed as modern American youth, and only their wearing leis identified their "Hawaiianness." Many scholars argue that the role of the nonwhite "other" at fairs was to appear as a foil to the supposed superior white American. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) emphasized social Darwinist ideals and scientific approaches to society and marriage and glorified the white male. The PPIE brought eugenics to the public's attention through the Race Betterment Booth and meetings and widely publicized these ideas through such events as Night in Hawaii. But the lived reality of the fair was much more complex, and the PPIE's official messages were more complicated than social Darwinism suggests.

Night in Hawaii juxtaposed a white socialite and the native princesses in a predictable way. But young Hawaiian women wearing shirtwaists and leis did not fit into this dichotomy of allegedly primitive versus civilized ideals. Instead, as children of both white and nonwhite parents, they suggested the possibility for peaceful racial integration and intermarriage. Hawai'i's status as a newly acquired U.S. territory highlighted the nation's expanded role as an imperial power, while the competing goals of haole (whites who lived in Hawai'i) organizers, native Hawaiian performers, and U.S. businessmen represented the tensions contained in U.S. expansionism. San Francisco businessmen staged the exposition to boost their city's economic prospects. Within the walls of the PPIE fair directors designed a world that conveyed a vision of California history, U.S. society, and the U.S. relationship to the Pacific and Latin America that posited a dichotomy between perceived primitive and civilized cultures and nations. Much of the artwork and exhibits reflected popular theories of social evolution and the dominance of white men while reinforcing eugenic ideas about social progress and racial purity. But the participation of the young Hawaiian women reveals that this official narrative contained contradictions and faced competition from the contributions of other fair exhibitors. These participants from around the United States and the world, from the PPIE Woman's Board to the government of Argentina, had their own agendas and goals for the fair that together conveyed a complicated and sometimes competing set of narratives about the world to visitors.

The elaborately landscaped and brilliantly colored grounds of the PPIE impressed upon visitors the accomplishments of California, the United States, and mankind. The lush gardens and colorful buildings emphasized the state's natural bounty and beauty and implied the success of American expansionism in bringing U.S. culture to this paradise of a state. Huge exhibit palaces awed visitors with the newest examples of technological, artistic, and social development. Etiquette maven Emily Post wrote one of the most evocative descriptions of the grounds, noting that "to visualize the ... Exposition in a few sentences is impossible.... In the shade or fog, it was a city of baked earth color, oxidized with any quantity of terra cotta; in the sun it was deep cream glowing with light." The fair was perhaps most impressive, she noted, at a distance, after coming down from the hills of the city, when "you saw a biscuit-colored city with terra-cotta roofs, green domes and blue. Beyond it the wide waters of a glorious bay, rimmed with far gray-green mountains ... or perhaps you looked down upon it at night when the scintillating central point, the Tower of Jewels, looked like a diamond and turquoise wedding cake and behind it an aurora of prismatic-colored searchlights."

The exposition stretched across the southern shore of San Francisco Bay. Officials acquired the 635-acre site from the federal government and through lease and purchase from private owners. Close study of previous fairs convinced fair directors of the necessity of designing a compact site, so they laid out the central section of the fair on a "block" plan. Designers arranged the main palaces in four blocks joined by covered corridors. Extensively decorated outdoor courts accompanied the palaces, making the PPIE a uniquely outdoor event that was quite distinct from previous American fairs. This central area contained the eleven main exhibit palaces and the Festival Hall. Farther west lay first the buildings of the states and foreign nations and, farther on, stood the livestock exhibit buildings, racetrack, aviation field, and drill grounds. The Joy Zone, or amusement section, covered 70 acres to the east of the central section.

Rather than replicate the Beaux Arts "white city" of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, PPIE designers chose colors that reflected the California landscape and visually linked the fair to its western location. Directors appointed muralist Jules Guerin the first ever official "colorist" of an exposition, and he blended a palette of Mediterranean colors into the buildings across the fair, using "terra-cotta, ivory, cerulean blue, gold, green and rose." Color even spilled onto the paths of the fair, where tinted red sand subtly accented the buildings' colors. California writer Mary Austin noted Guerin's success in echoing the colors of a California summer: "[The West] has made this exposition the richest dyed, the patterned splendor of all their acres of poppies, of lupines, of amber wheat, of rosy orchard, and of jade-tinted lake." The abundant use of electric lights, particularly at night, emphasized the warm colors of the grounds. The beloved Tower of Jewels, a 435-foot tower covered with 125,000 reflecting "novagem" jewels of every color that sparkled in the sunlight, further accentuated the fair's color scheme.

Extensive greenery and flowers added bursts of color to the grounds. A living wall of shrubbery enclosed the site in part to shield visitors from the unpredictable bay winds and weather. This wall extended 1,150 feet along the southern boundary of the fair and reinforced the link between the fair and the California landscape. Within the grounds, as Portia Lee notes, vast flower beds and fountains further emphasized the "integration of the natural and built environment" and the "inherent, yet elaborated beauty of California nature." The Court of Flowers alone featured fifty thousand yellow pansies and fifty thousand red anemones (replaced by begonias later in the season), borders of topiary mimosa trees, large lawns bordered by beds of creeping juniper, and boxed orange trees lining the paths.

The color scheme visually united the fairgrounds, but the architecture remained eclectic. Although dominated by classical styles, the courts and palaces defied easy classification. A visitor using the popular Scott Street entrance walked into the Court of Palms, a formal garden with lines of palm trees extending in both directions. To the left lay the Byzantine-inspired Palace of Horticulture, while on the right stood Festival Hall, which more closely resembled a Beaux Arts French theater. In front of the visitor stood the Tower of Jewels, which drew on Italian Renaissance themes. Beyond the Tower of Jewels lay the impressive Court of the Universe, modeled on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and further incorporating Italian Renaissance styles. There East and West met, metaphorically represented in two statuary groups—Nations of the East and Nations of the West. Around the Court of the Universe stood four of the main exhibit palaces dedicated to agriculture, transportation, manufacturers, and liberal arts—each designed in its own unique combination of architectural styles. To the west of the Agricultural and Liberal Arts Palaces stood the Food Products Palace and the Education and Social Economy Palace. Across a small lagoon lay Bernard Maybeck's famed Palace of Fine Arts and to the east of the Transportation and Manufactures Palaces stood the Mines and Metallurgy, Machinery, and Varied Industries Palaces. The architecture of the palaces may have been eclectic, but the color scheme and the compact court plan meant that visitors experienced a seamless transition from one part of the central fair to the other, walking in and out of impressively decorated courts and palaces.

In the eleven huge exhibit palaces, fair visitors could peruse seventy thousand separate exhibits along fifty miles of aisles. Exhibitors hoped their eye-catching displays would advertise goods to willing consumers and impress visitors with the progress and technological innovation evinced by American business, all while drumming up national and international customers. From the school-related displays in the Palace of Education and Social Economy to the pure food laboratory, the displays inundated visitors with information about new products, technologies, and processes. The Model T Fords that rolled off the assembly line in the Palace of Transportation signified for many the fair's emphasis on technological progress. Visitors eagerly lined up at the Sperry Flour Company display in the Palace of Varied Industries to taste its famously delicious scones. A huge tower of Heinz 57 products impressed upon visitors the wonders of packaged foods and the variety of Heinz products as well.

Fair visitors thronged to the palaces to try out new gadgets and to learn about new inventions. Photographer Ansel Adams noted in his autobiography, "The intent of the Exposition was to encourage interest in and purchase of the items displayed. It was much more sensible than ordinary advertising: everything was there to see and handle and try out if you wished." The new devices and electronics on display at the fair particularly appealed to young visitors. About the Eastman Kodak exhibit in the same building, thirteen-year old Doris Barr remarked, "They have some of the mostbeautiful Kodaks exhibited.... I wouldn't mind having one at all!" Many visitors noted the fascinating new commodities they viewed at the fair. Numerous visitors praised the "House Electrical," a full-size bungalow built right inside the Palace of Manufacturers. The small, California-style house featured all of the latest electrical appliances, from an electric dishwasher to a bottle warmer to an electric heater for a shaving mug. For visitors still amazed by the idea of an electrified house, the wonders contained therein must have been astonishing. Schoolteacher Annie Fader Haskell remarked that it "made one want to go housekeeping at once."

Moving west past the Horticulture Palace brought a visitor to the foreign buildings. Although some foreign nations failed to erect their planned buildings owing to the financial exigencies of war, many others put hundreds of thousands of dollars into staging impressive presences at the fair. Here, Japan, France, Siam, Panama, Persia, Honduras, Guatemala, Switzerland, Cuba, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, China, Argentina, the Netherlands, Bolivia, Sweden, Canada, and the Philippines all erected buildings. Inside, their commissions displayed historical relics and examples of traditional arts and crafts and showcased current agricultural and industrial products. North of the foreign pavilions stood the state buildings, where state commissions likewise featured examples of their own history and products. Still farther west lay the model marine camp, the livestock exhibits, the athletic stadium, and the polo fields.

Turning east out of the Scott Street entrance brought a visitor through the South Gardens and eventually to the Joy Zone, the amusement section named in honor of the Panama Canal Zone that featured the usual assortment of concessions. Visitors could tempt fate on roller coasters and thrill rides (one of which, the Bowls of Joy, resulted in multiple fatalities during the fair). Or they could watch dancing girls performing what contemporaries called "muscle dances." Even more popular attractions included reenactments of key events in world history such as the biblical story of creation and the Dayton flood of 1913. Other displays, such as the enormously popular scale model of the Panama Canal and a display of premature infants in newly invented incubators, combined education and entertainment. Like all fairs of the era, the Zone also included the so-called ethnic villages, where groups of people envisioned as "others" by mainstream American society performed the tasks of their daily lives for observers.

Fair visitors faced myriad choices once they entered the PPIE's gates. They could admire modern art either in the Palace of Fine Arts or along the avenues of the grounds, watch a theater performance, learn about educational reform in China or the Philippines, catch a glimpse of the salacious Stella (a painting of a nude woman that visitors swore breathed on its own) on the Zone, ride the Aeroscope for a stunning Bay Area view from high above the Zone, or learn more about the states and nations of the world in the buildings they designed and built. Many exhibitors featured "moving pictures" in their displays, and they became enough of a draw that after a few months, the official program issued each day of the fair included a lengthy list of times and locations where visitors could view the films. The fair offered visitors new experiences of all kinds—from art to food to amusement rides.

The outdoor nature of the fair offered an extensive canvas for works of art of all sorts. This art reinforced the fair's larger messages about race, progress, and expansionism. PPIE head sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder noted, "It is the sculpture that interprets the meaning of the exposition, that symbolizes the spirit of conquest and adventure, and lends imagery to all the elements that have resulted in the union of the Eastern and Western seas." Sculpture adorned every nook and cranny of the large palaces, courts, and towers. The San Francisco Chronicle proudly reported after opening day that the exposition "embodies completely the ultimate achievement of the race." To PPIE officials, these achievements included U.S. domination of the American West, expansion in the Pacific, and the completion of the Panama Canal, which signaled the nation's destiny "to dominate the politics and commerce of the Pacific." They hoped that the exposition would provide the city with "world-wide power and fame and prominence" and assert San Francisco's position as the preeminent city of the Pacific. Underlying those assertions was a belief in the inevitability of progress and of American expansionism, in the fact of both social and scientific evolution, and in the superiority of U.S. values and culture, all of which found expression in the public art of the fair.


Excerpted from Empress San Francisco by Abigail M. Markwyn. Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1. The Spectacle of the Fair,
2. Uniting San Francisco,
3. Claiming Their Place,
4. Economic Partner, Exotic Other,
5. Sex and Other Vices at the Fair,
6. Performing Work,
7. Women Take the Political Stage,
About Abigail M. Markwyn,

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