City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World's Fair


Panama–Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)
This exhibition is part of San Francisco's Centennial Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE100), presented by AT&T; . CHS is an organizing partner of the PPIE100 along with Innovation Hangar, the Maybeck Foundation, and the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department.
Panama–Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)
In three short years, the land between the Presidio and Fort Mason, known today as the Marina District, was filled with sand dredged from the bay and transformed into an elaborate Byzantium called the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). California Historical Society, CHS2014.1563
Panama–Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)
A beautifully illustrated book by architectural historian Laura Ackley, co-published with Heyday, is the exhibition's companion publication .
City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World's Fair

CHS, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco
February 22, 2015 – January 3, 2016

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
February 21, 2015 – January 10, 2016

Slideshow: City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World's Fair (Palace of Fine Arts)

Slideshow: City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World's Fair (CHS Headquarters)

Watch archival footage of the fair at night featuring innovative illuminations

Watch an interview video with historian/author Laura Ackley and curator Erin Garcia

Watch an animated video of the history of San Francisco Bay

In the early twentieth century, a splendid walled city of domed palaces, palm-lined courts, and monumental statuary arose on San Francisco's northern shore. The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)—a world's fair commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal just nine years after the devastating earthquake and fires of 1906—emerged on 635 acres of land previously submerged by water.

The fair featured eleven exhibition palaces showcasing objects from every corner of the globe, more than 1,500 sculptures commissioned from artists all over the world, 65 acres of amusement concessions, and an aviation field. Fifty California counties, forty-eight states, and twenty-one countries mounted displays in the exposition's grand pavilions. Then, after the fair closed, this ephemeral city was all but erased from the landscape. In the intervening ten months, nearly nineteen million people—about twenty times the population of San Francisco at the time—were drawn to the spectacle.

What accounts for this world's fair's popularity, and what connections can we make with the present day?

In celebration of the PPIE's centennial anniversary, the California Historical Society presents two related exhibitions exploring the PPIE as a critical event that shaped the San Francisco we know today—a city undaunted by tragedy, audaciously innovative, rising to meet the challenges of the day.


February 22, 2015 - January 3, 2016

City Rising at our headquarters on Mission Street is an in-depth account of the fair—its planning, construction, and extraordinary components—from how San Francisco became host of the exhibition, to the fair's remarkable innovations, to its attractions and concessions. Through vintage photographs, souvenirs, and other artifacts, visitors will journey inside the exposition to see what fairgoers encountered 100 years ago.

A video series with architects, historians, curators, authors, and memorabilia collectors—all of whom embody the spirit of the fair—provides a contemporary perspective to this important cornerstone of San Francisco's past, bringing history alive for our age.

On view every night after dark until 11pm is Engineers of Illumination , a projected light project by Optic Flare. This series of artist-based, projected-light installations uses CHS's windows to honor the stunning achievements of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Throughout the exhibition, six light-based artists will show an after-dark artwork for the gallery's front and side windows, each running for approximately six weeks.


What better place to explore the exposition's legacy than the only fair building still standing at its original location? City Rising at the Palace of Fine Arts provides an overview of the fair and how it captured the attention of the city, state, nation, and world during an era of international conflict and America's can-do spirit. Why did so many people visit the fair and what did they see? How did the fair transform the city's geographic, social, economic, and cultural landscapes? What did the Palace of Fine Arts represent, and why was it saved from destruction? An illustrated map and an animated video complements images and artifacts in telling the story of this captivating world's fair.

An exciting series of public programs and an exhibition publication complement the exhibitions.

Reflect with us on this moment in San Francisco's history when the city stepped onto the world stage to represent the country and state at the beginning of a century in which both would figure prominently.

Field of Vision: Landscapes from the Imagination

Field of Vision: Landscapes from the Imagination, by Elise Baldwin

Thursday, October 8, 2015 – Sunday, November 22, 1915

Much as the completion of the Panama Canal in 1915 was a twentieth-century engineering triumph over geographical obstacles, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) was a demonstration of human and cultural resilience in response to the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires. The fantastical city of the PPIE was born from the shadow of this disaster, a message to the world celebrating the combined powers of technology, industrialization, cultural determinism, and globalization. In her installation, Elise Baldwin juxtaposes panoramic landscape photographs of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake with panoramics of the PPIE. Overlaying photographic panoramas from different years, maps, and other documents from the era, she underscores the surreal phoenix-like rebuilding of the city and construction of the fairgrounds.

Click here for future installations in the series.

History Keepers The Pico House
History Keepers tells the story of Los Angeles at the city’s first grand hotel, the 1869 historic Pico House. ( Left ) Detail from a Carleton Watkins stereograph, ca. 1870s, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library; ( right ) photo by Lludo, Creative Commons License, 2008

August 6, 2015 – August 31, 2015

History Keepers: Storied Objects from Los Angeles Collections

The Pico House
424 North Main Street, Los Angeles
Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00am – 4:00pm

Photographs, documents, scrapbooks, and ephemera are some of the material objects that help us to tell and understand our history. What are the objects that tell the story of Los Angeles? Who collects them? What stories do they tell? In this exhibition celebrating Los Angeles’s remarkable history, curious objects from collections housed across the Los Angeles region are displayed together at the historic Pico House in downtown El Pueblo de Los Ángeles to illuminate the history of this multifaceted city.

An exhibition by the California Historical Society and L.A. as Subject, presented in partnership with El Pueblo Historical Monument and the El Pueblo Park Association


Art of the West Exhibition
The Autry in Griffith Park
4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles
Free to California Historical Society Members

Visit the California Historical Society Gallery at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. The CHS Gallery is part of the permanent exhibition Art of the West , which showcases the dynamic and evolving world of art that springs from the cultural practices of some of the many peoples who have shaped the American West. The CHS Gallery features selections from CHS's fine arts and costumes collections that are permanently housed at the Autry. This collaboration has assured the exhibition and conservation of significant works of art from the CHS Collection by some of America's best known nineteenth and early twentieth-century artists (including Albert Bierstadt, James Walker, and Maynard Dixon) as well as turn-of-the-nineteenth-century costumes. The Art of the West exhibition is the first of its kind to explore how shared values and interests have inspired artists from different cultures and times to create distinctive, powerful works that speak to their experience of the West as both a destination and a home.

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