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

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.

The Illuminated Palace
Video still from Kevin Cain's The Illuminated Palace in the windows of the California Historical Society

Thursday, July 2, 2015 - Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Illuminated Palace, by Kevin Cain

The Illuminated Palace combines lensless camera techniques from the dawn of photography with contemporary digital views to capture architect Bernard Maybeck’s vision of the Palace of Fine Arts as a fleeting ruin. "Maybeck spoke of his desire to free the Palace from the obligatory physical limitations he understood all built objects in the world must have," Cain explains. "If the Palace is a chrysalis, the butterfly Maybeck sought is something his contemporary Rose Macaulay sums up in her lovely phrase: 'the pleasure of ruins.'" Through the use of light, Cain explores Maybeck's fantasy of dematerializing the Palace, weaving into his projections a likely future in which a rising Pacific may claim the Palace and its lagoon once and for all.

Engineers of Illumination is supported by a grant from the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.

Click here for future installations in the series.


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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