At the dawn of the twentieth century, a splendid walled city of domed palaces, palm-lined courts, and monumental statuary arose on San Francisco's northern shore. Like a mirage, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) appeared practically out of nowhere on a strip of land previously submerged by water. In just three short years, the 635-acre site 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. Then, after the fair closed, the ephemeral city was all but erased from the landscape. In the intervening ten months, more than 19 million people came to see the spectacle.
In celebration of the PPIE's centennial anniversary, the California Historical presents an exhibition that illuminates how San Francisco came to host this groundbreaking world's fair—ostensibly commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal—just nine years after the devastating earthquake and fires of 1906. Vintage photographs, original documents, artifacts (such as the sterling silver shovel made by Shreve and Company for President William Taft to break ground when construction began), oil paintings, hand-tinted photographs by the official fair photographer Cardinell-Vincent Company, and original architectural renderings take visitors on a tour of the alluring fairgrounds.
Examining the fair's both familiar and exotic features—from the Palace of Fine Arts, to the Austrian cut glass "novagems" that hung from the Tower of Jewels and earned the fair the moniker The Jewel City, to the mesembryanthemum hedge, a 20-foot-high living wall that enclosed the fair's southern boundary—this exhibition reflects on a 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.