As the City Beautiful idea died in the wake of the "Great Earthquake," it found a renaissance in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.
The Exposition's chief architect enlisted Edward
Bennett, Daniel Burnham's assistant for San Francisco's failed City Beautiful plan, to create a design for the Exposition.
Bennett began his architectural study in San Francisco and worked with many of the Exposition's future designers in Burnham's plan for the city.
In this time he spent years strolling the streets and soaking up the cultural atmosphere where he became quite familiar with indigenous building traditions (lee, 6).
California had developed its own unique building style that emphasized its topography, climate, local building materials and open plans that united the interior and exterior environments.
San Francisco, in turn, was a hub for trade between Asia and the West and hosted a significant immigrant Asian population that brought features of Far Eastern architecture to the region (Lee, 9).
Furthermore, building on the idea of San Francisco as the new crossroads between the East and West, a tangible feeling of cultural influences joining the East with the West flourished.
Along with its setting that, to many, resembled the French port of Marseilles, it's no mistake that this great International Exposition on the sloping shores of the Golden Gate suggested to the architects an atmosphere that many described as "Mediterranean"
(Macomber, 15). Edward Bennet devised a plan that took into consideration all of these influences and incorporated them together into a compact arrangement of buildings around central
courts and behind giant walls.
Bennet's design of a "walled city" found its historical forbears throughout the Mediterranean. As an architectural feature, it developed on the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean as a buttress against the frequent sieges of the Crusades and other foreign invasions.
From there the Moors carried the walled city tradition to Spain. Many years later it became a significant part of the civic architecture of Latin America when the Spanish Conquistadors came to the New World.
From Latin America the outer wall as an architectural motif moved north with the Spanish missionaries and became incorporated into the design of the California Missions;
such as the one in San Francisco, named in honor of its own Mission Dolores, San Francisco de Asís (Macomber, 28).
The walls surrounding the Exposition, however, had other practical advantages beyond their historical significance.
When Edward Bennett and the other designers of the Exposition devised their plan, they did not overlook the climactic conditions of the Harbor View location chosen for the Exposition.
Sitting on the water close to the Golden Gate Strait, they all well knew the wind that swept through the channel, as well as the fog and rain that came through on occasion.
The large external wall, in concord with the tight collection of large buildings would provide the Exposition's visitors with a refuge from the wind and the occasional storm.
Furthermore, grouping all of the buildings together around central courts would ease the difficulties posed by handling large crowds and would lessen the walking distances each visitor would have to make from one exhibit to another (Lee, 103).
Such issues were troublesome at the
previous World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 where a large tract of land, occupied by broadly spaced out buildings, tired out many visitors and posed an attendance problem for the more distant exhibition halls.
The walled city of buildings and courts blending into the natural landscape that resulted from this plan created a unified sense of the Exposition as "an Oriental city set in the midst of a vast amphitheater of hills and bay, arched by the fathomless blue of the California sky" (Macomber, 15-16).
The men who devised the architectural scheme for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition focused on this combination of art and nature as one of their primary design goals.
Chief Architect of the Exposition, George Kelham, wrote in Pacific Coast Architect:
If we have succeeded in combining art and nature so that each seems a part of the other, in bringing the wonderful Bay of San Francisco into our picture, in making our great group of buildings nestle into their surroundings both in form and color, then the real meaning of what we have tried for is made clear (59).
As Kelham intended, the palette of colors used in the Exposition reflected the landscape of San Francisco and remained as one of the prominent legacies of the entire event.
Jules Guerin, the colorist of the Exposition, focused on the harmony of color between the grounds and the buildings of the PPIE and the hues Nature gave the surrounding landscape.
All of the previous fairs in the United States all but lacked color.
Chicago acquired the name "The White City" for the coloring of its buildings and its broad use of "staff," a temporary, marble-looking plaster coating on each of the exhibit halls.
A pure marble white produced a vicious glare, something Guerin found particularly harsh to the eye in the California sunlight as well as interrupting the harmony of the walled city.
Guerin further believed that pure white had a certain "new effect" which he considered deadly to art (Macomber, 39).
Instead, Guerin looked to Ancient Roman architecture and the travertine marble that composed many of their buildings and columns. He had first used this imitation travertine marble on the exterior of New York City's Penn Station and it provided a unique texture to a building that needed color (Barry, 10).
Ivory-pink in color, the travertine became the color of all the buildings and served as the basic canvas upon which Guerin would apply his "warm, but quiet Oriental hues" (Macomber, 38).
The choice of colors with which to decorate the fair derived from the decision to develop the theme of an Oriental walled city and the natural Mediterranean setting.
I saw the vibrant tints of the native wild flowers, the soft brown of the surrounding hills, the gold of the orangeries, the blue of the sea; and I determined that, just as a musician builds his symphony around a motif or chord, so must I strike a chord of color and build my symphony on this (Brechin in Benedict, 101).
Guerin rigidly enforced the colors chosen in his scheme.
He worked closely with the architects, artists, sculptors and gardeners of the Exposition to assure that they followed his color guidelines to the letter.
Everything from statues, glass, light standards, the flowers and even the color of the gravel on the footpaths lay within his predetermined spectrum
His strict limitation of colors to a palette of nine meant that no hues would clash with one another, and the walled city of the Orient would appear as harmonized in color as it was in shape.
Charles Moore and the other influences behind the Exposition created this great cosmopolitan event to commemorate the linking of the East and West through the Panama Canal, hosting it in an international city, and staging it on an architectural plan that unifies forms from across the globe.
San Francisco opened its Golden Gate with a forum where the people of the world could exchange cultural, social and commercial interests.
Unfortunately, as the Panama-Pacific International Exposition got underway, current attitudes and events impeded this process and undermined this remarkable confluence of the world's cultures.