Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Panama California Exposition

With San Diego being the first port of call for ships headed north, a great fair came to San Diego to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. Prior to the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, Balboa Park was a large, urban, mostly open space park. The fair left an indelible mark on the city and transformed Balboa Park into the cultural center it remains today.

The style of the buildings was freewheeling and ranged from Mission to Spanish Colonial. Prior to this Expo, fairs had stuck mostly to neo-classical architecture, so the buildings in Balboa Park proved to be quite a departure. Most of the elaborate stonework was created in San Diego by local artisans. Many of the buildings were erected on a temporary basis, and only pictures of them survive. Some of the original buildings remain. The Botanical Building is a massive lath structure, at the time one of the largest in the world. It sits at the end of La Laguna De La Flores, pictured in the sepia-toned photograph. The Cabrillo Bridge still spans the canyon and created the western entrace to the park. The California Bell Tower's chimes can still be heard throughout the park. It is 200 feet tall, with an iron weathervane on top in the shape of a Spanish ship. The California State Building is now the Museum of Man, and the Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi is still there. The Spreckles Organ Pavillion remains, as well. The San Diego Zoo, widely regarded as the finest in the world, grew out of the animal exhibits at the Expo.

If business or pleasure take you to San Diego, a trip to Balboa Park is well worth your while, as it is still the crown jewel of the city.

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