The Mirage of Quaketown | Ross Eric Gibson, Local History – Santa Cruz Sentinel
The earthquake and fire of 1906 devastated San Francisco, destroying its monuments, parks and mansions. The ruins of City Hall seemed like an object lesson, built more than 25 years before by corrupt contractors plastering their botched construction of a building used as a seat of political corruption.
The great dome was bounded by electric streetlights, a tower of jewels, until the walls crumbled. The exposed iron skeleton of the City Hall dome seemed to float above what was called “the damned finest ruins.”
Yet in two years, San Francisco is booming in 1908 with reconstruction activity, and new construction standards. San Francisco hoped to show off its recovery with a World’s Fair and took advantage of the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 to celebrate. The canal was the gateway to the Pacific, but most of its shipping traffic went to San Francisco. As if to connect the nation to the transcontinental railroad, the Atlantic-Pacific junction was seen as uniting the world in a progressive future, and the fair was named the “Panama-Pacific International Exposition”.
Then, on January 23, 1914, a violent earthquake shook San Francisco again. Little noticeable damage was done. Then on June 28, Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering a war in Europe. Since America was not yet involved, the fair’s organizers were afraid to postpone the fair to an uncertain post-war date. In fact, the war closed Europe to tourists, who headed for the fair instead, and Americans abandoned the seaside resorts of the east coast for a trip west.
The San Francisco Fair Committee was led by Santa Cruzans: Charles C. Moore as fair chairman, Wm. T. Sesnon as vice-chairman, Fred Swanton, founder of Boardwalk, as head of the Combined Amusement Co. and James Duval Phelan of the California Concessions Co.
The fairgrounds were on the Marina Bay embankment, so windy that the architecture was built as cloistered courtyards for windbreaks. Unlike Chicago’s “White City” World’s Fair of 1893, this fair’s neoclassical architecture was painted in “the rainbow hues of sunny California”. The Jewel Tower seemed like a tribute to the old San Francisco City Hall. It was adorned with giant gems suspended from mirror-backs, lit at night by an array of multi-colored spotlights called Scintillator, first used at Santa Cruz water carnivals. Bernard Maybeck’s “Palais des Beaux-Arts” was designed to look like overgrown ruins, with angels weeping in planters so their tears could water new growth.
The midway was named “the zone” after the Panama Canal Zone. Swanton replicated the Boardwalk carousel in a mosque-style building, as well as Boardwalk’s “Thompson’s Scenic Railway”, but added giant elephant statues to support the front track. Swanton also had an alligator farm in an Egyptian building, and his submarine ride later inspired one at Disneyland.
Fred Thompson, founder of Coney Island’s ‘Luna Park’, has teamed up with Swanton to create a 14-acre funhouse-like attraction at the fair called ‘Toyland Grown Up’, based on Victor Herbert’s operetta ‘Babes in Toyland”. The entrance was guarded by two 60-foot-tall wooden soldiers, and a 60-foot suffragette could be climbed on for a view from its base drum “Votes for Women.” Swanton brought in Big Annie (Margarite Murphy), the fat lady mascot of the Boardwalk, to act as Toyland’s host. She charmed a visiting royal so much that he granted her the official title of “Duchess of Santa Cruz”. Toyland also included a beautiful 37-inch woman called “Elizabeth the Living Doll”.
Swanton’s main attraction was the Aeroscope, a 10-minute ride invented by Joseph Strauss for the fair. It featured a restaurant-sized observation car, which soared on a crane 264 feet in the air (higher than the Chicago Ferris wheel) and rotated like an airplane flight. Six years later, in 1921, Strauss and Michael O’Shaughnessy were promoting an impossible idea for a bridge over the Golden Gate (built from 1933 to 1937).
During the preparations for the fair, exhibits could be seen on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. At the Pacific Ocean House was John Teeney’s table of redwood and lighted madrone burls, who took four years to sculpt his cranes, snakes, alligators, faces and clawed paws. Ms AF Stevens could be seen at the Alexander Hotel working on her 8.5ft by 10ft tapestry titled ‘Peace on Earth’. It was a globe on purple cloth, surrounded by the flags of the nations in a poppy wreath. Hidden in the picture were dark images of war. He would win the fair’s gold medal.
The St. George Hotel showed models of the fair. Assistant Manager Dan Lyons became Assistant Manager of the fair’s hotel, “The Inside Inn”. It was built inside the exhibition grounds, giving guests free access to the fair. The rooms had California place names instead of numbers, listed alphabetically. Lyons promoted overnight trips to Santa Cruz at the Inn, keeping the St. George booked throughout 1915.
For a $3.75 round-trip ticket, a delegation of residents from Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties cruised to the docks at Fair Bay in March, where a news camera caught them caught being serenaded by John Philip Sousa’s orchestra, then greeted by the president of the fair. Moore. Everywhere one looked, free-lapel daffodils identified the 10,000 people a day who visited the Santa Cruz County exhibit.
It occupied 3,000 square feet of the California Mission-style waterfront building. Seabright Cannery had invented its own sorting and grading system for its boxes of “Casino Brand Olives”. There were produce displays and several magical displays, showing an illusion of fresh fruit turning into canned fruit. But no illusions were needed for the foot-long Watsonville Potatoes.
Watsonville held its 1915 “Apple Annual” at the fair, promoting Watsonville as the apple capital of the world. Soquel flaunted its cherry industry and Santa Cruz was the bulb capital of the Pacific, with OJ Lincoln winning a gold medal for its gladioli. An aquarium showed fish from the Monterey Bay, and in the breeding area, Santa Cruz County was promoted as the state’s premier poultry and egg town, after Petaluma.
Watsonville architect William Weeks designed the “Model Schoolhouse” exhibit, having over 18 years designed over 1,000 buildings, including many schools and libraries. Exhibits of paintings and photos showed county scenes. There was Ben Lomond embroidery in the Silk Industries exhibit. Henry Cowell Lime & Cement Company had a rustic limestone temple and relief map of their Rincon Gorge property along the San Lorenzo River.
Towards Santa Cruz
The fair’s South Pacific exhibit featured the county in a half-hour film with live narration, promoting Santa Cruz as a popular detour for visitors to the fair. Southern Pacific ran its finest “flagship” trains to Santa Cruz, promoting its mountain route as “the most scenic rail line in North America.” Three tour operators have booked 10-day rail tours that include East Bay, Napa, Santa Clara Valley, Big Trees, Santa Cruz, Del Monte and Yosemite. Santa Cruz has embellished itself by planting its vacant lots in bloom. A road was built through Big Basin, promoted at the Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Expos, recognized the men and women who saved Big Basin as the nation’s first State Redwood Park.
World’s Fair President CC Moore brought dignitaries to his 100-acre Rancho Tres Ojos on the High Street. Many celebrities were exhausted from the constant attention at the fair and were happy to have a secluded place to relax. These included Secretary of State Wm. Jennings Bryan, who had just resigned on June 9 as President Wilson’s envoy to Germany. On July 10, Bryan addressed 6,000 people on the beach in Santa Cruz, then dedicated a newly planted redwood tree at Moore’s to Peace.
A nearby Highland Street mansion belonged to HA Van Torchiana, Consul General to the Netherlands. His home in Santa Cruz was visited by many foreign dignitaries from the fair. The most remembered is Japanese consul general Yamawaki, so impressed by his enthusiastic welcome to Santa Cruz, that Yamawaki presented the city with two sculptures from the Japan exhibit.
News of the war worries foreign exhibitors and sometimes interferes in the fair. Sabotage plots to blow up the Japanese and French exhibits were uncovered and stopped. And the war closed many of the foreign exhibitions.
A major Santa Cruzans excursion for the December 4 closing ceremonies had to be canceled when a terrible storm hit the central coast, strong enough to topple the “electric tower” in downtown San Jose. After closing day, the fair’s magnificent buildings were reduced to rubble, resembling war-torn Europe or post-earthquake San Francisco. Soon after, a plot by German saboteurs to destroy the Panama Canal was foiled. Bryan’s “Peace Tree” remained sickly throughout the war.
Several of the fair’s smaller buildings were moved to Brookdale, Capitola, High Street and Watsonville, for homes. Show plantings were used to landscape the Moore and Torchiana estates, as well as the grounds for the new Santa Cruz High School. The ride, a replica of the one in Santa Cruz, was moved to San Francisco’s “Playland” and then purchased by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk as a spare. The miniature train ride ended at the Swanton Pacific Ranch in Swanton. And Fred Swanton hoped to get the 20-foot-tall Neptune from his submarine as the colossus of Lighthouse Point, until the government said it would interfere with the lighthouse’s beam.
Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.