S.F. Expo's 100th Anniversary

Lots of festivities in the works to celebrate a sublime 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition
SF Expo 100
1915 Exposition's Tower of Jewels at night.
SF Expo 100
What was: the elaborate expo buildings and grounds.
SF Expo 100
Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts is today's lone surviving structure at the original site.
SF Expo 100

With its Tower of Jewels illuminated every night with powerful searchlights, the ornate and bizarre Court of Abundance, and Grand Esplanade, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was the greatest thing San Francisco had ever seen.

One hundred years after the opening of this 1915 world's fair, a citywide, yearlong celebration will try to bring it back to life.

Tours, talks, community days, a uke-a-thon (to remind people that the exposition brought sudden popularity to the humble ukulele), and many more events take place through March 2016.

On February 21 an all-day event at the Palace of Fine Arts—the only structure still remaining from the fair—will feature an opening ceremony, performances of Hawaiian, Polynesian, Taiko music, and more—even singers from the Merola Opera program of the San Francisco Opera.

Most every cultural institution in and around the city will be taking part, ranging from the Exploratorium (marking a return to the venue it recently vacated) to the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco.

But it sounds like the best will come last. The 'Palace After Dark' tour, from 7 to 10 p.m., will give folks a chance to drink in architect Bernard Maybeck's mysterious Palace, with its strange maidens and immense urns, while enjoying an 'Optic Flair' light installation.

Community days and Palace After Dark continue throughout the year, so you have no excuse for missing out.

Other upcoming events include the 'Fancy Flying: Aviation at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition' photo exhibition starting February 20, the exhibition 'Streetcars to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition,' and a talk by Laura Ackley, author of a book about the fair, San Francisco's Jewel City, at the Marin Library at the Marin Civic Center on March 4.

The Panama Pacific International Exposition marked the completion of the Panama Canal, the city's rebirth after the 1906 earthquake, the city's quest to dominate the Pacific, and the sheer joy and bravado of the architects, artists, and designers who put it together.

All the great Bay Area architects of the time participated—George Kelham, Louis Mullgardt, Willis Polk, Arthur Brown Jr. One artist, Jules Guerin, served as chief colorist. A very young Bennie Bufano created relief sculptures.

The site, once a shallow cove and brackish lagoon that had been surrounded by houses, a large apartment building, and other structures, was cleared and filled for the expo. Although the plan had been to remove all of the exposition's buildings at the fair's conclusion, no one had the heart to tear down Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts.

"The Palace of Fine Arts is so sublime, so majestic, and is the product of so much imagination that it would have graced the age of Pericles," observed a professor from Columbia University when the fair opened. "For the first time I have seen color and form blended into perfection."

For more on the 100th anniversary celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, click here.