Boats sailing on the lagoon of the Palace of Fine Arts.

San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck, may be the best-known remnant of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. But the impact of the exposition goes far beyond that monumental structure. The fair, which attracted nearly 20 million visitors, commemorated the completion of the Panama Canal and marked the city’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake. Pavilions spotlighted new technologies like the automobile, air travel and the first-ever transcontinental phone call. One hundred years later, we discuss the fair’s lasting significance.

Images Of the 1915 Exposition

Courtesy of the California Historical Society

Night view of the Panama Pacific International Expo, 1915. Photographer: Unknown. Gelatin silver print.

Tower of Jewels, Court of the Universe and Fountain of the Setting Sun, 1915. Photographer: Unknown. Gelatin silver print.

Panama Canal Concession on The Zone. Photographer: Unknown. Published by Cardinell-Vincent. Postcard.

Aviator Art Smith. Photographer: Unknown. Published by the Souvenir Guide Publishers, Hobart Building, S.F., c.1915.

Deconstruction of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition – Ohio Building being floated to Coyote Point, 1916. Photographer: Unknown. Gelatin silver copyprint.

The Giant Typewriter at the Underwood Exhibit, Palace of Liberal Arts, 1915. Underwood Typewriter Company.











Aeroplane view of main group of exhibit palaces. Panels from 'Views of the Panama -Pacific International Exhibition in Natural Colors' c. 1914. Gabriel Moulin. Published by Pacific Novelty Co. Souvenir Book

Laura Ackley, architectural historian and author of "San Francisco's Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915"
Anthea Hartig, executive director of the California Historical Society
Lee Bruno, journalist and author of "Panorama: Tales From San Francisco's 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition"; his great grandfather Reuben Hale first proposed the 1915 fair

  • Andygoldberg

    Black Point is the outcropping between Fort Mason and Ghiradelli Square. I rail tunnel for the Black Point Railway was cut through it and the tailing were used as fill for the Exposition Site. (It was that fill that under went liquefaction in 1989, causing so much damage in the Marina.) The Black Point Tunnel can still be seen, there is a pair of large black doors visible off Van Ness facing the Aquatic Park. You can still see the rails disappearing under the doors. The other end is visible from the Fort Mason parking lot. I invite San Franciscans to check out this relic of their Fair.
    Andy in San Jose

  • Robert Thomas

    A colorful result of the exposition was the fate of the Hoo-Hoo House, a forest-prducts industry pavilion demonstrating Western lumber products built by the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo – a fraternal organization of lumbermen.

    After the exhibition closed, Hoo-Hoo House was floated down the bay and carted overland to the town of Cupertino and reassembled there by a real-estate promoter named George Hensley at a site that became known as Hoo-Hoo-Hill. It was used as a meeting house and a dance hall for a decade. The Cupertino neighborhood is now called Monta Vista. Hoo-Hoo House burned in “in a spectacular fire” 1928.

    Are there other structures still extant in the Bay Area that were built for the Exposition?

    • Kelsey C.

      When the Ardenwood project was initiated the ruins in question were known by the East Bay Regional Park staff at Ardenwood as the “Teahouse Ruins” based on the oral tradition that Mrs. Patterson had purchased a Japanese teahouse from the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Through archival research it was determined that the Ardenwood structure, rather than being a modest teahouse, was actually a multi-room, 4185 sq. feet office that had housed the Japanese commissioners to the Exposition. The entire material for this building had been shipped from Japan to San Francisco and set up, along with several other buildings, by Japanese carpenters. In 1916, after the Exposition had closed and the buildings were scheduled for demolition, Mrs. Clara Patterson Layson (the widow of George Patterson) purchased the Japanese Commissioners’ Office and had it shipped down the Bay by barge to the Ardenwood farm in Fremont. In 1917 Mrs. Patterson contracted the famous Bay Area architect, Julia Morgan, to draw up plans for remodelling of the structure to be used as a residence. Due to Mrs. Patterson’s death in 1917, the
      remodelling plans were never completed, but had they been, Mrs. Patterson would have possessed a dwelling with three bedrooms (each with its own full bathroom), a kitchen with abundant storage, living room with fireplace, formal dinning room, sewing room and a subterranean garage.

      • Robert Thomas

        This is interesting also from the the aspect that while I think no materials from the Exposition were involved, husband and wife Isabel and Oliver Stine were inspired by the Japanese pavilion there to construct what is now called Hakone Garden municipal park in Saratoga. The property was subsequently owned and cared for by Charles Lee Tilden, for which Tilden Regional Park is named and who set it on its way to eventual public ownership.

    • Kelsey C.

      There are also palm trees at the California Nursery Historical Park in Fremont that were grown at the nursery, transported by train to the exposition, and later returned to the nursery. They reside on the south side of the property.

      • Janet Barton

        Kelsey is correct. The California Nursery Company in Niles provided around 300 palms – Canary Island Palms and Fan Palms. The palms were placed along the Avenue of the palms, alternating Canary Island Palm / Fan Palm. We are planning an exhibit at the nursery and at the Fremont library this spring or summer about how the palms made the trip to PPIE. It’s quite an amazing story how the palms that weighed up to 30 tons were transported to SF across the bay. You can like our “Friends of the California Nursery Historical Park” facebook page if you’d like to find out when our exhibits open.

  • Robert Thomas

    How was the design and finance of the 1915 Exposition influenced by the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition?

  • Ben Rawner

    Where there many famous Hollywood stars who visited?

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Wow, that tower sounds pretty amazing!

    Today we have the Olympics and the World Cup as global spectacles. Is there any life in the World’s Fair tradition regarding future events?

  • Brad

    Hearing wonderful stories of San Francisco’s past makes me really anxious to see the completion of the Museum of the City of San Francisco. I hope to one day see San Francisco’s history preserved and celebrated in the Old Mint.

  • Don’t forget the fully extant Exposition Organ. This 40-ton, 7,500 pipe organ is one of the last remaining and *usable* vestiges of the PPIE. Restored and needs to be setup, this instrument belonging to the citizen’s of San Francisco is ready to go! An installation showing the console and internal workings and proposed installation ideas can be seen at the PPIE100 Centenary at The Palace of Fine Arts for the rest of 2015. Also, for more information about the Exposition Organ visit:

  • Fantastic program. I’ve been fascinated by world’s fairs since I was young and I keep learning more and more things.

    I would add, though, that currently world’s fairs are just as large and spectacular as world’s fairs then. They tend not to be about “things” now, but more about “ideas.”

    The world’s fair this year in Milan is expected to attract 20 million people and has a food theme. It’s hoped that the San Francisco Bay Area will bid for Expo 2025 in the coming years.

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