“The rapid creation of the White City at Chicago was a remarkable achievement, but even this remarkable feat of the skill architect and engineer is transcended by the rapidity of transformation that took place at the San Francisco Midwinter Fair.”                                                                    -- Scientific American, June 23, 1894

Bird's Eye View of the Exposition

THIS MAJESTIC OVERVIEW of the Midwinter Fair is taken from a chromolithograph by Charles Graham. We can clearly see the overall plan of the exposition, with the major buildings forming a stately quadrangle and the Bonet Electrical Tower providing the spike at the center. In the distance, San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands provide a stunning backdrop for the "Sunset City" in Golden Gate Park.

 

Horticultural and Agricultural Building

THE HORTICULTURAL AND AGRICULTURAL BUILDING which stood on the northwestern side of the Grand Court of Honor between the Japanese Tea Garden and the Fine Arts Building housed the thousands of floral, farming and aquatic exhibits present at the fair. Its architect was Samuel Newsom, one of California's leading builders of Victorian houses since the 1870's. He designed an exhibition hall 400 feet long and 200 feet wide for an economical $58,000. Since most of the exhibits in his building were living things needing sunlight, Newsom placed a gigantic glass dome measuring 99 feet high and 100 feet wide over the center of the structure. Like the other major buildings at the fair, this one too was eclectic in its visual character. The triple arched entrance, the round window above, and the massive walls suggested a heavy reliance on Romanesque cathedrals. The long, low roofs covered with red clay tile were reminiscent of California Mission style. The open arcade surrounding the building where constantly changing floral, plant and aquatic exhibits were shown harkened back to the traditional monastic architecture of Spain. Only the two blue-tinted glass domes flanking the main entrance and the great ferro-vitreous dome in the center broke the southern European mood of the Horticultural and Agricultural Building. The central portion of the structure's interior lay under this massive dome with the remainder of the interior taken up by a spacious, encircling gallery. At the rear of the building was a large hall used for special county and district exhibits and for meeting rooms of the various awards committees. Despite local pretensions to national leadership in industry and the arts, agriculture was still California's most important business and export in 1894. And so, it is accurate to say that the Horticultural and Agricultural Building housed the most significant commodities the Golden State exhibited at the Midwinter Fair. Most of the site where this impressive edifice once stood is today occupied by the new de Young Museum.

Japanese Village (Tea Garden)

THE JAPANESE VILLAGE, popularly known as the Japanese Tea Garden, though much altered over the past 100 years, is the only significant architectural vestige of the Midwinter Exposition remaining in Golden Gate Park. Though inspired by the Japanese Tea Garden (the Hoo-den) on the Wooded Isle at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the San Francisco version was more elaborate in design and far more authentic. The man who envisaged and planned the Village was, ironically, an Australian named George Turner Marsh who had long studied Japanese culture and language and had opened San Francisco's first store for the sale of Asian arts at the Palace Hotel in 1876. He was also a leading real estate developer of land to the immediate north of Golden Gate Park, an area Marsh called the Richmond District (after a suburb in his native city of Melbourne). Marsh hired Japanese craftsmen to erect a magnificent gateway, a thatch and wood tea room, and a three story theatre in which a troupe of Japanese jugglers performed. In addition, he hired Japanese landscapers to surround the building with bonsai trees and plants, ponds, bridges, paths, benches and colorful lanterns. Even the thickly needled fir trees which served as a backdrop for the Tea Garden were thinned to create the illusion of Japanese firs. Admission to the Village was twenty-five cents. Patrons who wished to take refreshments were served tea by young Japanese women attired in striking ceremonial kimonos. The Japanese Tea Garden was so popular an attraction at the exposition that the Golden Gate Park Commissioners purchased it from Marsh at the fair's end and it has since remained one of San Francisco's most beloved possessions.

Mechanical Arts Building

THE MECHANICAL ARTS BUILDING which stood at the southeastern side of the Court of Honor was the second largest building at the exposition, measuring 300 feet in length by 160feet in width, spanning slightly over one square acre. Its architect, Edmund R. Swain, designer of McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park and co-designer of San Francisco's famed Ferry Building (with Arthur Page Brown), evoked the exoticism of India for the exterior of a structure whose chief purpose was to exhibit the latest advancements in industrial technology. The ivory-colored building, constructed at a cost of $75,000, sported multicolored mural decorations and ornamental sculptural reliefs along with corner turrets and two 120 feet high fluted pinnacles flanking the main entrance. The illusion of a rajah's palace was completed by ornate decorations above the building's four entrances, flags fluttering in the wind at the roofline and two elaborate kiosks at the front entrance used by fairgoers to ogle the passing crowds. The barn-like interior was comprised of a large central exhibition area at ground level with a 30 feet wide gallery 18 feet above. Included among the exhibits were steam engines and electric dynamos which powered the lights, fountains and amusement rides at the exposition. Spectators were dazzled by exhibits from General Electric, Western Electric and Southern Pacific, among other industrial giants. On view were dynamos using both Tesla's alternating current and Edison's direct current, railroad locomotives, streetcars, mammoth stamping machines, steamship assemblies, the latest in mining machinery and a fully operating bakery. The site of the Mechanical Arts Building is now occupied by the Academy of Sciences and the Steinhart Aquarium.

 

Chinese Building

THOUGH MANY FOREIGN NATIONS sent goods to the Midwinter Fair from Chicago, almost none built individual pavilions to exhibit their wares. The Chinese Building pictured here might seem to be a rare exception. But in two respects this was not the case. First, the Chinese Building was not constructed by the government of China but was designed by the local firm of Martens and Cottey. It was paid for and erected at a cost of $12,000 by wealthy Chinese merchants in San Francisco as a gesture of pride in their contributions to the city's history and economic life. Second, this structure was not an exhibition hall, but an emporium where everything was for sale. Here one could buy products imported to San Francisco from China, such as plants shaped like birds and animals, joss houses made of colored paper, wooden models of junks, dolls, ebony and ivory carvings, beautifully embroidered tapestries and gowns, and silk garments of all description. The first floor and upper gallery of the building contained a bazaar, a restaurant and a tea house. At the rear of the structure was a theater where a troupe of Chinese child actors, "present, to the accompaniment of a fearfully weird orchestra, interminable and incomprehensible tragedies and comedies." The exterior was colorfully rendered in gold, red and green and the second story walls were adorned with designs of dragons and other mythical creatures. Lanterns in many shapes hung from the eaves. The steeply sloped roof dramatically extended itself beyond the walls and was punctuated by upswept scrolled horns at the corners. A pagoda-like structure rising from the middle of the roof completed the vision of an edifice emblematic of traditional Chinese style. The Chinese Building, managed by San Franciscan Leong Lam, was located directly behind the Mechanical Arts Building, significantly, among the amusements on the Midway Plaisance.

Southern California Building

THIS ILLUSTRATION CONTAINS revealing images of the cultural diversity and historical eclecticism of the Midwinter Fair and the culture which created it. In the background looms the Southern California Building whose architecture reflects both Mission Revival style in its mock bell tower beneath the flag over the righthand entrance and in the low arcades on the structure's wings (visible on the lefthand side behind the trees), as well as Mexican Hacienda influences in its red tile roof, wooden balcony and decorative reliefs around the windows and main entrance. In the middleground is the dense, English style landscape of trees, bushes and shrubs which illustrates Golden Gate Park's "Designed Wilderness" ambience. The Southern California Building stood on a rise to the north of the Court of Honor and was approached on a path lined with palms and orange trees between the Horticultural and Fine Arts Buildings. It was constructed at a cost of $20,000 to house exhibits from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura Counties. Because of the number of exhibitors, this structure was the largest of the many county buildings at the fair, measuring 60 feet long, 95 feet wide and covering 20,000 square feet. Upon entering the building the fairgoer passed beneath an imposing archway of oranges, underscoring the importance of the citrus industry in the Southern California of 1894. Los Angeles products dominated the interior space just as agricultural displays dominated the exhibits. Typical of mammoth food sculptures at earlier expositions, a life-size elephant made completely of walnuts, a gigantic ear of corn created from 45 bushels of normal corn ears, a Ferris Wheel of oranges turned by an electric motor, and a 23 foot pagoda of beans with 120 different varieties interwoven into the design confronted the visitor. In addition, more mundane displays such as wines, olives, fish, sugar beets, marmalades, raisins, honey and ostrich eggs could be viewed. Because of the perishables present in the pavilion, an immense amount of labor was expended in keeping the exhibits fresh and inoffensive at all times.

Grand Court of Honor Looking Southwest

THIS VIEW OF THE Grand Court of Honor taken from the roadway in front of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at mid-morning (note that the shadow of the Electric Tower falls to the west) shows the full 1200 foot sweep of the area which was the main hub of the exposition. It also reveals the nine foot slope to the floor of the central part of the Court, a configuration which might have been inspired by the great central Basin at the Columbian Exposition. The sparseness of the landscaping and sculptural monuments indicates the haste with which the Midwinter Fair was created. Dominating the scene is the Electric Tower which
stood slightly less than one third the height of its model, the Eiffel Tower created for the Parisian exposition of 1889. Apparent is the detailed steel fretwork of the tower to which electric bulbs were attached creating complex and changing patterns for the nightly light shows that were a popular feature of the fair. Also visible is a large searchlight atop the tower which was made in Germany and had been shown at the Columbian Exposition. It was reputed to be one of the most powerful lights in existence. Beyond the Electric Tower is Rupert Schmid's "Allegorical Fountain," a mountainous sculptural representation of symbols of California history, commerce, agriculture and mining. Directly behind the elaborate fountain looms the fanciful Administration Building. To the far left is part of the Mechanical Arts Building and a group of smallish county and Midway structures. To the far right is one of the two sphinxes which stood in front of the Fine Arts Building, the Horticultural and Agricultural Building, the Japanese Village (not visible), the Rumania, Serbia (sic), Montenegro Pavilion, county buildings, and a small circular restaurant just to the right of the Administration Building. In the far distance to the right rises Strawberry Hill on top of which stood an astronomical observatory, later destroyed in the earthquake of 1906. This lithograph shows the first panoramic view visitors would have as they entered the fairgrounds through the Tenth Avenue gate on the north side of Golden Gate Park.

Oriental Village

FOR A MERE FIFTEEN CENTS wide-eyed westerners could visit the exotic quarters of the Turk, Arab, Berber, and Nubian, all people whose cultures were little known in the United States. The attraction, called the Oriental Village, had already appeared at Paris in 1889 and Chicago in 1893, but San Franciscans were smitten by the strange collection of Middle Eastern bazaar, Turkish theater and dance hall, Cairo Street, and luxuriant cafes where one might sample potent Turkish coffees and pungent Egyptian cigarettes, while reclining on a silk-cushioned ottoman. Or, as the Official Guide to the exposition put it, " . . . it is a succession of scenes from the `Thousand and One Nights.' Here are the narrow roadways hemmed in by the queer architecture of the Orient, mosques with bubble-like domes, spires and minarets, gateways with carved and gilded gratings and overhanging balconies, gems of the ironworkers' art." Fairgoers found much to spend their money on in the Village. There were 60 shops selling colored silks, embroidered muslins, jeweled weapons, lamps of brass and copper, silver ornaments and, of course, Oriental carpets. In addition there were rides on camels and donkeys or in sedan chairs, theatrical performances and mock duels among Arab warriors. But most riveting for the prim Victorian visitor were the many strange and suggestive dances performed by agile young women in diaphanous attire. A stroll down Cairo Street brought into view jugglers, fire eaters, acrobats, and other performers. This side-show atmosphere, present in so many of the Asian, African, Middle Eastern and native exhibits, provided visitors to the fair with a distorted notion of non-western societies, one which separated the "serious endeavors" of Americans from the quaint exotica practiced by "less civilized" cultures.

Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building

THE MANUFACTURES AND LIBERAL ARTS BUILDING anchored the northeastern end of the Grand Court of Honor. Like the Administration Building, it was the work of the fair's chief architect, Arthur Page Brown. However, unlike the compact and vertically oriented structure Brown designed for the exposition's administrative offices, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, erected at a cost of $113,600, was a long, sprawling building measuring 462 feet in length by 225 feet in width, covering an area of about three square acres. It was not only the largest edifice at the Midwinter Fair, but also the biggest structure ever built in California. Though it was substantially smaller than earlier American exposition buildings at Philadelphia and Chicago, visitors were greatly impressed by an exhibition hall whose vertical wood and iron piers soared 92 feet, whose roof trusses spanned 158 feet, and whose walls and ceiling contained 14,000 square feet of glass. Modeled on the Roman basilica and on the Palais de l'Industrie in Paris with a tall central aisle flanked by two smaller side aisles, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, like all the major exposition structures, had walls made of a special plaster material called "staff" which had been concocted to make temporary architecture look more or less permanent. For the building's exterior design Brown borrowed heavily from the vocabulary of Middle Eastern architecture, as he had also done in the Administration Building. Conforming to Midwinter Fair Director-General Michael H. de Young's admonition to avoid Classical style, he created a cream-colored facade that featured such Moorish touches as the impressive 130 feet high blue dome over the main entrance, the keyhole windows on the corner pavilions, and the Arabic design window over the main portal, (the liberal use of Gothic trefoil and quartrefoil decoration around windows and on the roofline), along with a rich palette of creams, reds, turquoises and golds. However, true to the Victorian eclecticism so apparent at the fair, Brown also included a roof of red tile, domed corner towers, and a monastery-like arcade along the southern and northern sides of the building, all examples of the California Mission style. The building's massive interior was transected by two wide avenues, giving uncluttered access to the thousands of exhibits.

Fine Arts Building

ADDING TO THE ARCHITECTURAL ECLECTICISM of the Midwinter Fair was the exhibition hall dedicated to the fine arts. Designer C. C. McDougal, least prominent of the exposition architects, chose the Egypt of the pharaohs as his point of reference for the structure that housed the large collection of sculpture and paintings displayed at the fair. The smallest of the major exposition buildings, the Fine Arts hall cost $57,400 to construct and was originally 120 feet long by 60 feet wide. However the collection it was meant to contain quickly outgrew this space and a 40 foot wide annex had to be added to the rear of the building. Standing on a four foot rise at the northern corner of the Grand Court of Honor on a site now largely occupied by the de Young Museum, the Fine Arts Building combined elements from many of the great monuments along the Nile River, including royal temples, pyramids and sphinxes. The two story facade was created by massive corner piers supporting a corniced entablature 90 feet wide. Behind pairs of freestanding columns were the doorway and front windows. The piers, columns and entablature were covered with hieroglyphs, sculpted palms and lotuses, and reliefs of gods and mythological figures. Above the cornice sat a pyramid half the height of the facade beneath. Completing the effect of dynastic splendor were two sphinxes guarding the main approach to the building and a small forest of palm trees. The materials out of which the Fine Arts Building was made were iron and wood for trussing, plaster for walls, and glass for the ceiling. The interior, like those of the other exhibition halls, consisted of a large viewing area on the first floor and a spacious, overhanging gallery on the second. Most of the art works shown were solidly in the Romantic and Victorian traditions favored by the nineteenth century. San Francisco would have to wait until the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915 to get its first taste of modern art exhibits. In the main section of the building were displayed marble and bronze sculpture, water colors, engravings, etchings, drawings and carved gemstones. Oil paintings were exhibited in the annex at the rear. After the Midwinter Exposition closed in July of 1894, the Fine Arts Building became San Francisco's first public art museum, the de Young. It served as the museum until 1921 and was eventually demolished in 1928.

Grand Court of Honor Looking Northeast

THIS ILLUSTRATION DEMONSTRATES both the strengths and weaknesses of the Midwinter Fair. In it are depicted massive exhibition halls, grand fountains, soaring steel towers and wheels, all designed and built in a breathtaking seven months. But also the meager landscaping and large unfilled spaces are all too apparent. By contrast to the Columbian Exposition a year before, the San Francisco fairgrounds reveal the effects of rapid planning and hurried construction. The Grand Court of Honor was 1200 feet long and 500 feet across. A roadway 60 feet wide circled the Court itself whose floor level was nine feet lower. In this view we see the basin of the great "Allegorical Fountain" in the right foreground, two information and souvenir kiosks in the center foreground, a statue of Christopher Columbus sent from Chicago, the 266 foot high Bonet Electrical Tower, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at the upper left, the Kaiser Franz Josef Hall at the upper right, and the Mechanical Arts Building with the 100 foot high Firth Wheel peeping over its shoulder at center right. There were three observation platforms on the Electric Tower, the lowest at 80 feet, where the Belvista Cafe was located, and the highest at 210 feet. These observation areas which offered unprecedented views of the city, the Bay Area and, on clear days, even the Farallon Islands 30 miles out in the Pacific were made accessible to fairgoers by an electric elevator designed by the famed Otis Company. Today the Grand Court is the site of the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park and is bordered by the de Young Museum, the Academy of Sciences, the Steinhart Aquarium and the Spreckels Music Stand.

Grant Court of Honor Looking Northeast

Administration Building

THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, designed by popular San Francisco architect Arthur Page Brown whose local accomplishments included the Ferry Building and Trinity Church, housed the offices of the exposition's department chiefs. Many visitors regarded it as the Midwinter Fair's most visually stunning structure. This whimsical edifice occupied the southeastern end of the Grand Court of Honor, directly opposite Brown's monumental Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building. Constructed for $30,654, the Administration Building comprised a central square structure with domed, hexagonal pavilions at each corner, and a 135 foot high domed tower in the center. Pink, gold, cream, and white, the richly ornamented design was a riot of Arabic, Byzantine and Gothic styles. Islamic architecture inspired the great horseshoe window over the central portal, the keyhole windows at all levels of the facade and the tower pinnacles. The four bronze gilt pavilion domes and the great central dome evoked Byzantine antecedents. The complex quatrefoil decoration at the rooflines of the main building and central tower recalled Gothic style. The interior of the Administration Building stood three stories high with a majestic rotunda in the center, surrounded by galleries and loggias. Taken as a totality, Brown's edifice was a striking example of the eclecticism which dominated San Francisco's domestic architecture in the Victorian era. The site where the Administration Building once stood is now occupied by the Spreckels Music Stand.