THERE WERE THE inevitable skeptics, and one local critic labeled the proposed exposition "the Midwinter Fake." The first major challenge came from the friends and protectors of Golden Gate Park. The Official History of the California Midwinter International Exposition blithely glossed over the controversy:
The fears of the Park Commissioners for the safety of their precious gems of forestry were allayed by the promises of the projectors that the desires of the Commissioners in this regard should be their special care. It was also pointed out that, just as the Columbian Exposition had transformed a disease-breeding marsh into a beautiful park, so should the Midwinter Exposition make the comparative wilderness of Concert Valley [an area in the southeast section of the Park] to blossom like the rose.(4)
In reality, though, the Exposition Executive Committee's decision was fiercely debated. Superintendent John McLaren was adamantly opposed to the plan, which he felt would lead to the desecration of his park's newly planted flora and set a precedent for holding large-scale commercial ventures in an area originally designed as a woodland retreat from urban life. McLaren's main ally was W. W. Stow, a millionaire friend of the park and a dedicated conservationist. At one critical meeting with the Golden Gate Park Commission, Stow denounced de Young's plan in ringing terms: "You come in here and destroy a tree that has been growing for twenty years. The fair will be here for six months. Trees will be here for a thousand years." De Young, though, was not to be stopped. He replied to Stow: "What is a tree? What are a thousand trees compared to the benefits of the exposition?"(5) Moving with energy and determination, he mobilized the resources of his newspaper, fanning local support into a flame. Hundreds of private contributors came forth, convinced that the Midwinter Fair could revitalize business and introduce San Francisco to the world as a city to be reckoned with.
High society and working class alike pitched in to help finance the grand venture. The Golden Gate Opera Society gave the proceeds of their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance to the Exposition ExecutiveCommittee. The National Theater Company performed the new hit, Evans and Sontag, and presented the commission with another substantial contribution for the Midwinter Fair. A number of trade workers in the city met at the Potrero Opera House in September, 1893, and pledged one day's pay a week to help bring the fair into being. Even the newsboys of the city pooled their funds and contributed $2.74 to the venture.(6)
Moving with unprecedented speed, the Commissioners selected a sixty acre (later expanded to nearly triple that size) fairground in Golden Gate Park, had the site cleared, invited the exhibitors, made financial arrangements, held architectural competitions, selected winners, and supervised the building of over 180 structures -- all within the span of a few months. And on January 27, 1894, a mere 26 days later than the date originally projected months before, the first American world's fair ever to be held west of Chicago opened its gates.
Locations of the major buildings at the California Midwinter International Exposition