California Pacific International Exposition

Balboa Park, site of the California Pacific International Exposition, in San Diego

The California Pacific International Exposition was an exposition held in San Diego, California during May 29, 1935November 11, 1935 and February 12, 1936September 9, 1936. The exposition was held in Balboa Park, San Diego's large central urban park, which had also been the site of the earlier Panama-California Exposition in 1915.

The Exposition was held to promote San Diego and support its economy, which had slowed with the country's Great Depression. The first year was such a financial and attendance success that it was held over for a second year. The exposition had hundreds of exhibits on history, the arts, horticulture, ethnic cultures, science, and industry. Some concessions and exhibits were unusual, such as the Gold Gulch, Lost Continent of Mu, Zoro Garden Nudist Colony, and the "One Ton Mechanical Man."


The idea for an exposition came from Frank Drugan, a newcomer to San Diego who arrived in 1933. He recognized the potential of the buildings in Balboa Park left over from the 191516 exposition; the buildings had been designed to be temporary, but had been refurbished and upgraded several times and were available for use. In addition, Chicago's "Century of Progress" fair was just ending, and many of its exhibits could be transported for use in another fair. That exposition had paid for itself, and he was sure a San Diego exposition could do so as well. He promoted the idea of a new exposition, using the existing buildings and adding new ones, as a way of boosting San Diego's economy. He convinced local business people to support the idea.

The Exposition incorporated in August 1934. Construction of new buildings began in January 1935. The project was rushed through for a May opening. The foundations of some structures, such as the Electric Building and the Ford Building, were laid even before the final plans for the buildings had been drawn up. During March and April, 2,700 people worked around the clock on the Exposition. Approximately 65% of them were relief workers whose wages were paid by the federal government; the remainder were employees of private contractors.[1]


The buildings from the 1915 fair were in Spanish Colonial Revival Style architecture, designed by Bertram Goodhue and Carleton Winslow. Architect Richard Requa designed the new permanent buildings to be added for the 1935 fair. He wrote that his goal was to relate pre-Columbian Indian buildings and temples, like those found in the Southwest and Mexico, to the modern era; his model was the 1915 New Mexico Building, which he remodeled into a Palace of Education. Many of the new large buildings were in this style, including the California State Building (now the San Diego Automotive Museum), Palace of Electricity (now a gymnasium), and Palace of Water and Transportation (no longer existent).[2]

Other new buildings included:

While some of the extensive gardens from the 1915 Panama California Exposition remained, they were redesigned from formal gardens to gardens overflowing with lush abundance of exotic plants. Many were reimagined by renowned architect Richard Requa who was influenced by the gardens he had seen traveling in Spain. Today's Alcazar garden, Zoro Garden, and the garden at Cafe del Rey Moro are all Requa designs.[6]

Commemorative coins and stamps

Reverse of the 1936 D

In honor of the California Pacific International Exposition, the federal government released a commemorative silver half dollar; today referred to as the San Diego Half. The coin was authorized by congress and released with a stamp. Produced largely to sell to collectors for profit, 480,000 in total were minted, but all but 70,132 in 1935 in San Francisco and in 1936 30,092 in Denver were ultimately melted because they were unsold. The obverse depicts an artistic rendition of the California state seal. Minerva sits with a spear in her right hand a shield with the state motto “eureka” above the head of Medusa. Also there is a California grizzly bear to Minerva's right and in the background there is a ship and a miner; all symbols of California. The reverse depicts what is now the dome and tower of the Museum of Man in Balboa Park and reads “California Pacific International Exposition” and “San Diego” as well as the mint and year of mintage. These coins were not widely circulated, but some slightly worn examples imply some circulation.

A three cent postage stamp (Scott catalog 773) was also issued. It presents a view of the Exposition grounds, and has the same wording as the reverse of the half dollar, plus the dates "1535 1935". Over 100 million were printed, making this a very common issue.


The Exposition took ten months to build. It attracted 7,220,000 visitors during its 377 days of operation. Visitors brought US$37,700,000 to San Diego. The cost was US$20,000,000. Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children 211. Four restaurants provided meals: Cafe of the World, Palisades Cafe, Spanish Kitchens, and the Pioneer Days Restaurant. Twenty-one nations participated: Argentina, British Empire, Chile, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, Honduras, Irish Free State, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Sweden, Uruguay, United States and Yugoslavia.


Park improvements amounted to US$6,000,000. The exposition was so popular that some buildings were rebuilt to be made more permanent. Many buildings or reconstructed versions remain in use today, and are used by several museums and theatres in Balboa Park.

In the early 1960s destruction of a few of the buildings and their replacement by aesthetically clashing modern architecture style of the new buildings "created an uproar" in San Diego's community. A 'Committee of One Hundred' was formed by citizens to protect the park buildings. The Committee convinced the City Council to enact resolutions that now require any new buildings to be designed and constructed in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. The Committee also worked with various government agencies for the remaining original buildings to be declared a National Historic Landmark, which was awarded in 1978. In the latter 1990s the buildings most deteriorated or that had burned were carefully rebuilt to restore the original style and scale of the park's public spaces.

In October 2010, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. opened an exhibition titled Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s.[7] This exhibition, which was available for view until September 2011, prominently featured the California Pacific International Exposition.

See also


  1. Amero, Richard. "Chapter 1: Planning and Preparation". California Pacific Exposition San Diego 1935-36. San Diego History Center.
  2. Amero, Richard. "Chapter 2: Exposition Architecture". California Pacific Exposition San Diego 1935-36. San Diego History Center.
  3. Mohr, Beth (Spring 1985). "The Old Globe Theatre". Journal of San Diego History. 31 (2).
  4. "International Cottages in Balboa Park". House of Pacific Relations. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  5. "Welcome to The Art Studios at Spanish Village". Spanish Village Art Center. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  6. "California Pacific Exposition San Diego 1935-1936".
  7. "Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s".
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