‘Exceptional Expositions’ shines on two fabulous world fairs

From architect Thomas Hastings’ “Tower of Jewels” and its 100,000 sparkling cut-glass ornaments to William Merchant’s Pacific House, a new exhibit opening at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design library salutes two San Francisco celebrations of the last century, the Panama Pacific International Exposition and the Golden Gate International Exposition.

Youth Temple at Golden Gate International Expo

The Temple of Youth for the Golden Gate International Exposition is part of the William Merchant collection in UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives. (Image courtesy of UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives)

“Exceptional Expositions” offers enlightening and entertaining visual displays borrowed from CED’s Environmental Design Archives to illustrate the planning, designing and experience of the beaux-arts Pan Pacific fair of 1915, where the Bernard Maybeck-designed Palace of Fine Arts still stands, and the 1939 Golden Gate extravaganza held on Treasure Island.

Assembled to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, the PPIE depicted San Francisco as being in the center of trade in the Pacific, underscoring the city’s rise from the rubble and ash of the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Likewise, the Golden Gate exposition deliberately situated San Francisco at the heart of Pacific trade, as well as culture. But Andrew Shanken, a Berkeley professor of architecture and author of a new book, Into the Void Pacific, says that despite the event’s professed profound connections to both Latin America and Asia, the resulting display reflected “a blithe melting pot of Pacific cultures.” In his book, Shanken says that there were pockets of architectural coherence in the GGIE’s layout of official fair palaces, courts and other structures, but no overarching ideological point. Yet, he lauds its landscape as an “encyclopedia of Pacific flora.”

The exhibit in the CED library in Wurster Hall will be open Sept. 8-Dec. 16.

The college also will be the site of a Thursday, Sept. 17, lecture, reception and silent auction of digitized prints of materials donated to the College of Environmental Design Archives, but that are not part of the archive collection, and photos by Jason Miller and Cris Benton. The 6-7 p.m. lecture in Wurster Hall, Room 112, will feature presentations by architectural historian and CED alumnus Dan Gregory and Shanken. Tickets are $10 per person, or free for Berkeley students with campus ID.

A 7-8:30 p.m. reception and silent auction costs $100 per person, with proceeds supporting the Environmental Design Archives.

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