Dear Board President Chiu, Board of Supervisors, and all
of the Mayoral Candidates:
October 14th, 2011 marks
the 100th Anniversary of the groundbreaking ceremony for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. President William Howard Taft tossed the first shovel of dirt at the Golden Gate Park
Polo Fields with Exposition Director Michael H. de Young at his side. The Exposition
was to be located on 562 acres in the western half of the Park. The plans included the construction of a breakwater, two giant
amusement piers extending into the Ocean on either side of the Park, a museum, an art gallery, a modern aquarium, a new observatory
on Strawberry Hill, a light tower, an open air auditorium and dozens of pavilions, towers and other “architectural features.”
The middle and western ends of the Park would have contained more pavement and structures than wooded, natural areas. Fortunately,
due to some very influential and vocal opposition to the use of Golden Gate Park as the Exposition’s location, the 1915
Panama Pacific International Exposition was eventually moved to the Cow Hollow area in the Marina District.
It is not at all clear when or how the
conservationists were able to secure what was arguably the single most significant victory in the quest to preserve and protect
Golden Gate Park. They were able to overcome a presidential groundbreaking and some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals
in San Francisco. Park Superintendent John McLaren, former Superintendent William Hammond Hall and Park Commissioner W.W.
Stow led the movement to relocate the Panama Pacific Exposition. They insisted Golden Gate Park was not an appropriate location
for mass commercial events. All three had witnessed firsthand the ravages left by the first World’s Fair held in Golden
Gate Park, the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition.
On August 25th, 1893, the
Midwinter Fair’s Director, Michael H. de Young, with silver shovel in hand, broke ground at what is now the Music Concourse.
Just a few months later, Concert Valley, as it was formerly known,
filled with trees and recently planted flora, had been cleared and excavated to make room for what at that time included the
biggest structure ever built in California. The Manufacture and Liberal Arts Building covered nearly three square acres. It
was just one of five major structures surrounding the Grand Court of Honor, the heart of the Midwinter Exposition. In less
than six months, more than 180 structures were built in the Park in preparation for the Fair which officially opened on January
27, 1894. Fair organizers originally told the public the Fair site would be five acres, it quickly grew to encompass more
than 160 acres in the heart of Golden Gate Park.
As Superintendent McLaren predicted,
this mass commercial use of Golden Gate Park set a dangerous precedent for the future.
The legacy of the 1894 Fair remains the driving force behind the current privatization of San Francisco’s public
park space. When the Fair closed in July 1894, the Fine Arts Building became
the first public art museum in San Francisco. In
its first year of operation, a half million people passed through the Museum doors. The Memorial Museum soon became too small
for its growing collection so on April 15, 1917, on a greatly expanded site, construction began on a new museum. The new de
Young Museum opened in 1921.
More than 100 years and 135 million
dollars in renovations later, the Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden, the only architectural structure from the 1894 Fair
that still remains in Golden Gate Park, are largely responsible for the transformation of Golden Gate Park from a woodland
retreat to a carefully marketed tourist attraction. Every two months, representatives from the Recreation and Parks Department,
the de Young Museum and the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau meet to discuss marketing strategies for Golden Gate
Park as part of a little known group, the Golden Gate Park Cultural Collaborative. Not surprisingly, in 2011, a visit to Golden Gate Park feels much more like a trip
to Disneyland than the respite from urban stresses it was originally intended to be. The Golden Gate Park Cultural Collaborative
and today’s traffic-filled Music Concourse are the culmination of everything John McLaren feared for his beloved Golden
Two huge construction projects are currently
planned for the western end of Golden Gate Park, the artificial turf soccer complex at Beach Chalet and the Recycled Water
Treatment Facility. Please support moving these projects to locations outside
of Golden Gate Park.
you have any doubts, take a look at the plans for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (photo above) . The aerial
image is a powerful and sobering reminder of how important your decisions are in protecting not only Golden Gate Park but
all of San Francisco’s public park space.
In a sixteen page argument against holding
the Panama Pacific Exposition in Golden Gate Park, William Hammond Hall, the Park’s original Superintendent, wrote,
“Keep the buildings out. Make parks of our ‘parks,’ and keep them as such.” And beloved Golden Gate
Park historian, Raymond H. Clary, once wrote, “You cannot add to a park without
subtracting far more than you have added.” Golden Gate Park does not need
seven acres of synthetic turf or 40,000 square feet of new industrial buildings. On the contrary, Golden Gate Park needs some well-deserved peace and quiet.
Thank you for your time.