On this day: November 20, 1915 – Los Angeles Day
Thousands of Angelenos poured into San Francisco for Los Angeles Day at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE) on November 20, 1915. Special trains ran between Los Angeles and San Francisco, including one trip organized by the Los Angeles Times with General Harrison Grey Otis, the paper’s publisher, on board. Though it was located in San Francisco, the PPIE had been a ten-month boost to Los Angeles as people and exhibitions flowed between the two cities. With fourteen days of the fair remaining, Angelenos were eager for one final “boost” for the Southland.
Los Angeles Day started at 11:00am at the Court of the Universe with customary welcome remarks by San Francisco Mayor James Rolph Jr. and Los Angeles Mayor Charles Sebastian that included the exchange of a commemorative bronze medal. In his exposition address, L.A.’s General F. C. Prescott announced:
As the great exposition draws to a close, we of Los Angeles come to you with our vision. It is that the triumph of art here exhibited shall in replica and in miniature furnish inspiration in every school and household, and every improvement in science be adapted to our daily wants. That the high tide of human endeavor here shown shall measure only the low water mark for the future.
The evening closed with fifteen-year-old stunt pilot Art Smith skywriting at night (with flares attached to his plane) followed by fireworks and dancing in the California Building.
Los Angeles Day was not originally on the list of planned events for the PPIE. In a 1915 pamphlet listing PPIE’s “Congresses, Conferences and Conventions,” November 20 was designated for Buff Minorca Club of America (Buff Minorca is a type of chicken). It was an October letter from little Kathryn Walker to PPIE President Charles C. Moore that struck a booster nerve. Walker wrote (as printed in the 1915 Los Angeles Herald):
Dear Mister Moore—Won’t you please have a Los Angeles day at your fair? Nearly everyone else has had one, and I think we ought to have a big one for Los Angeles. Yours truly. Kathryn Walker
A special PPIE commissioner came to Los Angeles to iron out the logistics for a “huge boost day.” As the Los Angeles Herald reported, “With the whole exposition dedicated for a day to boosting the advantages of Los Angeles to hundreds of thousands of visitors, the event should prove a huge advertisement.”
Using the larger-than-life Underwood typewriter that had been displayed at the fair, San Francisco’s Mayor Rolph typed his invitation to Los Angeles’s Mayor Sebastian on a piece of 11-foot paper. Mayor Sebastian proclaimed:
San Francisco’s efforts to give her sister city one of the greatest boosting days of the exposition year shows the friendly feeling between the two coast centers. I, for one, am going to be there, and hope that arrangements can be made to have every city employee and thousands of residents at the fair on that occasion. Do not let us forget that it is Los Angeles’ own day, and that everyone should help it along. Let everyone boost it.
Boosting Los Angeles was not just a muscle flexed by political and business leaders. PPIE’s Los Angeles Day allowed everyone to play the role of booster.
The flow of people didn’t just move north, as many who attended the San Francisco exposition visited Los Angeles on their way to or from the PPIE. With travel so costly, it made economic sense to stop in Los Angeles, especially if heading to San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition, which took place the same year. As illustrated in the Spring 2015 issue of Boom: A Journal of California shows, Los Angeles was the meat in an exposition sandwich.
Important cultural artifacts also flowed between the fairs and Los Angeles. The English Prison ship Success, built in the 1700s, which transported prisoners from England to Australia, stopped in Los Angeles to refuel before heading north. The popular painting Stella, painted in 1893 by the Italian Napoleon Nani of Verona, featuring a nude woman reclining on a couch, was displayed briefly after its San Francisco exhibit.
The painting was exhibited on the fair’s amusement midway, the Joy Zone. Crowds lined up to pay the 10‐cent admission, though they could see other such paintings for free at the Palace of Fine Arts. After the fair Stella—“one of the world’s masterpieces of paintings in the nude,” crowed the Los Angeles Herald—was exhibited at 434 South Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.
One big draw was the Liberty Bell, which had traveled east from Philadelphia for the PPIE. Before returning to the East Coast, the patriotic bell stopped for seven hours in Los Angeles. Tens of thousands of school children saw the Liberty Bell as officials paraded it downtown and into Exposition Park. The Los Angeles City and County Band played patriotic music as throngs of visitors filed past the important artifact.
Fourteen days after Los Angeles Day, hundreds of Southern California residents traveled north once again for the fair’s closing ceremony on December 4. To help boost L.A. attendance, Veneta Walker threw exposition badges from an airplane flying over Venice and Ocean Beach. According to the Los Angeles Times, the plane “sped to the ocean front where a large crowd cheered the maid and her machine and scrambled for the badges.”
Those who remained in Los Angeles were encouraged to commemorate the fair’s closing locally. San Francisco’s Mayor Rolph asked the city to ring its bells, stop its traffic, and hold a toast at 12pm on December 4, and Los Angeles’s Mayor Sebastian agreed:
I, Charles E. Sebastian, mayor of Los Angeles, do hereby earnestly request that as a mark of appreciation all people of this city and the United States give some expression of our sentiments at 12 o’clock Saturday, December 4, 1915. Wherever it is possible, let bells be rung, whistles blown, all traffic slopped for two minutes (except emergency cases), and all individuals drink a toast to the welfare of the city by the Golden welfare of the city by the Golden Gate.
And while Los Angeles officials drank their “silent toasts” at noon on December 4, PPIE’s closing day in San Francisco ended with spectacular illuminations, fireworks, and more skywriting by pilot Art Smith. As San Francisco prepared to shut down its Jewel City, the fair’s special commissioner Major Fred R. Reed expressed his gratitude to the people of Los Angeles:
Mere words cannot express the exposition’s appreciation of Los Angeles’ help in the year past. It has cemented a friendship between the two great Pacific coast cities that will never be broken.
Victoria Bernal is an independent writer who shares Los Angeles history through social media via @LAhistory.
“Congresses, Conferences and Conventions,” Panama Pacific International Exposition (1915), courtesy of The Autry Museum of the American West.
Los Angeles Herald, available online via the California Digital Newspaper Collection
“90,000 Children Salute Liberty Bell,” Los Angeles Herald, November 15, 1915
“Booster Girls for L.A. Day at ‘Jewel City,’ Start Work,” Los Angeles Herald, November 9, 1915
“Historic ‘Prison Ship’ Docks Here,” Los Angeles Herald, January 21, 1915
Advertisement for “Stella,” Los Angeles Herald, December 23, 1915
“L.A. to Toast S.F. as Fair Closes,” Los Angeles Herald, November 30, 1915
“Ceremonies Usher Out Exposition,” Los Angeles Herald, December 4, 1915
“Happenings on the Pacific Slope,” Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1915.
“Drops Badges from Sky: Venice Girl Casts Favors to Beach People,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1915.
“The day the Liberty Bell came to Los Angeles,” UCLA Today, Gary Nash, 2010.
“Liberty Bell is Seen by Thousands,” The Southern California Trojan, November 16, 1915.
CHS’s exhibition about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition—City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair—is open until January 3, 2016 at CHS headquarters, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, and until January 10, 2016, at the Palace of Fine Arts.
City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair is part of San Francisco’s Centennial Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE100), presented by AT&T. CHS is an organizing partner of the PPIE100 along with Innovation Hangar, the Maybeck Foundation, and the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department.