San Francisco - An Exposition And A Booster
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE Panama Pacific Exposition will unquestionably be the most beautiful exposition ever held in the world. Its setting is both accessible and lovely, for it has the city upon one side and the bay and the Golden Gate upon the other.
Instead of being smooth and white like those of previous World's Fairs, the buildings have the streaked texture of travertine stone, with a general coloring some-what warmer than that of travertine. Domes, doorways and other architectural details are rich in soft greens and blues, and the whole group of buildings, viewed from the hills behind, resembles more than any-thing else a great architectural drawing by Jules Guerin, made into a reality. And that, in effect, is what it is, for Guerin has ruled over everything that has to do with color, from the roads which will have a warm reddish tone, to the mural decorations and the lighting.
The exposition will hold certain records from the start, It will be the first great exposition ever held in a seaport. It will be, if I mistake not, the first to be ready on time. It will be the first held to celebrate a contemporaneous event, and its contemporaneousness will be reflected in its exhibitions, for, with the exception of a loan collection of art, nothing will be shown which has not been produced since the St. Louis Exposition of 1904. Also, I am informed, it is the first American exposition to have an appropriation for mural paintings. True, there were mural paintings at the Chicago World's Fair, but they were not provided for by appropriation, having been paid for by the late Frank Millet, with money saved from other things.
Of the painters who will have mural decorations at the Exposition, but one, Frank Brangwyn, is not an American. Also, but one is a Californian, that one being Arthur F. Mathews.
The only mural decorations in the Fine Arts Building will be eight enormous panels by Robert Reid, in the interior of the dome, eighty feet above the floor. Four of the panels symbolize Art; the others the "four golds of California" : poppies, citrus fruits, metallic gold and golden wheat. Among the various excursions to the Exposition, I hope there will be one for old-school mural decorators—men who paint stiff central figures in brick-red robes, enthroned, and surrounded by cog-wheels, propellers, and bales of cotton, with the invariable male figures petrified at a forge upon one side, and the invariable inert mothers and children upon the other—I hope there will be an excursion to take such painters out and show them the brave swirl and sweep of line, the light, and the nacreous color which this artist has thrown into his decorations at the Fair.
Aside from the work of Mr. Reid, Edward Simmons has done two large frieze panels of great beauty, Frank Vincent Du Mond, two others, Childe Hassam, a lunette in most exquisite tones, and William de Leftwich Dodge, Milton H. Bancroft and Charles Holloway, other can-vases, so that, the finished exposition will be fairly jeweled with mural paintings.
It is hard to write about expositions and mural paintings, without seeming to infringe upon the prerogatives of Baedeker, and it is particularly difficult to do so if one has happened to be shown about by a professional shower-about of the singularly voluble type we encountered at the Exposition.
To the reader who has followed my companion and me in our peregrinations, now drawing to a close, it will be unnecessary to say that by the time we reached the Pacific Coast, we believed we had encountered every kind of "booster" that creeps, crawls, walks, crows, cries, bellows, barks or brays.
But we had not. It remained for the San Francisco Exposition to show us a new specimen, the most amazing, the most appalling, the most unbelievable of all: the booster who talks like a book.
It was on the day before we left for home that we were delivered up to him. We had been keeping late hours, and were tired in a happy, drowsy sort of way, so that the prospect of being wafted through the morning sun-shine to the exposition grounds, in an open automobile, and cruising about, among the buildings, without alighting, and without care or worry, was particularly pleasing to us.
The automobile came at the appointed hour, and with it the being who was to be our pilot. Full of confidence and trust, we got into the car, but we had not proceeded more than a few blocks, and heard our cicerone speak more than a few hundred thousand words, before our bosoms became filled with that "vague unrest" which, though you may never have experienced it yourself, you have certainly read about before.
I had not planned to have any vague unrest in this book, but it stole in upon me, unexpectedly, out there by the Golden Gate, just at the end of my journey, when I was off my guard, believing that the perils of the trip were past.
We had driven in that automobile but a few minutes, and had heard our guide speak not more than two hundred and fifty or three hundred thousand words, when my first vague feeling turned into a certainty that all was not for the best; and when I caught the eye of my companion and saw that its former drowsy look had given place to one of wild alarm, I knew that he shared my apprehension.
By the time we reached the fair grounds I had become so perturbed that I hardly knew where we were.
"Stop here," I heard our captor say to the chauffeur.
The car drew up between two glorious terracotta pal-aces. Directly ahead was the blue bay, and beyond it rose Mount Tamalpais in a gray-green haze. Our custodian arose from his seat, stepped to the front of the tonneau, and turning, fixed first one of us and then the other with a gaze that seemed to eat, its way into our vitals. Through an awful moment of portentous silence we stared back at him like fascinated idiots. He raised one arm and swept it around the horizon. Then, of a sudden, he was off :
"Born a drowsy Spanish hamlet, fed on the intoxicants of man's lust for gold, developed by an adventurous and a baronial agriculture, isolated throughout its turbulent history from the home lands of its diverse peoples, and compelled to the outworking of its own ethical and social standards, the sovereign City of San Francisco has developed within her confines an individuality and a versatility, equaled by but few other cities, and surpassed by none."
At that point he took a breath, and a fresh start:
"It mellowed the sternness of the Puritan and disciplined the dashing Cavalier. It appropriated the unrivaled song and pristine art of the Latin. Every good thing the Anglo-Saxon, Celt, Gaul, Iberian, Teuton or almond-eyed son of Confucius had to offer, it seized upon and made part of its life."
Another breath, and it began again :
"Here is no thralldom of the past, but a trying of all things on their merits, and a searching of every proposal or established institution by the one test : Will it make life happier?"
As he went on I was becoming conscious of an overmastering desire to do something to stop him. I felt that I must interrupt to save my reason, so I pointed in the direction of Mount Tamalpais, and cried :
"What is that, over there?"
His eyes barely flickered towards the mountain, as he answered :
"That is Mount Tamalpais which may be reached by a journey of nineteen miles by ferry, electric train and steam railroad. This lofty height rears itself a clean half-mile above the sparkling waters of our unrivaled bay. The mountain itself is a domain of delight. From its summit the visitor may see what might be termed the ground plan of the greatest landlocked harbor on the, Pacific Ocean, and of the region surrounding it—a region destined to play so large a part in the affairs of men."
"Good God!" I heard my companion ejaculate in an agonized whisper.
But if our tormentor overheard he paid not the least attention.
"We know," he continued in his sing-song tone, "that you will find here what you never found, and never can find, elsewhere. We shall try to augment your pleasure by indicating something of its origin in the city's romantic past.. We shall give you your bearings in time and place. We shall endeavor to make smooth your path. We shall tell you what to seek and how to find it, and mayhap, what it means. We shall endeavor to endow you with the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to understand. In short, it is to help the visitor to comprehend, appreciate and enjoy `the City Loved Around the World,' with its surpassingly beautiful environs, that this little handbook is issued."
"That what?" shrieked my companion.
The human guidebook calmly corrected himself. "That I am here with you to-day," he said.
Through two interminable hours the thing went on and on like that. Several times, in the first hour, we tried to stop him by this means or that, but after awhile we learned that interruptions only opened other flood-gates, and that it was best, upon the whole, to try to cultivate a state of inner numbness, and let his voice roll on.
Sometimes I fancied that I was becoming passive and resigned. Then suddenly a wave of hate would come boiling up inside me, and my fingers would itch to be at the man's throat: to strangle him, not rapidly, but slowly, so that he would suffer. I wanted to see his tongue hang out, his eyes bulge, and his face turn blue; to see him swell up, as he kept generating words, inside, until at last, being unable to emit them, he should burst, like an overcharged balloon.
Once or twice I was on the verge of leaping at him, but then I would think to myself: "No; I must not consider my own pleasure. If I kill him it will get into the New York papers, and my family and friends will not understand it, because they have not heard him talk."
Somehow or other my companion and I managed to survive until lunch time, but then we insisted upon being taken back to the St. Francis. He did not want to take us. He did not like to let us escape, even for an hour, for it was only too evident that several five-foot-shelves of books were still inside him, eager to get out.
At the door of the hotel he said: "I could stop and lunch with you. In that way we would lose no time. Ah, there is so much to be told ! What city in the world can vie with San Francisco either in the beauty or the natural advantages of her situation? Indeed there are but two places in Europe—Constantinople and Gibraltar —that combine an equally perfect landscape with what may be called an equally imperial position. Yes, I think we had better remain together during this brief midday period at which, from time immemorial, it has been the custom of the human race to minister to the wants of the inner man, as the great bard puts it."
"Thank you," said my companion, firmly. "We appreciate the offer, but we have an engagement to lunch, today, with several friends who are troubled with bubonic plague and Asiatic cholera."
"So be it," said our warden. "I shall return for you within the hour. It shall be my pleasure, as well as my duty, to show you all points of interest, to give you a brief historical sketch of this coveted Mecca of men's dreams, to tell you of its awakening, of the bringing of order out of chaos, of . . .."
It was still going on as we entered the hotel, and from a window, we saw that he was sitting alone in the tonneau, talking to himself, as the motor drove away.
"How long will it take you to pack?" my companion asked me.
"About an hour," I said.
"There 's a train for New York at two," said he.
We moved over to the porter's desk, and were arranging for tickets and reservations when the Exposition Official, who had assigned our guide to us, passed through the lobby.
"Did you enjoy your morning?" he inquired.
We gazed at him for a moment, in silence. Then, in a hoarse voice, I managed to say: "We shall not go out with him this afternoon."
"But he is counting on it," protested the Official. "We shall not go out with him this afternoon!" said my companion, in a voice that caused heads to turn. "Why not?" inquired the other.
I was afraid that my companion might say something rude, so I replied.
"We are going away from here," I declared.
"Oh," said the Official, "if you have to leave town, it can't be helped. But if you should stay in San Francisco and refuse to go out with him again, it might hurt his feelings."
"Good !" returned my companion. "We won't go until tomorrow."