The Exposition Palaces

Colorized View of the Palaces from Aeroplane
The Exposition Palaces as seen from above. Colorized.

Just through the Tower of Jewels sat the Court of the Universe. The centerpiece of the Exposition, the Court of the Universe was surrounded on all sides by the Palaces which radiated out from that point. To the west lay the Court of the Four Seasons around which the Palaces of Food Products, Education and Social Economy, Agriculture, and Liberal Arts rose. To the east, Transportation, Manufacturers, Mines and Metallurgy, and Varied Industries surrounded the Court of Abundance. This avenue of courts was flanked on both sides by the Palace of Machinery in the east and the Palace of Fine Arts to the West, which remains today. The Palace of Horticulture, a bit detached, was to the south west of the others. The layout was deliberate as visitors to previous expositions complained of the great distances necessary to travel between exhibit halls. Each palace was intended to expose the visitors to the newest and greatest aspects of human culture, creativity and ingenuity from around the globe. No single visitor could ever see everything they offered.

Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts.

The Palace of Fine Arts was widely considered the greatest of the palaces, in both appearance and substance. As testament to this, the palace still stands today. More than half of the visitors on any given day visited it; and by the end of the Exposition, at least ten million people in total.

In 1912, J.E.D Trask was chosen to head the Fine Arts Exhibition Department. He issued a direct mandate on what would and wouldn’t be exhibited in the Palace. He then set on a world tour to try and secure the best it had to offer. He traveled from Asia to Europe setting up committees as he did. He returned to San Francisco in late 1914 as his trip was cut short by the war in Europe.

Palace of Fine Arts Exhibit Memorandum

The location and architecture of the Fine Arts Palace set it apart from the others. Approaching from the east through the sunset court, emerging from the towering rectangular, palaces on either side, the visitors were greeted by broad open space occupied by a lagoon and just across the great rotunda and colonnades of the palace. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck.

The palace grounds were littered with statues placed amongst the foliage. The lake was home to many ducks and seagulls. The whole scene was designed as a respite for visitors emerging from or reentering the excitement of the surrounding exposition. (1)

At least fourteen countries were represented with over eleven thousand works of art; the majority of these belonging to the United States with seventy five hundred. Argentina, Cuba, China, France, Italy, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Philippine Islands, Portugal, Sweden and Uruguay were participants. The war had prevented some European countries from actively participating, but there were works of theirs included in the International section.

Horticulture Palace Dome
The Palace of Horticulture Dome

Palaces included a wide array of goods, services and technologies on display. In the Palace of Agriculture you could find innovations in farming. Heinz 57 ketchup and Sun Maid Raisins had booths along with coffee and other food products. Henry Ford contributed a full assembly as could be seen in one of his factories to the Palace of Transportation. The same palace housed a full sized electric locomotive brought by the Westinghouse Company. The Horticulture Palace’s Green dome rose some 185 feet into the air. Inside were exhibits of the most beautiful flora from the many participating countries. Luther Burbank held the central display in the California exhibit area.


Various educational styles and philosophical approaches to life were on display in the Palace of Education. Many of these ideas were revolutionary for the time. Many of those ideas have since lost favor and some have continued to gain approval and popularity. They were as diverse as the many nations whom presented them.

Schools for the blind and deaf were showcased. Madame Dr. Maria Montessori displayed her new style of early education in an exhibit with a fully functioning classroom. Uruguay and Argentina displayed their open air schools. These schools were designed to promote good health in children by exposing them to fresh air and wilderness. Open air schools were adopted in the US as a means of treating children with tuberculosis and meeting their educational needs until the 1930s.

The Eugenics movement had a sizeable showing at their Race Betterment Booth. Eugenics is the adherence that the quality of humans can be managed by appropriate breeding and reproductive management. The movement gained substantial support in the United States and many laws were passed to reinforce its teachings. Forced sterilizations among minorities and the mentally affected were common practice-one in which California lead the nation. At its height of popularity Eugenics played a crucial role in Nazi beliefs.

Advances in medical practices were on display including: communicable disease management, the Infant Welfare Station presented new technology in child care, The American Medical Association presented findings on the inefficacy of everyday remedies, and the treatment of mental illness.

The Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labor went to great lengths to educate parents. Their exhibit offered free daily advice, clinical checkups, demonstrations of the newest methods and technologies, daily conferences and lectures.

The US used this opportunity to display colonial education. The Philippine exhibit was the largest of the palace. Emphasis was placed on the increase in educational opportunities since the US took control of the Islands-enrollment in schools increased from 125,000 in 1896 to 490,000 in 1914. The students were taught in English as opposed to Spanish, as previously. The schools instructed in agricultural and manufacturing skills in efforts to increase the economic output of the communities.

The Machinery Palace Construction
The Machinery Palace under construction.

The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage exhibited for the first time ever at an exposition. They held conferences multiple times weekly. As part of the exhibit, they collected signatures on their petition to the US congress to pass the suffrage amendment. They collected half a million signatures and the amendment was successfully passed in 1919 guaranteeing women’s voting rights.

Labor unions and departments held exhibits extolling the virtues of worker’s rights and safety. They exhibited proper safety equipment, sprinkler systems and bargaining between employees and employers.


The Liberal Arts Palace was quite diverse in offerings from the periscope, telephony, and book binding methods to a giant fourteen ton typewriter. A new 20” equatorial telescope was designed and built for the Chabot Observatory in Oakland was first exhibited in the Liberal Arts Palace Main exhibit.

Transcontinental telephony and wireless telegraphy were prominent displays in the liberal Arts Palace. Just a month before the opening of the exposition, Alexander graham Bell and Thomas A Watson shared a conversation over a telephone. However, this time around the conversation spanned from New York to San Francisco. The American Telegraph and Telephone Company set up an exhibit where visitors could listen over a receiver and hear goings on in New York. Guests of the expo could place calls as well. A call could be made from San Francisco to New York for the modest price of $20.70 for the first three minutes and $6.60 each additional minute.

The United States filled a portion of the palace. The exhibits therein were large and small. In one room you could test to see how far you could bend a solid steel bar with your bare hand or how much the warmth of your fingers could warp a pain of glass. The Red Cross exhibited a scale replica of a relief camp. The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey had many interesting items: a demonstration of a canal sweeping device, tide tables, harbor charts, and a magnetometer which is used for measuring the intensity of earth’s magnetism. The United States Public Health Service demonstrated how to prohibit the transmission of disease by preventive measures. The Smithsonian Institution displayed their model of the Langley experimental aeroplane.


"So commercialism and the higher life mingle in an exposition whose interest at all approaches the universal. And such commingling needs no apology, for commercialism is one of the greatest servants of the human race. Art and letters and poetry, science and philosophy and the sublimest manifestations of the mind and character, have to be supported by it. To affect disdain of it is to be guilty of ingratitude." -Frank Morton Todd, The Story of the Exposition, Volume 3.


A single person could have spent 24 hours a day every day the expo was open and still not seen it all...

Visit the Exposition Palaces where the world showcased their very best

Head west of the main exposition grounds to visit the State Buildings

Take a tour of the world as you walk along the Avenue of Nations and view the Foreign Pavilions

The Presidio has a long military history. See how the Military's Role shaped the expo.

Visit the most sensational sixty five acres at the exposition along The "Joy" Zone

Aviators, athletes and drivers competed during the year of the exposition in many types of Sports and Athletics

For More Information:

To see more photos and maps, please visit the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition home page.

To learn more about the events leading up to the fair, visit Prologue to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.

To learn about the legacy of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition and its impact on San Francisco, please visit The Legacy of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition.

Last updated: April 7, 2015

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