Marina and Panama Pacific International Exposition


After the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco fought for and won right to host the great 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. It was to mark San Francisco’s recovery from destruction and was originally planned for in Golden Gate Park to run from Polo Fields out to Ocean Beach. Whether the Marina marshes and swamps were filled in to dispose of earthquake rubble or for the Fair, a great sea wall was extended from the Presidio to Fort Mason behind which would rise the magic palaces and pavilions of the Fair.

Each day people flocked to the fair for amusement, education and sheer beauty of a magic kingdom, which symbolized San Francisco’s comeback. It rose Phoenix like from the barren and hostile marsh, just as San Francisco itself rose from the ashes and rubble of 1906. As fine as each day was, nightfall brought on an even more surreal and splendid setting.

From February’s opening and each night after a silvery shaft leaped into the darkening sky and ignited a burst of glory and long thoroughfares of light unfolded romantic beauty, the glistening and sparkling palaces and halls glowing with radiance from every window.

Washerwoman’s Lagoon

The contrast of the sand dunes driven by west winds up against Black Point rocks with neighboring Washerwoman’s Lagoon in the 1850’s could have been as stark as the Nile or Colorado Rivers behind massive dams. As Gold Rush times strained San Francisco water supply, Washerwoman’s lagoon became the City’s laundry. Indians, Chinese and other servants trekked daily with laundry to shores of lagoon at Lombard and about Franklin to create hive of washday cleaning and shore side drying. On other shore a couple blocks west, they were joined by cattle and other livestock of cow hollow for daily watering.

West from Russian Hill 1865 Washerwoman's Blackstone Today West from Russian Hill 1890

By 1890 at the southeast Fort Mason corner, the great San Francisco Gas Lighting Company rose to supply the light for the City’s night. The elegant brick offices which served with Fort Mason, Marina, Presidio and nearby parks as administrative outposts for tent city refugee camps still stand as an old folks home. Fortunately the giant gas tanks are gone. Replaced by Marina Safeway, we have store with such a great view that it even brought in Khruschev during his late 1950’s US visit.

North to Bay Late 1800's Fort Mason Refugee Camp 1906 PG&E and Gas Tower

Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, Washerwoman’s lagoon will forever be associated for me with the all too many hours spent in Witter’s dental chair next to Blackstone Court entrance to lagoon and one of oldest SF homes. Others will recall the playing fields of Moscone more than I, but having seen old pictures, I know they are a great improvement from old gas tanks. And I will always recall games of a Kevin birthday as we began to realize how sick Tristan was as he began SI, something that in retrospect we had an early warning of from the thin mountain air above Evolution Valley months before.

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