More USA World's Fairs

San Diego Panama-California Exposition

California-Pacific International Exposition

Sponsor this page for $200 per year. Your banner or text ad can fill the space above.
Click here to Sponsor the page and how to reserve your ad.

Quick List Info

California-Pacific International Exposition 1935-36

Dates Open - May 29 to November 11, 1935. Open all days.

February 12 to September 9, 1936 .

Attendance - 1935 - 4,784,811-4,784,973. Unknown whether paid or paid plus staff.

1936 - 2,192,622 listed in one source, another sourse lists 2,436,000. Unknown whether one represents paid and the other paid plus staff.

International Participants - 1935-6 - 23 one source; 21 consular officials/32 representatives from House of Pacific Relations, other sources.

Total Cost - Construction budget in 1935 was $1,233,000. New York Times stated that total investment, likely of Expo Authority and exhibitors was $20 million. Profit in 1935 was $315,833.

Site Acreage - Various sources list a different amount of acreage, so what the expo actually contained within the visitor gates is difficult to ascertain. The range suggests 185-600 acres within 1,400 acres of Balboa Park.

Sanction and Type - Unsanctioned by the Bureau of International Exhibitions during first year of a sanctioned fair in Brussels 1935. Suggests a registered event of the smaller variety such as those held on the 5 year of the decade in today's BIE terms, although lack of foreign participation might suggest otherwise. The Federal Government supported the exposition, constructing their own pavilion.

Ticket Cost - Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children 2-11.

Photo top center: Postcard of the California-Pacific International Exposition, 1935-6, Original Source Unknown. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Official Souvenir Guidebook of the California-Pacific International Exposition, 1935, Expo Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Bottom: House of Hospitality, Date Unknown, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

House of Hospitality, San Diego

Other Histories of World's Fairs to Check Out

Teepossible T-Shirts and Gifts

History of the Event

WPA Exhibit at California-Pacific International Exposition 1935

They would try it again, another two year exposition twenty years after their first with the Panama California Exposition in 1915-6. San Diego was attempting to jump start its economy during the depression, an idea many cities had in the United States at the time, adding to the proliferation of fairs during the 1930's just at a time the Bureau of International Expositions was getting starting on their sanctioning route. San Diego 1935-6 was not sanctioned, unlike the first truly sanctioned event that same year in Brussels. There's some that contest the notion that the fair was international, although it was in a nominal sense.

The fair was held again in Balboa Park, using some of the same structures that were built for the previous incarnation. Others, built in between, such as the Natural History Museum, was the Palace of Natural History in 1935. Only a few additional exhibits were added for the fair from the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Museum of Man had been built in between as well; it would become the Palace of Fine Arts at the exposition, even hosting Rembrandt's "Portrait of an Old Lady" in 1936. There were international sections in the Palace of Fine Arts representing Italian, Spanish, Mexican, and Far East art, plus art from England, Germany, France, and America.

Exhibits were brought from Chicago's 1933-4 fair, exhibit buildings from 1915-6 repurposed for the second go around, and a scale model railroad was built, one of the first of its kind. There were new buildings constructed such as the Old Globe Theater, the Spanish Village, and the House of Pacific Relations, but the reason the fair could be built so quickly was the re-use of existing structures. How quick was it built? The idea to host only started in 1934. It was built with money from advance ticket sales, exhibitor fees, government appropriations from the state and federal governments through their Work Relief Programs, and pledges of $700,647 from a local subscription drive.

The fair had a successful first season, prompting the second, with a surplus of $315,833. This was despite much lower attendance than the expo authority speculated would come, with some estimates as high as 12 million visitors. Despite that more limited success, a second season was added. Commercial exhibits were considered the highlight of the fair, including the Ford exhibit, the most popular, with its modern glass stucture standing in conflict with the rest of the fair site.

Above photo. F.H.A. Exhibit "Modeltown" at the San Diego expo. A reported one million people visited this exhibit, 1935, William Clarence Lloyd. Courtesy Library of Congress. Middle: Postcard of various scenes at the California-Pacific International Exposition. Courtesy Pinterest. Bottom: Plaza de Panama, House of Hospitality in Balboa Park, Date Unknown, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Postcard from California-Pacific International Exposition 1935-6

Historian Perspective

Richard Amero - "They (1915-6, 1935-6) were not truly "international" fairs. Government participation was stronger in 1935-36 as part of Roosevelt's attempt to revitalize a depressed economy. Prominent figures attended during the first years of both fairs, but declined considerably during the second years."

"San Diego was not a rich city. Scarcely able to afford keeping the exposition alive after its formal ending, it yet succeeded in perpetuating museums which have proliferated so that they now occupy almost the entire former exposition plant. Architecturally and symbolically, the City & I are still struggling over the meaning of the Exposition. How much do we owe Mexico and Spain and is there a way of showing our awareness of our debt? The second exposition was so much a part of the 30's movement that it gets lost in the blur. Certainly, the Chicago Century of Progress, the Dallas Centennial, and the New York and San Francisco's fairs were most sensational & popular. The architecture for the second fair was drab, compared to the first. After the banners and lights were taken down, the moderne and art deco buildings looked tawdry. Most of them still do!"

"The fairs stimulated & retarded the development of San Diego. By attracting the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to San Diego, they provided the City with its number one paying industry. By creating a highly spurious image of a "City Beautiful" on the hill, it dissuaded San Diego from creating an imposing City Beautiful in its downtown and on its waterfront. Only within the last ten years have steps been taken to improve the appearance of downtown. The waterfront is a mixed bag, but so again are waterfronts almost everywhere ... think of Chicago!"

"The depression cut travel to the bone in 1935-6. I suspect most people visiting the fair came from California. It did not get the out-of-state pavilions that were put up in 1915 or the international exhibits that were put up in 1916. The State of California, the U.S. government, and industries dealing with the motor car were the principal exhibitors. It was really a travelling road show."

Raymond Starr - "Clearly the amount of local civic pride was greater (in 1915-6 than 1935-6). 1935-6 offered little innovation over other fairs. Perhaps the "Roads of the Pacific" by Ford - driving down reproductions of famous roads in different countries - I'm not sure this was done at other fairs. The exhibits were more sideshow-oriented (nudists, midgets, strippers)."

Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park


Official Guidebook, 1936, California-Pacific International Exposition

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Outside the exhibit from the United States, international exhibits were sketchy, predominantly confined to the House of Pacific Relations and the amusement zone. It is stated that thirty-two nations were represented in one way of the other, including Mexico and Russia.

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. That may be especially true with an event with a nominal international exhibit scope. Newspaper reports as well as the official guidebook may indicate participation, whether official or unofficial, when actual participation did not occur, or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Exhibit Buildings included: Palace of Better Housing, Palace of Fine Arts, Palace of Food and Beverages (included exhibits from Coca-Cola), Palace of Education, Palace of Electricity and Varied Industries, Palace of Natural History, Palace of Science, Palace of Water & Transportation, Hollywood Hall of Fame, House of Charm, Federal Government (3 buildings), House of Hospitality, California State Building (only state building),

Expo Tidbits
With short construction time frame, some of the new buildings not begun more than 3 months before opening, work was 24 hours a day. Gold Gulch, was reproduction of mining town in the days of '49. Ford Building not contracted for until February 1935. Appropriation bill from Congress came for permanent Federal Building only two months before opening, and it was completed on time.

Night illumination used novel idea of featuring the plants and foliage instead of the buildings, thus achieving a distinct look to the fair at night.

Exhibition was established to depict four centuries since September Day in 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay to claim Southern California for Spain.

Left after the fair was the Federal, General Exhibits, California, Entertainment, Education, Christian Science, the Palace of Electricity, House of Hospitality, and Ford Buildings. Press Building to be home to San Diego Floral Association and the Federal Building was planned to be used as a public auditorium.

Natural History Musem, Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego Musem, and San Diego Zoo went back to regular schedules after fair closed. House of Pacific Relations remains. In the early 1960s, the American Legion Building and Veterans of Foreign Wars Building were destroyed.

Just after the exposition with war arriving, many of the buildings were used for military purposes until the late 1940's.

Today, buildings from both fairs are used for various purposes. The California Building from 1915-6 is now the Museum of Man housing ethnological and archaeological materials gathered at the exposition. The Commerce and Industries Building has been reconstructed as the Casa de Balboa. The Indian Arts Building rebuilt as the House of Charm. The Botanical Building remains. The Chapel of St. Francis Assisi is housed in one portion of the Fine Arts Building, which is also part of the Museum of Man. Other buildings that still remain; Administration Building, Foreign Arts Building, Varied Industries and Food Products Building.

Those in Charge

Richard Requa was Director of Architecture of the Exposition. Frank G. Belcher was President. G. Aubrey Davidson, President of the 1915-6 fair, accepted office of Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. Zach Farmer was Managing Director. Director of Works was H.O. Davis and Director of Exhibits was Waldo Tupper.

Commerce and Industries Building 2004

Sources: History of World's Fair and Expositions; Fair News; Articles, "San Diego Natural History Museum" and "The San Diego Museum of Art Goes for the Big Time" and others by Richard Amero; Inside Lights on the Building of San Diego's Exposition: 1935 by Richard Requa; San Diego Historical Society; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; San Diego's 1935-1936 Exposition: A Pictorial Essay By David Marshall and Iris Engstrand.

Photo column top: Official Guidebook of the 1936 season, California-Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, 1936, Expo Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Middle: Commerce and Industries Building now called the Casa de Balboa Building, 2004, Petr Berka. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

History of America

Check out our partners at America's Best History for the history of the United States. Great for students of history or just those that want to find out a little more about the whats, when, wheres, and how of heritage tourism.

America's Best History

To the 1930s

Baseball Stat Books

  • Baseball History
  • Baseball's Best @ 150

    Baseball's Best @ 150, the book that counts down the best players, pitchers, and fielders on the 150th anniversary of Major League Baseball (1871-2020).

  • Fields of Gold, Baseball's Best Glove Work
  • Fields of Gold, Baseball's Best Glove Work

    The newest book in the Stat Geek Baseball universe. Fields of Gold, Baseball's Best Glove Work. It's what the Best Ever Book was for hitting and pitching, but now a detailed look at the Best Fielders in Baseball History, including best position players for every team, and best overall for every position