|Fageol auto train at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915. California Historical Society, CHS2014.1807.|
The City’s success at achieving the Fair (neutralizing other California venues and subsequently besting New Orleans for the site) are testimony to San Francisco’s wealth and grasp of political process. What is remarkable was that when awarded the Fair in 1911 the planners had not specified the location. [It would be as if the Super Bowl were awarded not only without a stadium but without a site].
Several site options were touted—among them the Golden Gate Park site formerly used by the 1894 Mid-Winter Exposition, the Lake Merced area, Lincoln Park and a compromise “All City” plan. The fact that the northern waterfront area known as “Harbor View” was ultimately chosen reflected the realities that the Expo was at once a local, national and regional event. The northern waterfront offered a relatively protected area and access by ferry. It was also within walking distance for 50,000 residents.
What it did not offer, however, was level land routes to the City’s downtown commercial and shopping districts or to the newly established population centers in the Mission.
This was a challenge for PPIE planners.
They enlisted the support of transit planner Bion J. Arnold who presented a Transportation Plan to the Board of Supervisors. Planners recognized that a Fair without crowds would be a failure. The challenge was that an inability to transport the crowds would be recipe for a disaster.
In a world where the term “car” meant “streetcar” and the automobile was just becoming an affordable and reliable alternative for some, public transit was the only real option. Busses and taxis were not expected to be significant assistance. Jitneys just emerging as a transit option but were also an emerging impediment to public transit. However, existing lines were totally inadequate to the expected ridership. How to move people to the Exposition became a civic challenge that fell to the fledgling Municipal Railway, the novel concept of a municipally owned and operated street railway.
By Grant Ute
Grant Ute is a historian and author of San Francisco Municipal Railway, Alameda by Rails, and San Francisco's Market Street Railway.
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Further reading: Grading California's Rail Transit Station Areas, by Next 10.
1911 - 1915 | Prepping for the Panama-Pacific Expo, SFMTA photography collection.