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Vintage San Diego: Breaking Ground

Balboa Park on July 19, 1911


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By the Numbers

1909 - G. Aubrey Davidson suggested the idea of the exposition. He was the president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and was later referred to as “the father of the exposition.”

$100K - Amount donated by John D. Spreckels toward the Panama-California exposition project in 1910

21 California missions depicted by parade floats in the Mission Pageant on July 22

60,000 Estimated attendees during the four-day celebration

39,579 - Population of San Diego in 1910, making it the smallest city to ever attempt to hold an international exposition

In preparation for the 1915 Panama–California Exposition, San Diego held a celebration for the groundbreaking of the first building built in Balboa Park. The festivities were held July 19–22, 1911, and consisted of historical pageants, parades, sporting competitions, fireworks, and a solemn high mass.

San Diego was planning to be the first port of call in the American territory north of the canal. The exposition would not only boost the local economy but glorify the city to travelers.

Wielding the groundbreaking shovel in the above photo is John Barrett, director general of the Pan American Union and President Taft’s special representative. Just behind him, to his right, is Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., son of the former U.S. president and then part owner of the U.S. Grant Hotel; George Marston is second from the far left of the line, while John D. Spreckels stands at far right.

Following the ceremony, the band played “Yankee Doodle.”

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