"Isthmus, an entertainment zone at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego's Balboa Park, features the War of the Worlds extravaganza, (right) the largest concession building in the Expo. Panama-California Exposition Digital Archive
WAR OF THE WORLDS--San Diego performances of “War of the Worlds,” one of the ballyhooed attractions at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, were staged in what was easily the largest concession building in Balboa Park. The four-story building housing the extravaganza featured an entry façade resembling a U.S. Navy warship. It was located at the south entrance of the Isthmus, a 2,500-ft long entertainment strip.
Publicity flyers of the day lauded “War of the Worlds,” as a magnificent Scenic Spectacle—the only one ever constructed depicting airships and aeroplanes in realistic combat, including the showing of Uncle Sam’s latest submersibles.”
Expo promoters put in fine print that the production wasn’t a motion picture, instead the science fiction “bombardment and burning of New York City,” which took place on what those same street hawkers called “the largest stage in all the world.“
One snippet from a newspaper covering the opening of the Exposition called the ““ ‘War of the Worlds,’ the most complicated thing of the sort ever attempted, with such remarkable features as the control of the ships by wireless apparatus and the use of 11 miles of electric wire for control of other aspects of the production.”
Spoiler Alert: The action takes place in the year 2000 with the story line involving the dream of world domination by an adventurer named Rabinoff, who while marooned on an island with several companions, finds a great treasure and, over come with desire for it all, kills off his companions one by one and with the loot builds himself a great power.”
Conclusion of the performance shows “...the destruction of New York City in a fiery cauldron of smoke (maybe mirrors) and flame.” That was after villain Rabinoff
had “aligned himself with foreign agents of the Orient and Africa, including aerial fleets from Mars and other planets attacking the City.”
The climax of the 30-minute production is staged with a rotating diorama on stage and actors cast as sailors racing to and fro to the beat of a live orchestra. Aeroplanes and rocket ships join the fray whirling around in the manmade heavens inside the monster sized “War of the Worlds” building.
Given all this took place in 2000, the drama is a bit foreboding considering the real tragedy of 9-11 that occurred more than 85 years later.