CENTENNIAL ONE YEAR AWAY—Acting San Diego Mayor Percival Wood declared July 19-22, 1911, special days whereby “people should set aside their business cares” to celebrate the official ground breaking of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
The four days, including parades, pageants and post-Victorian hoopla, all intended to focus worldwide attention to the marvels of San Diego as a place to prosper in the sun. City fathers knew that the 1912 opening of the Panama Canal was near. San Diego was a shoo-in to attract lucrative new commerce because it was the nearest U.S. Pacific-side harbor to the canal.
The 1915 Exposition in the newly named Balboa Park would be the clincher. With high hopes and low funds, the then Exposition Board gathered on July 19 with ceremonial shovels in hand. Today, the Expo shovel site is near where Interstate 5 zips under Park Boulevard.
Acting Expo director (local banker) Joseph W. Sefton, Jr., began the 10 am event--attended by a reported 25,000 throng--by handing a silvery shovel to President William H. Taft’s representative, John Barrett, Director of the Pan-American Union in Washington, D.C., a precursor of the Organization of American States. Barrett was followed by a lineup of civic leaders, who took turns digging in the dirt.
Soon, Barrett read a message from President Taft toasting the upcoming Expo all success, especially in fostering stronger ties with Latin America.
The rest is history.