“A Lavish and Expansive Oasis”: The Opening of the Pacific Southwest Exposition at Long Beach, 27 July 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Way back in early 1988, as a twenty-two year old graduating senior, I stumbled into an unpaid one-day-per-week internship at a historic site I had never heard of, then called the “Workman and Temple Homestead.”  It was a lark—a fun way to finish out my undergraduate studies at Cal State Fullerton—and, after it ended in May as I graduated, I was preparing to get a secondary education teaching certificate and find a job doing what I really wanted to do.  Not teach, but coach high school boys’ basketball.

Just before the internship ended, though, I was invited to apply for a part-time job, one of two being created out of a full-time position vacated by someone heading to graduate school.  At first, I was going to politely decline, being fixed in my goal of coaching, but, after some consideration, I thought I could work part-time for a while and then go back whenever I wanted to get that certificate and pursue my “hoop dreams.”

Los Angeles Times, 27 July 1928.

So, because I could not start until the first of July, the first day of the new fiscal year, I was given a one-month stipend to extend my internship, but at twenty-four hours over three days.  Then, on my twenty-third birthday, I officially started as an “education specialist,” helping out wherever needed with education department tasks.  One of these, undertaken in June, was to research and write a memo, dated 15 July, for the paid staff and the Homestead’s tour guides on the Pacific Southwest Exposition, held in Long Beach from 27 July to 3 September 1928.

Naturally, this was before the wonders of the internet and my research was largely conducted at the campus library at CSU Fullerton and the Pomona Public Library. This meant working with microfilm and documents, including a program for the exposition, and making photocopies as references for the memo, which was not quite a page-and-a-half—just enough to give a basic summary in case some of our staff and docents wanted to mention the expo as part of our tours of La Casa Nueva, the Temple family home.

Redondo Reflex, 27 June 1928.

In those days, everyone who gave tours was expected to do so at the 1920s mansion in first person—in other words, as if we and our visitors were actually back in 1928, though not, as some places do it, in costume because we also gave tours of a small portion of an unrestored Workman House interior.  This concept was an immense challenge for most of us, including a greenhorn intern-become-part-time staff member who was literally terrified at the prospect of public speaking much less trying to act as if I was there sixty years prior and assuming guests would play along.

Fortunately, there were some volunteer docents, as well as paid staff members, who pulled this concept off very convincingly and with great aplomb and expressiveness, so a liberal amount of “begging, borrowing, and stealing” from the theatricality of these mentors proved to be of immense help.  Writing the memo in the present tense, then, was part of the process.

Times, 28 July 1928.

Expositions of this kind, celebrating the admittedly impressive achievements of recent decades in the rapidly growing American Southwest, were common and the most important of them was the Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915 just after the opening of the Panama Canal, a watershed event of the era.

That event was not only significant because of the contents of the exhibits and programs, but because of the architecture of the exposition buildings and other elements, which had a tremendous influence on the ensuing popularity of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, used to great effect at La Casa Nueva.

Los_Angeles_Evening_Express_Sat__Jul_28__1928_ (1)
Los Angeles Express, 28 July 1928.

In the case of the Pacific Southwest Exposition, let’s quote liberally from the rookie researcher’s present-tense summary, written as if it is August 1928 at La Casa Nueva, from the waning days of the Reagan era:

“Internationalism has come to Southern California as Long Beach hosts the world at the Pacific Southwest Exposition, a thirty-nine day extravaganza which began 27 July and runs through 3 September.  Although the intention of the exposition’s promoters was to recognize “the important relationship between the Pacific Southwest areas of the United States and all countries bordering the Pacific,” the event has taken on an ambitiously broadened scope as non-Pacific Rim nations, such as the Scandinavian countries, Yugoslavia, and Persia are present to celebrate the achievements of civilization since the Great War [World War I].  In fact, the model for the exposition is not a Pacific landscape but a Mediterranean one, as the North African nations of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco provide the inspiration for the Exposition both in terms of climate similarities and mode of architecture.  Indeed, the Moorish architecture which is prevalent in that part of the world seems to be the genesis of later Spanish, and, consequently, Early California styles [as cited in a special edition of the Long Beach Press-Telegram created for the event.]  With this influence in mind, Hugh R. Davies, Exposition architect, set to work transforming sixty-three acres of sand spit at the end of West Seventh Street in Long Beach Harbor into a lavish and expansive oasis.


After groundbreaking in February, the labor of the next several months produced the following.  A massive, central plaza or bazaar dominates the site.  The centerpiece of this plaza is a large reflecting pool with a centrally located bandstand.  Surrounding the plaza are the main exhibition “palaces,” housing displays with general themes; Education and Fine Arts, Industrial Arts, Oil, Mining and Manufacturing, and Transportation and Radio.  On the periphery, branches lead off to the individual sites of the participant nations, featuring special indigenous aspects of culture such as the arts and crafts of Fiji, which show another side of those people other than the legacy of headhunting, and the ancient treasures of mysterious China [these are references to the way these aspects were worded in contemporary press accounts].  Completing the arrangement are a theater, stadium and athletic field, while the aesthetic eye is pleased with an international-flavored landscape design of flora and fauna.  The structures themselves, perhaps in the appropriate local context, are simply props, made of stucco-coated plasterboard with stretched canvas roofing.  Yet, these prop buildings are authentic-looking as they are beautiful.

On opening day, 27 July, exposition officials led by Chairman Paul Graham, General Manager J. David Larson and chief spokesman Arnold Kruckman welcomed Governor C.C. Young and dignitaries from local, state, federal and international delegations to the official grand opening ceremony, which commenced at noon.  This entrance ushered in the beginning of over one million clicks of the turnstiles [this is metaphorical!], numbering among the million such notables as actresses Clara Bow and Gloria Swanson, filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, author Upton Sinclair, aviator Charles Lindbergh and Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, who arrived in the midst of campaigning to an enthusiastic welcome.


In addition to the exhibits, there is a varied and eclectic entertainment schedule consisting of lectures, films, concerts, daredevil acts, and the “Fun Strip,” a mini-amusement park similar to the city’s own Pike.  Additionally, there are daily Islamic prayer sessions and a pageant called “The Friendship of Nations,” designed, obviously, as a reminder and inspiration regarding the virtues and benefits of international cooperation and brotherhood.  To keep abreast of the latest Exposition news and events, the Long Beach Press-Telegram prints a special daily edition of the paper, called the Junior Press-Telegram.

In all, the Exposition seems to offer something for everyone’s tastes and interests. Indeed, it looks as if this event would be the perfect place for the Temple family to make a day-long summer jaunt.  Imagine, for instance, the aw and excitement in Edgar’s eyes if he chanced to catch a glimpse of his idol, Colonel Lindbergh, browsing, unannounced and virtually unnoticed, the airplane exhibit in the Palace of Transportation and Radio.  Mr. Temple might be very interested in the visit of candidate Hoover or, perhaps, the join exhibit of the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys.  And, certainly, Agnes and the rest of the family would take notice of Misses Bow and Swanson parading through the grounds, enjoying the adulation of the faithful.  With all of the excitement generated from this myriad of activities, it cannot but be wondered if maybe one day spent at the famed Pacific Southwest Exposition is not quite enough.”


It was many years later that I had the opportunity to acquire, between 2008 and 2014, a quartet of artifacts connected to the exposition, including a real photo postcard artistically arranged to show the main entrance from behind a Moorish arch, a stamp with Art Deco lettering and a representation of a stereotypical señorita gesturing toward the venue, a Standard Oil Company of California label with an earlier image of the scene with the original dates of 27 July through 20 August, and the highlighted artifact for this post: a press photo of a conceptual rendering of the site that came out far differently and simply than shown here.

Dated 27 July, the caption reads “Here is shown artist drawing of the Pacific Southwest Exposition, showing how the show grounds are layed [sic] out.  Exhibits from all parts of the world are assembled here for display.  The exposition is being held at Long Beach, California.”  For Long Beach, the exposition was a showcase for its rapid growth, economic might, and regional influence and the Los Angeles Express was sure to congratulate the coastal city for planning and executing such a large-scale event so successfully.


D.J. Waldie noted in his excellent essay on the exhibition, though, that the boosterism and promotion of the region through the exposition, while par for the course in 1920s greater Los Angeles, would soon experience a sudden and jarring jolt of reality a little more than a year later.  The excesses of the stock market through such mechanisms as buying stock on margin created a bubble that burst spectacularly in late October 1929, ushering in the Great Depression.  The enthusiasms for seemingly unlimited growth as embodied in the exposition along with other elements of the economic elites in the region were patently muted for years to come and it was not until after World War II that these aspects returned again to the fore.

As for that wet-behind-the-ears kid penning his halting essay thirty-two years ago, the plans for a coaching career were put aside as the work at the Homestead got more interesting and fulfilling.  Digging out from dusty files the memo from bygone days has been a bit of a trip back in time, though comparing the rough writing to Waldie’s impressive work is a reminder of how much we can learn from others in growing in the work we do.