The Pan-American Exposition was a celebration of many sorts. It was intended to be a recognition of the achievements made in the industry and culture of the Americas, but as it turned out, the Pan-American toasted the new 20th century, the progress of electricity, and the City of Buffalo.
Now here, the Queen City invites the world to come to her midst and be her guest from May first to November first 1901.
The Rainbow City, as the Pan-American was called, was only a thirty minute ride from the heart of downtown Buffalo. Upon entering the grounds, the visitor was treated to the sight of splendid domes, attractive minarets, towers and pavilions glowing with pleasing hues and tints, regal statues, and buildings containing attractive exhibits from all parts of the Western hemisphere. The Pan-American opened its gates on May 1, 1901 feeling confident that no visitor would be disappointed.
The general plan of the grounds was that of an inverted "T" with the cross arm being the Esplanade extending east and west, and terminating at the Propylaea. The Court of Fountains was in the center of the vertical stem and starting from its four corners was the beginning of the main group of large buildings. The most prominent of these was the Electric Tower which rose to a height of 391 feet. It was said that the Electric Tower could be seen from downtown Buffalo!
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Pan-American was the color scheme of its buildings. In previous expositions, the main feature had always been architecture but not color. The Pan-American attempted to appease both. Imagine seeing colossal buildings colored in hues of red, blue, green and gold! The Electric Tower alone was colored deep green, with details of cream white, blue and gold! Now you can see where the name "Rainbow City" came from.
Since the Pan-American Exposition was also a celebration of electricity, it was only fitting that the promoters of the Exposition would attempt to outdo themselves when it came time to see the fair at night. Drawing its power from Niagara Falls, at dusk 240,000 eight watt bulbs came on at once, not in a brilliant flash of light, but in a gradual increase in brightness until every building was adorned in a bath of light. Since the Electric Tower was the focal point of the Exposition, it was studded with 44,000 lights. A powerful searchlight was mounted at the highest point of the tower that allowed it to be seen from Niagara Falls and Canada.
The architecture of the Pan-American was a free treatment of the Spanish Renaissance style as a compliment to the Latin-American countries represented at the fair. Columns were used as decorative rather than architectural effects, and each building is rich with the use of balconies, loggias, towers, and minarets.
One very important architectural note needs to be made clear; none of the buildings at the Pan-American, with the exception of the New York State building, were built to be a permanent structure. Looking closely at the many photographs reveals buildings falling apart at the seams. In order to construct world's fairs at a quick pace, 95% of the buildings were constructed of wooden frames and chicken wire with a base coat of plaster! Each rainfall caused the buildings to decay more and more so you can imagine the dillema the directors of the Pan-American faced with the summer of 1901 being one of the wettest in Buffalo's history.
To this day, residents of the various neighborhoods developed after the Pan-American was finally cleared away still find traces of plaster when digging in their gardens.
So now let us take a tour of some of the buildings at the Pan-American Exposition. Each thumb print will link to a larger image.
The Triumphal Bridge
While not a building or an exhibit, the Triumphal Bridge is the center piece of the Pan-American as it is one of the most majestic and decorative features of the Exposition. This spans the Grand Canal between the Mirror Lakes and leads the visitor from the Fore Court to the Esplanade. The composition is intended to express the pride of the people of the North American Union in their country. In this splendid gateway are four gigantic piers, upon which mounted standard bearers hold aloft the national emblem, and about the bases are trophies of peace and war, and numerous other pieces of statuary, each expressing some phase of national greatness.
The Electric Tower
Soaring to a height of 375 feet stands the Electric Tower, the crowning centerpiece of the Exposition. A spiral stairway in the center leads up to a domed cupola on which is poised a superb figure, the Goddess of Light, overlooking and dominating the entire Exposition. At the base of the tower, on the east side and west sides, two colonnades form a large semi-circle space opening toward the Court of Fountains.
Elevators carry the visitors to the many floors. At the height of 75 feet is a large restaurant, from which one may stroll upon the roof gardens above the colonnades. From the various floors, visitors may obtain views of the Grounds, the City of Buffalo, Lake Erie, and the Niagara River. The color scheme is a creme white, beautifully trimmed in blue and gold, and entire exterior is decorated with beautiful statues. The entire framework is of steel and was the design of architect Howard Cobb of New York.
Three buildings were erected by the government to exhibit these departments; War and Navy, Post Office, Agriculture, Treasury and the different bureaus of the State Department. In the Patent Office section, you can look at your own bones by means of the x-ray free of charge. A visit to the north wing of the Government Building will allow visitor to see the products of the United States' new island dependencies, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
Northwest of the Court of Fountains, with its eastern end facing the Electric Tower, is the Electricity Building. It was design by architects Green and Wicks of Buffalo, who also designed the Machinery and Transportation Building. In the northwest corner of the building is the Niagara Falls transformer plant, with a capacity of five thousand horse-power, the purpose of which is to transform the power delivered from Niagara Falls to a lower voltage so that it can be used for distribution about the grounds, to operate lights and other electrical appliances. The development of electrical power is illustrated in a very comprehensive manner; working models of many of the great plants are on exhibition..
Here you will also be able to watch the telephone girls at work. The switchboard is a part of the Buffalo Bell Telephone Company's system and the whole proceeding of calling "Central" and getting your connection is shown in full view and carefully explained.
Machinery and Transportation Building
This building, in the style of Spanish Renaissance, houses an interesting collection of modern agricultural machinery of the last few years. American invention and ingenuity are demonstrated in displays of bicycles, carriages, boats, automobile manufacturing, heavy machinery, pumps, and steam engines. The Transportation exhibit is no less interesting and includes all of the very latest specimens of road vehicles, locomotives, cars and railroad appliances.
Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building
Similar to the Machinery and Transportation building, it has a central court of 200 by 100 feet, which is used entirely for jewelry and glassware exhibits. Here the visitor will find gathered together in profusion the very latest productions of the mills and factories of the United States and other countries of the Western Hemisphere. It may be safe to say that it contains the largest variety of manufactured products ever brought together. Food and food products are also on display.
This building is a magnet which attracts progressive farmers, where they can learn how to lighten their labors and improve the products of their fields. The extensive embrace of all phases of agricultural work, showing the advantages of different processes and methods of work, and the farm products under all sorts of conditions. Ample provisions have been made to give this important industry the attention it deserves.
Flowers in profusion will welcome the visitors who enter the Exposition grounds by the Elmwood gate. The handsome and commodious building to the left is the Horticulture Building. In this building will be found all the popular fruits of the different countries represented in the exposition, and a refrigerating plant on the grounds makes it possible to provide a daily supply of fresh fruit. Articles and appliances used in horticulture make up a large part of the exhibit. The coconut palms, with the fruit in their natural state are worth looking at.
The Mines Building
In this square building is found an extensive exhibit of mines and metallurgy. Minerals of every description, both useful and ornamental, are fully represented. The methods and processing employed in the treatment of ores and the means of bringing them from the earth can be studied by those interested. All parts of the United States, South and Central America, Canada, and Mexico have contributed to the exhibit. One can also view the machinery used in the manipulation of ores. Of special interest is the California and Oregon gold exhibit.
The Temple of Music
The Temple of Music, one of the most beautiful of the Exposition buildings, is situated west of the central fountain of the Esplanade and south of the Machinery and Transportation building. The building is colored in light yellows, with gold and red trimmings, and the panels in the dome are in light blue, producing an extremely beautiful effect.
The Temple provides an auditorium capable of seating 2,200 people, and contains one of the largest pipe organs ever built in the United States. Daily organ recitals will be given by the most celebrated organists of this country and Canada. The principal national holidays will be observed with musical festivals, and many of the most famous bands of both the New and Old Worlds will give concerts in the Temple of Music, and from the other various band stands on the exposition grounds.
The Ethnology Building
Opposite the Temple of Music, the Ethnology building houses exhibits of great historical interest; relief maps of the Niagara Frontier, showing sites of the Indian Villages, and the results of research into the origins and customs of wild and barbarian tribes still existing. The principal exhibits consist of archaeological material, such as pottery, books, paintings, sculptures, stuffed birds and animals, and Indian relics.
New York State Building
Architect George Cary, of Buffalo, New York, designed the New York State building at a cost of $375,000. It is made entirely of white marble and is in the style of a Grecian Temple. After the Exposition the building becomes the permanent home of the Buffalo Historical Society, whose large collection of pioneer relics it contains.
The Stadium for athletic sports, as its name implies, is modeled after the Panathenaic Stadium, scooped by Lycurgus out of the banks of the Ilissus, at Athens, 2200 years ago. It is situated to the left of the Plaza as one enters by the railway gate. The nature of the sports planned is varied. Amateur as well as professional events of all kinds will be held, and will include baseball, football, cycling, shooting, lacrosse, cricket, tennis, and other sports. Here also will be the displays of livestock, automobiles, and other road vehicles, farm and road machinery in motion. One may also see the exciting exploits of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
The Art Building
This building contains some of the most beautiful works of art, paintings and sculpture, making it highly interesting to all art lovers. The Albright Art Gallery, which is in an unfinished condition and in the extreme southwestern part of the Exposition grounds, was to have been used for the Pan-American gallery, but owing to some difficulties met within the course of its construction, it could not be completed in time, and thus the Exposition lost one of its most beautiful buildings.
State and Foreign Buildings
Located in the southeastern section of the grounds are the various buildings erected by those states and foreign countries represented at the fair. Each building contains exhibits pertaining to the commerce and culture of each state or country they represent.
Click on an area to see the image.
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This page was updated December 14, 1998 -- Aaron T. Heverin