Monday, August 8, 2011

Looking for Philippine traces around the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is the only structure preserved from among several palaces of exhibition built for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Photo by the author.

A long time ago, in the mid-1970s, we associated the iconic architectural dome with out-of-school science education when we were hammering out program plans of the Science Foundation of the Philippines-National Science Development Board (now the Dept. of Science &Technology) for a Takarang Agham ng Pilipinas (Philippine Science Center). It was the Exploratorium to us then, one of our models for the science museum where viewers handle/interact with the exhibits to learn the science principles behind them. 

We first visited the Exploratorium in the 1980s. There we learned that it was actually occupying the Palace of Fine Arts, said to be the "most beloved of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition."   We've been going back to this architectural masterpiece of Bernard Maybeck whenever we are in San Francisco. The blending of what looks like ancient Roman ruins with the landscape--water and lush greens--evokes varying moods as we go around with our camera.

Photograph of Palace of Fine Arts by U.H. Berney, 1915.

The Exposition (20 February-04 December 1915) was organized to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, and also to commemorate the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by the explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa 400 years earlier. The canal bridged the Atlantic and the Pacific, shortening travel time between the continents, and promising enormous commercial benefits for the major players in the world trade. 

By that time, the "Philippine Islands" ("P.I.") has fully become a peaceful territory of the budding United States empire with the public school system fully entrenched throughout the archipelago, and Filipinos have started moving to America as pensionados or working students, or documented sacadas in Hawaii, another US territory, or in California, And the annual Manila Carnival has been running for years. These all suggest that there could have been Philippine representation in the 1915 Expo.

There were indeed exhibits from "P.I." in the Palaces of Education & Social Economy ('domestic and foreign education, and areas relevant to social and economic conditions'), Manufactures ('commercial transformation of natural resources'), Agriculture, Food Products, and Horticulture.

Grouping, location and nature of exhibits of the Bureau of Education of the Government of the Philippine Islands at the Palace of Education &Social Economy

We had none in the Palaces of Fine Arts ('11,043 works of art from the US and some foreign countries'), Live Stock, Liberal Arts ('commercial and scientific exhibits from the US and in "industrial" groups'), Machinery ('machines and electrical apparatus, and related instruments and appliances'), Transportation (developments in modern land, sea and air transportation), and Mines and Metallurgy.

Grouping, location and agriculural products of the Philippine Islands displayed at the Palace of Agriculture.

The Islands had prepared for it since 1911 after San Francisco was officially declared as expo site no less than US President William Howard Taft himself.  A board composed of Leon Ma. Guerrero, president; William W. Barclay, director general; and Francisco Liongson, with Allen T. St. Clair as chief clerk was created.
There was only this group of furniture makers at the Palace of Manufactures.

 "The Exposition, will be a great fair, largely industrial in nature," Parker (1912) of the Bureau of Education wrote, "at which there will be offered displays from all parts of the world, showing the resources of countries and the products of their hands and factories. The Philippines are to be properly represented at this exposition, and the schools of these Islands will have an unexcelled opportunity to exhibit to the whole world, and especially to educators, the results of fifteen years of instruction in the schools of the Islands under the practical administration of a body of American superintendents and teachers, many of whom will have been connected with the service for the full term."

Cover of Tobacco brochure (left) and group/location/nature of exhibits at the Palace of Food Products.  Other brochures were made for the other products (rice, abaca, sugar).

In 1914, the Philippine Legislature appropriated PhP100,000 for an exposition in Manila from which the best of products would be purchased for the fair in San Francisco. High standards were set for the selection of exhibits from the provinces to the Manila fair.  The Bureau of Education took it that these would be the gauge by which visitors in San Francisco will measure the work of the public schools. 

What did the millions who visited the Exposition see from the Philippine Islands?
  • At the Palaces of Education & Social Economy, "the exhibit consisted of charts, written work, publications, reference books, statistics, compilations, textbooks, models, designs and plans, research work, school library work, school museum work, scientific and technical displays, graded industrial courses, transparencies, photographs, lantern slides, moving pictures, an industrial working exhibit, a force of demonstrators, and the sales department of school-made articles [which]served the purpose of showing the complete public school system (Report of the Governor General, 1916)."
  • At the Palace of Agriculture, a farm house and a farm cart; tobacco leaves and tobacco products; cocoanut, copra, and oil; abaca hemp, products and apparatus for stripping and cleaning abaca; a complete forestry exhibit, lumber and wood products; textile plants and their products; also a collection of useful and injurious insects plus apparatus to eradicate them.
  • At the Palace of Food Products, cocoanut oil press, corn and rice mills; sugar from cane, chocolate, coffee, vinegar, pepper, etc.; commercial alcohol, wine and gin from sugar cane; fermented beverages (basi and tapuy); and, strangely, tobacco also.
  • At the Palace of Manufactures, furniture (tables, chairs, etc) from individual exhibitors.
  • At the Palace of Horticulture, a large collection of orchids.

The 1915 Exposition accorded the country and the Filipinos civilized treatment so far better than what we received at the St Louis Fair a decade earlier.  There were no more native villages reconstructed and shows using our tribal people to demonstrate to the American public that we were far from deserving independence and self-government.

"For the first time," the Governor General reported to Washington, "the Philippine Islands were presented to the outside world by an exhibition of the education and accomplishments of the 8,000,000 civilized inhabitants of the islands, instead of an exhibit of the 1,000,000 or less partly civilized inhabitants of the mountains and more remote regions, as has been the case in exhibitions, pictures, and lectures upon so many occasions in the recent past."

The Governor General had much to crow about with regard to the Bureau of Education exhibits: "The exhibit of the Philippine public schools ... not only set forth the operation of the public school system, but also correlated very closely with the general industrial and commercial purposes of the entire Philippine participation in the exposition....most favorably commented upon by visitors at the exposition were the centralized system of control, the adaptation of textbooks to Philippine needs, the emphasis placed upon games and athletics, the instruction in citizenship and in good manners and right conduct, the differentiation in the work for boys and girls, and the vocational specialization in the intermediate grades."

The Philippine public schools received the highest award in education; there were also honors in social economy, liberal arts, and manufactures.  All in all, "the awards granted included 4 grand prizes, 15 medals of honor, 37 gold medals, 13 silver medals, 2 bronze medals, and 4 honorable mentions." Our Bureau of Education representatives spoke at 17 congresses and associations allied with the international congress on education and the meetings of the National Education Association, and also talked before school bodies, societies,, and clubs at the Expo and around San Francisco.

The Filipino brain nurtured by the Philippine educational system has since then joined the diaspora to the American (and international) job market.

But almost a century after the Expo, the farm house and farm cart remain fixtures in the countryside, and today there is the National Food Authority to ensure that domestic rice supply is complemented by imports from our Asian neighbors.  There are Philippine food products available in Pinoy and Asian groceries in America but they stand in stiff competition with the similar products from our neighbor countries.

Until recent years, our traditional furniture makers were a strong presence in the international trade until competition from China and other neighbor countries grabbed the market from them, coupled with their slow response to the changing tastes of the world market.

Before the second world war, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines Journal kept watch on American investments in economic activities related to rice and corn, tobacco, lumber, copra and other natural products.  There also occurred in the 1920s an intense debate on the issue of turning Mindanao into a rubber plantation.  In recent times, we have seen export processing zones in strategic areas in the country.

While we write this, we don't know why the Laurel-Langley agreement keeps popping up in our head.

  • Bernard Maybeck marker at the Palace of Fine Arts. 
    • Parker, Luther; Foreman, North H; Mulle, Theodore; Hansen, O.C.; and Sawyer, Leroy, R.  (1913, March).  The 1913 Industrial Exhibition of the Public Schools of the Philippines.Philippine craftsman. 1(9):660.  Manila: Bureau of Education.  Retrieved form 
    •  Report of the Governor General.  (1916).  Report of the Philppine Commission to the Secretary of War 1915 (January 1,1915, to December 31, 1915).  Washington: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from

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