"THE WHITE CITY" AND AFTER
A Decade of Civic Development (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1905):59-82.Charles Zueblin (1866-1924) received his early education in Philadelphia schools and the University of Pennsylvania. Graduating from Northwestern University in 1887, he continued with post-graduate studies at Yale and at the University of Leipzig. In 1891 he founded the Northwestern University settlement house in Chicago and a year later became an instructor in Sociology at the newly-established University of Chicago. In 1902 he accepted an appointment as professor of Sociology.The significance of expositions as models of city making is beginning to rival their importance as institutions for popular education in commercial and industrial processes. This was overlooked in the Centennial exposition of Philadelphia , which was a mere congeries of shelters for works of scientific and artistic excellence. It has also been ignored in the successive Paris expositions, for the art of city making is in Paris an accomplished fact. Paris is not only a city of spectacles, it is itself the world's greatest modern spectacle. Hence when Paris holds an exposition it must be an integral part of the city, which would otherwise eclipse the temporary show. The exposition site is logically along the Seine, the great central artery of the city. The temporary exposition buildings have as a background the permanent and noble public buildings of the French capital, to which each exposition has contributed one or more lasting monuments. In the waters of the Seine, the verdure of the boulevards, the harmony of architectural accomplishment; here are already the elements of the greatest and most beautiful expositions.
Zueblin wrote books and articles and lectured throughout the country on urban problems and issues. His first book, American Municipal Progress, was published in 1902, followed three years later by the volume containing the chapter reprinted here that originally appeared as "The Civic Renascence: `The White City' and After," Chautauquan 38 (December 1903):373-384. In pointing to the Chicago World's Fair as an example of a well-planned and efficiently organized environment, Zueblin--like John Coleman Adams--identifies another dimension of that exhibition whose appearance and design characteristics have received greater attention from historians of planning and architecture. In his concluding paragraphs mentioning some of the more recent American fairs, the author calls attention to the largely thwarted proposal for a "Model City" exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1893. Zueblin's remarks on this subject should be read with a brief essay on the subject by Charles Kelsey.
Our American cities are lacking in unity of purpose and harmony of design. The desire for immediate pecuniary results, the dominance of commercial motives, the assertiveness of powerful individuals, lacking artistic education, and the scorn of public supervision have made of the typical American city a miscellany of dingy warehouses, tawdry shops, squalid tenements, tasteless mansions, usually monotonous but sometimes variegated streets. There is not unity, but neither is there pronounced individuality, only restlessness. The sole example of comprehensive treatment dating from an earlier period, is Washington, which possesses unparalleled opportunities, but can never quite obliterate the mistakes of nineteenth-century ignorance. Aside from the capital city, which will be considered in a subsequent chapter, the epoch-making achievement in the execution of a comprehensive plan was the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.
For the first time in American history a complete city, equipped with all the public utilities' caring for a temporary population of thousands (on one day over three-quarters of a million), was built as a unit on a single architectural scale. The rare site by the irridescent waters of Lake Michigan, the wonders of science, the glories of art, the beauties of architecture, the fraternal spirit of the world's congresses, are all accessory to the chief significance of the Columbian Exposition as the memorial of the discovery of the New World -- the making of a new city, the White City.
The White City came in the fulness of time; its elements were necessarily in existence in other cities, as its executives, architects, artists, builders and engineers were successfully plying their callings elsewhere, but nowhere had they united in a common purpose for the immediate achievement of a comprehensive result. There was nothing unique in the World's Fair but the White City itself. Previous expositions had shown great collections of art. Steam and electricity, invention and discovery had been displayed to the world before, if not on so large a scale. The industrial, social and intellectual accomplishments of the nations were known at least to the student. The Yerkes telescope had predecessors. The Ferris wheel was not so imposing as the Eiffel Tower. Even the architecture, in its temporary brilliancy, did not rival the great buildings of this or other countries. The talented leader of the new architectural school, who designed the very original Transportation building, had already achieved greater distinction in the Chicago Auditorium and other conspicuous successes. The sculptors and mural decorators had had no such opportunity before, but their talents were well known and their products legion. The excellent work of engineers and landscape architects was the result of the great improvements which had been going on in the various cities of the country.
The White City was unique in being an epitome of the best we had done, and a prophecy of what we could do, if we were content with nothing but the best, and added to individual excellence a common purpose. The White City was the most socialistic achievement of history, the result of many minds inspired by a common aim working for the common good. There was no loss of individuality, no place for individualism. The individual was great but the collectivity was greater. Never before in our history had architects and artists so great an inspiration. Architecture, sculpture, mural decoration reached their zenith, because all was done in the name of the nation, to glorify four hundred years of public progress. More than that, the Chicago World's Fair was a miniature of the ideal city.
The situation was as beautiful as that of Venice. It was in fact the realization of the possibilities of the site of Chicago. Both the Black City and the White City were lapped by the waves of Michigan whose blue-green waters penetrated deep into the heart of each city. In the one case the waters were bordered by ugly docks and warehouses, spanned by hideous bridges, and defiled by the city's foulness, while they flowed under a murky sky. In the other, they were lined by fairy architecture, immaculate docks and strips of verdure and crossed by graceful bridges, while the clearness of an azure sky found reflection in the pure waters. The White City was the symbol of regeneration. The municipality which would redeem itself must begin by a realization of its topographic advantages.
Chicago has been slow to learn this lesson, but the significance of the Columbian Exposition, at the beginning of the decade, is being seen at its close. The South Park commissioners have not only treated Jackson Park as the site of the World's Fair deserves, but they are now spending two million and a half of dollars on the improvement of the lake front in the heart of the city. The day is not far distant when a beautiful park will penetrate a half a mile into Lake Michigan. The trustees of the sanitary district have turned the waters of the lake into the Chicago River with the result of obvious purification. They are now adding to their achievements, in the name of commerce, by supplanting the old swinging centerpier bridges by vastly superior rolling lift bridges. To complete the evidence of the impression made by the White City, the Municipal Art League, city officials, commercial organizations and private citizens are gaining ground daily in the abatement of the smoke nuisance.
The regard for the fundamental importance of topography was also shown in the treatment of the transportation problem. A great pier stretching out into the lake was traversed by a moving sidewalk which carried visitors to the boats plying between the city and the Fair. Electric launches and gondolas on the lagoons provided a delightful means of reaching almost any part of the Exposition, exhibiting the possibilities of water transportation in cities located on waterways. Connection was also made between the pier and all other parts of the grounds, including the railway stations, by an intramural elevated railway operated by electricity. The steam and elevated railways from the outer world reached the extreme southwestern portion of the grounds with a minimum of inconvenience, and the stations were designed to be embellishments rather than the traditional disfigurements of many cities.
The transportation service was efficient but subordinate. So in all the other public functions nothing was done to detract from the beauty and harmony of the White City. Few American cities are as well paved and none as well cleaned as was the ephemeral city of 1893. The substantial macadamized roads were laid as though they were to serve the next generation but were cleaned as though there were to be no tomorrow. The nightly cleaning was followed by the watchful care of the day sweepers, both being aided by the admirable grading of the roads, which invited the assistance of nature. Here was the one flaw in the sanitary arrangements of the World's Fair--the drainage was into the lake, contributing to the pollution of the water supply of Chicago and the Fair. The provision for water, both for domestic and public uses, was adequate to the needs of the various buildings, the numerous restaurants, the public comfort stations, and the street cleaning and fire departments. There was even a concession let for the supply of Waukesha water by a pipe line, which challenged the faith of the incredulous. The electric light, telephone and telegraph wires were carried in conduits, and the other subterranean constructions were so laid that the street paving remained undisturbed subsequently. The disposition of the wastes of the Exposition would have satisfied the officials of Glasgow, while the police, fire and ambulance stations were like the services they made possible, according to the best American methods. These municipal functions were so organized that while the public was served the methods were inconspicuous. The utilities were never neglected, indeed they were better cared for than in any city, but the dominant note of the Exposition was constantly the aesthetic. There never was a better demonstration of the fact that proper regard for the utilitarian is the best guarantee of the beautiful.
The positive elements which united to make the White City an imperishable memory consisted of two natural features and the dual contribution of man's hand; water and verdure, architecture and sculpture. Even in the case of the former there was the happy demonstration that man may add to the beauties of nature as he did in the graceful road bordering the lake, the walls about the lagoons, and the judicious landscape architecture of the grounds. It was an inspiration which led to the retention of the wooded isle in the midst of the spaciousness of the Fair, where on the lawns, under the trees, and beside the still waters of the lagoons one might find rest from the kaleidoscopic interests of the Exposition.
There was great and discriminating beauty given to the grounds by the sculptural decorations. Not only the massive statue of the republic, the MacMonnies fountain and the great figures on the Administration building, but also the heroic animals guarding the approaches to the bridges and other minor works of art gave a satisfaction which the most skilfully adorned cities of the Old World could not excel. Yet the grand triumph of the White City was the Court of Honor, where the greatest ideal of modern city making received its unrivaled demonstration--architecture and water, great buildings on a single scale grouped about a lagoon, massive sculptural embellishments entirely subordinate to the main features.
The focus of the White City was, quite properly, the Administration building, suggestive once more of a cardinal principle in city making. The structure's great dome overlooked an ample plaza facing the lagoon, with the MacMonnies fountain in the foreground, and beyond was balanced by the Peristyle, the gateway of the city, before which stood the giant statue of the republic. The lagoon was flanked by the greatest buildings of the Fair, which with their differing architecture and varying size, including the huge Manufactures building and its dominating roof, nevertheless were constructed on a single scale and presented a marvelous harmony. Whether by day or by night the Court of Honor was a model for the guidance of all cities. In the glare of the sun the great white buildings still kept their irresistible fascination, for the coolness of the lagoon and fountains relieved their brilliancy; under the light of the moon one could feel himself transplanted to the world of romance; but it was when illuminated by electricity that the Court of Honor became the apotheosis of man's ingenuity. As Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer has said:
At Chicago we realized for the first time what impressive poetic, witching beauty may be created by the use of artificial light. In one sense it is not an artistic beauty; in another it is; for it is created by the hand of man, although with one of nature's agencies and cannot fully reveal itself except upon an elaborate architectural background. And it is the one kind of beauty that modern men have evolved without any help from tradition or precedent. It is the one kind of beauty that we possess and that the ancients, so greatly our superiors in the production of many other kinds, knew nothing whatever about.
The full majesty of the Court of Honor and its greatest revelation to the makers of cities came on Monday, the 9th of October, 1893, when in celebration of the twenty-third anniversary of the burning of Chicago, 761,942 people paid admission to the grounds and nearly half a million souls must have been at one time within view of this great central area of the Fair--many more than the entire population of Chicago at the time of the fire. Then the human mass gave life to the beautiful court with its background of majestic architecture, and man's latest civic triumph had been achieved. But the end of the Court of Honor was as humiliating, if not as ghastly, as the conflagration of Chicago. It was consumed by fire, but may it not have been a purifying fire, destroying the dross of staff and wood, that in the foundations of this great human achievement may be founded the art of permanent city making ?
The influence of the Columbian Exposition has been felt not only in new architectural and constructive efforts in public buildings, parks, and streets, but also in subsequent expositions. The idea of unity through the harmonious grouping of buildings constructed on a single scale has been realized in every exposition since 1893, notable at Omaha and Charleston. The success of this method is apparent to every observer, although he may not understand its cause or purpose. It has been explained from the architect's standpoint, in writing of the Pan-American Exposition, by Mr. John M. Carrere, chairman of the Board of Architects:
One of the most important factors in the harmony of the entire artistic composition, which are generally felt but not understood by the layman, is what the artist calls scale, by which is meant the proper proportion of detail to the masses, and the proper relation of these masses to each other and of the whole to the human stature, so that each building may look its actual size, and each part of the building may in turn bear its proper relation to that size. It must be apparent to any one that to maintain the scale in a composition of this character, conceived, studied, and executed in a very short space of time, under the most difficult conditions and by different architects, constitutes a real difficulty, and yet the entire harmony of the composition, from the artistic point of view, would suffer in no case more than in the lack of scale. For this reason the main effort of the Board of Architects has been to maintain this scale in every part of the composition, whether in the buildings, the grounds, the sculpture, or the color.
This is the achievement in exposition making which is of the first importance in its influence on city making. One cannot, however, overlook the fact that the freer use of sculpture and fountains in our American cities, the improvement of parks, especially formal squares in the heart of the cities, and the great development of mural decoration, in the last decade, received a marvelous impetus from the successful treatment of all these arts in the White City.
If the World's Fair of 1893 taught unity, the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo in 1901 exemplified the possibility of variety in unity. Not only was there greater individuality and picturesqueness in the architecture, but there were added to the scheme the forces of color and light, partly to differentiate it from the Columbian Exposition, and partly to carry out the idea which was also expressed in the sculptural decorations--all indicating, at once, the local significance of Buffalo and the cooperation of the Pan-American nations. Never before in the history of the arts in America has there been such a free use of symbolism. In all of these distinctive features of the Buffalo Exposition, it will be seen that while the influence of Chicago was pronounced, the authorities were unusually successful in departing from the Chicago tradition and contributing valuable original elements which may prove just as useful in the art of city making as the fundamental contribution of Chicago. If they did not quite achieve the harmony of the World's Fair, they at least avoided the monotony of the typical city. At the same time they expressed most happily the significant ideas of the Pan- American Exposition--the "Summer City," designed superficially for the temporary entertainment of visitors, and seriously to emphasize the significance of Buffalo with its dependence upon the waters of Lake Erie and Niagara, but above all the value of commercial federation of the nations of the two continents.
In the realization of these conceptions the practical work of engineer, architect, sculptor, painter, and landscape-architect, was most significant for the guidance of the makers of cities. The location of the Exposition on the edge of the park, upon a piece of bare ground, unrelieved and unadorned, without help or hindrance from nature except by the use of the park as a beautiful approach, suggests the possibility of the "city beautiful" on any site, however forbidding, if it is designed on a comprehensive plan. The board of eight architects agreed "that the exposition should be formal in plan and picturesque in development, and that the style of the buildings should be of the Free Renaissance; that apparent roofs with overhanging eaves should be used in preference to flat roofs with cornices and balustrades; that color and decorative sculpture should be introduced freely into the treatment of the buildings, and that the character of the Exposition should be as gay and festive as possible, so that it would be a holiday affair."
While there were several entrances to the grounds, as is the case with every city, emphasis was laid upon a chief and a secondary entrance. The majority of visitors by street car or boat reached the central avenue of the Exposition over the Triumphal Bridge; so that, as the spectator approached, the plan developed gradually, until on reaching the bridge he gained a view of the complete picture, the symbolic sculpture in the foreground, the buildings to the right or left of the Esplanade, also full of hidden meaning, and the whole converging toward the Electric Tower at the apex of the composition. No feature was more significant for the municipal architect or engineer than the dominance of the Exposition grounds by the Electric Tower, the result of a complete triumph over natural obstacles. The entrance to the grounds was conditioned by the relation of the city to the park approach. There was, therefore, only one possible location for the crowning feature of the Exposition, whereas it was found from the survey that the base of the Electric Tower was two feet lower than the grade level of the Esplanade. In order to lead up gradually to the most impressive element in the composition, it was necessary to fill in the grade, to produce a gradual incline from the Esplanade to the rear of the tower, giving a rise of ten feet in a distance of one thousand feet. The difficulty of this was increased by the well-known fact that such a tower seems to depress the ground on which it stands. The care given to the execution of the general scheme was no greater than that bestowed upon all the details; so that every element from the most heroic sculpture to the minor flower beds proved to be consistent with the general scheme, in spite of the greatest variety and individuality.
The scheme of sculptural decoration was not merely to have beautiful figures at convenient points for the relief of monotony or the emphasis of bridge approach or formal garden, but was primarily symbolic. The architectural completeness of the Columbian Exposition was rivaled in the complete harmony of the Pan American scheme of sculpture. On the left of the Esplanade were buildings housing exhibits of natural resources--forestry, mining and horticulture; on the other side government buildings, suggesting our people and our institutions. The farther group was devoted to machinery and transportation, electricity, manufacture, and the liberal arts--buildings in which the genius of man found expression with the aid of the two previous elements, nature and the institutions of the country; invention, industry, and ingenuity were here the motives for the painter and the sculptor. Beyond these buildings were found the entrances to the Stadium and the Midway--suggesting the lighter side of life-- sports and amusements. The Electric Tower, with the display of water and its influences, suggested an allegorical representation of the "Great Waters."
Second only in importance to the sculptural decoration, and more significant to the average visitor, was the use of color. Here was achieved the great differentiation between the Columbian Exposition and the Pan-American. The style of architecture being the Free Renaissance, gave a suggestion of gaiety and vivacity impossible in the classic lines of the World's Fair, and made easy the use of color, which was especially consistent with the recognition of the various nations contributing to the Exposition. The color scheme followed the general plan of treatment observed in architecture and sculpture, which began with the elemental forces of nature and the activities of primitive man. At the entrance to the grounds, therefore, primary colors were used, and the colors became more refined, until they reached a climax in the ivory-white, green, and gold of the Tower, which dominated the color scheme as it did the architectural, suggesting the break of the emerald-green waters over the crest of Niagara Falls.
Not content with this rare combination of architecture, sculpture and color, the Exposition authorities achieved another great success in the use of electricity. Again there is a suggestion for the practical work of the modern city. The unparalleled beauty of the Exposition illuminated was in no way inconsistent with the successful lighting of the roadways for the sake of facilitating traffic. Although the most novel feature of the illumination was the use of eight-candle power electric lamps, giving an unusual diffusion of light, brilliant but not dazzling, nevertheless the arrangement of lights in clusters near the roadways gave ample illumination for practical purposes. By an ingenious mechanical arrangement, the lighting was so manipulated that the current was applied gradually; so that the process of illumination was as fascinating as the complete result. The harmonious use of water in the fountains and especially in the Electric Tower completed this marvelous application of modern science to artistic achievement.
There was nothing at the Pan-American Exposition comparable to the majesty of the Court of Honor of the "White City;" but for both practical and artistic purposes the Exposition at Buffalo had many unusual excellences. It was compact, it possessed a variety in its architecture and sculpture more consistent with the diversified elements of the actual city. It employed a symbolism more refined, while it inaugurated an illuminating system more successful, than that at Chicago. It was individual, picturesque, often even startling. Yet it was entirely harmonious and practical. It demonstrated that there need be no loss of individuality in collective activity.
It is inevitable that comparison should be made between succeeding expositions, and the task of each new group of exposition makers is increasingly difficult, if their aim be chiefly differentiation, although the problems are greatly simplified by the experiences of their predecessors. The eyes of the country, indeed of the world, last year turned toward St. Louis. The area of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition was greater than that of Chicago; more money was appropriated for it; a fuller representation of foreign nations in its exhibits was secured; some new features were added, such as a great building devoted to education and social economy and a "Model Street;" the topography, with the beautiful background of bluffs, facilitating the cascades which gave the chief decorative effect, and the entrance through the beautiful Forest Park--all made great possibilities for the St. Louis World's Fair. To those who had not seen the expositions at Chicago or Buffalo, the use of the topographical advantages, the grouping of the buildings, and the rare municipal exhibits, scattered though they were, gave valuable suggestions in city making: but there was nothing comparable to the Court of Honor at Chicago or the Esplanade at Buffalo; there was nothing unique, like the harmony of the buildings at Chicago, or the color, light, and symbolism of Buffalo.
The fan-shaped plan of the main group of buildings gave an opportunity for curved streets not found in other expositions and unfortunately absent from most American cities. The focus of this plan in the cascades was a brilliant success, particularly at night, but the arrangement lacked balance. There was no complementary feature opposite the cascades, where the grand entrance made a glorious lost chance, meanly supplanted by a private concession, the Tyrolean Alps. The intrusion of private interest, or unwarranted public influence, was also apparent where the intrinsically beautiful Deutsches Haus obtruded upon the harmony of the general architectural plan. Indeed, one found it easy to accept the doubtless unjust insinuations of the hypercritical that the influence of concessionaires and possible political preferment played a larger part than patriotic ambition. The looseness with which the Exposition authorities managed the affairs is well illustrated by the plans for the Model City.
The idea of a "model city," proposed by Mr. Albert Kelsey, of Philadelphia to whom the work was intrusted, was the most unique suggested to the Exposition authorities, and gave the Fair a fuller advertisement than any other idea advanced. Yet it was treated with a niggardliness which was not only ungenerous but stupid, since it might have been the most instructive feature in the Exposition, as well as a distinctly remunerative one. Certainly its groupings of buildings about a typical city square, with the graphic representation of methods of street and subterranean construction, and the handling of municipal services, promised to guide the student not only to an appreciation of the Model City itself, but of the larger exposition in which the same principles were exemplified.
After much buffeting at the hands of Philistine directors and brutal interference from the burly contractor who supervised the architecture of the Exposition, Mr. Kelsey and his associates succeeded in grouping half a dozen buildings representing the contributions of as many cities, along a "Model Street which satisfied so incompletely the ideal of the "Model City" which he had projected that it was satirically dubbed "the muddled street." This might seem symbolic of American municipal accomplishment, but happily a little group of people gathered inspiration from their attempted epitome of city construction and the valuable municipal exhibits of Germany and other countries, unsystematically distributed throughout the Exposition, to propose the rescue of the best of these things from the fiasco of the Model City for the establishment of the Municipal Museum of Chicago, the most advanced step thus far taken in the graphic demonstration of the art of city making.
It is entirely possible to conduct an exposition giving chief emphasis to the triumphs of commerce and industry, as was amply demonstrated at Chicago and Buffalo, but when the motives are exclusively mercenary, the intellectual and social interests will either be tinged by sordidness or neglected. As has been said, the ideas of comprehensive planning, designing buildings on a single scale, effective grouping and well-advised street construction and supervision, all proved instructive to the visitor to St. Louis who failed to see the Columbian or Pan- American Exposition. The accomplishments of Chicago and Buffalo have been so great that it is difficult even for the cupidity of exposition officials to cause absolute failure. Inevitably many able men are employed as architects, sculptors, engineers, and executives, and each new exposition contributes to the education of the citizen in the science and art of city making.
Each exposition has its special spectacles, some transitory, some permanent. Philadelphia gained an art gallery and a horticultural building; Chicago, the Art Institute, the Columbian Museum and various minor buildings of more than passing value; Buffalo its historical building and art gallery, the most beautiful public buildings in the city, and St. Louis has been enriched by notable additions to the embellishment and equipment of the new campus of Washington University and an art gallery in Forest Park. Yet all of these permanent perquisities of the city are eclipsed by the education the citizens are receiving in the art of city making, through the admirable construction and management of these successive expositions.
If emphasis has been laid upon the meaning of the objective features of expositions, it is not with the intention of ignoring the educational value of the commercial and industrial exhibits and the interchange of ideas in the congresses. The external aspects of the expositions are, it is true, incidental, but so is municipal life as compared with the industrial world. It is the art of living after the means have been provided, but it is also the need of the moment. In commerce and industry we have triumphed. We enjoy national prosperity; we have an increase of individual leisure; we have a multiplication of communal wants. Life is fuller, but we need a background. We are tired of polluted air and water, dirty streets, grimy buildings and disordered cities. From the "White City" to the "Ivory City" the lesson has been impressed that ugliness and inconvenience for the present and the future, will yield to the magic power of the comprehensive plan. The individual gains comfort and the community beauty by uninterrupted co-operation.
Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: email@example.com To Top of Page To Homepage