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There are lessons to be learned for San Diego’s 2015 centennial
from Paris’ 1889 exposition.
The Eiffel Tower was first introduced at the 1889 Paris Exposition, and is perhaps the most recognizable structure in the world. There are seven striking parallels between this Exposition and San Diego’s upcoming 2015 centennial worth examining:
1. The 1889 Exposition was a centennial celebration, celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the 1789 French Revolution, the critical event that made Paris what it is today. (So too San Diego is planning to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of a critical event that made San Diego what it is today, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.)
2. In 1889 the population of greater Paris was nearly 2 million people. (The greater San Diego area today has more than 3 million people.)
3. Before and during the 1889 Exposition, the decade-long French effort to build a Panama Canal collapsed in bankruptcy, causing the greatest financial debacle in history to that date. Scandal and failure of the government in Paris followed. Nevertheless, Paris pulled off a spectacular exposition. (So too San Diego is mired in a significant financial debacle, and so too San Diego can prevail.)
4. The Eiffel Tower was built specifically for the 1889 Exposition. It was highly controversial and despised by nearly all the prominent architects, artisans, and intelligentsia of the day — until it was completed; then it became a raging success.(So too San Diego has a proposal to build a 500-foot “Wings of Freedom” sculpture on the waterfront — again controversial with naysayers aplenty. Though a Midway Museum proposal, it would be beneficial to attach the sculpture to the Centennial as well. Like the Eiffel Tower before it, the Wings could then be introduced to the world at the Centennial as San Diego’s crowning insignia.)
Thematically, the sculpture’s principals might consider a slight modification of the name to the “Wings of Life.” The sculpture’s sails speak volumes of the life brought to San Diego via Cabrillo’s 1542 landing, the first ship in 1915 to pass through the Panama Canal and reach San Diego, our large U.S. Navy presence, and our world-class sailing and maritime community. “Freedom” is a great word, but our city identity becomes lost in the broader American experience and lexicon when using it here — a thematic copy of the Statue of Liberty, if you will. San Diego is well beyond the point of needing to imitate or follow others. The time has arrived for San Diego to stand tall on the world stage with a unique identity of its own.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are in the business of defending life, as well as our very way of life. San Diego is also the birthplace of life itself for naval aviation. Moreover, in the most profound passage of the Declaration of Independence it states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America already has a great statue dedicated to liberty, yet why isn’t there one dedicated to life, the foremost inalienable right? And with this Declaration passage emblazoned at its base? The “Wings of Life” is thematically original, philosophically aligned, militarily on point, aviation and maritime friendly, and message positive.
5. The 1889 Exposition was featured in three Paris locations, the primary area being the Eiffel Tower. (So too San Diego’s Centennial should have several locations: A) Balboa Park as primary, B) the Wings sculpture, and C) San Diego Harbor.)
6. The 1889 Exposition had three major hooks that drove demand: A) The Eiffel Tower, B) Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and C) Thomas Edison’s display of electricity and the phonograph. (So too San Diego needs powerful hooks, the best possibilities being: A)tThe Wings sculpture, B) a Panama to San Diego flotilla and regatta, and C) a techno-innovation display in Balboa Park.)
7. The 1889 Exposition lasted six months (May to November) and was power-packed. (Might a similar approach be best for San Diego and Balboa Park as well? More often than not, less is more.)
There is no limit to what our centennial can be if we are willing to think and go big, just like Paris in 1889. Think about what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris over the past century. So too, what might a Wings sculpture and Panama flotilla do for San Diego over the next century? Paris soared in 1889. In 2015 it’s our turn.
George Mullen is an artist and writer with StudioRevolution.com in downtown San Diego.
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