Bits & Pieces

June 27, 2009

La Exposicion (The Exposition)

When I lived in Panama, there was an area below the Hospital Panama known as "La Exposicion". I never knew why, nor did I question the name. It was in later years that I learned that the area was so named because there had been a National Exposition there and that the government buildings that were there were buildings left over from this exposition!

La Exposicion Nacional de Panama took place for the purpose of celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by Vasco Nunez de Balboa in 1513. On December 13, 1912, the dates for the Exposition were declared to be from January 21 until May 31, 1914. The area of "El Hatillo" was selected because of its proximity to the ruins of OldPanama. A special invitation to participate was issued to Spain. Several neighboring countries were also invited as were U.S. manufacturing companies that wished to exhibit their modern farm equipment. The secondary purpose of the exposition was to celebrate the official opening of the Canal which was scheduled for that year.

However, it soon became clear that the selected dates offered very little time to design ad construct the required buildings, so a new opening date of November 3, 1914 was selected and, at the same time, it was determined that the exposition would remain open until April 30, 1915.

On September 25, 1913, during an impressive ceremony with more than 2000 in attendance, the first stone of the Administration Building of the Exposition was laid on the land of "El Hatillo", which would from then on be known as "La Exposicion". That very day was the actual 400th Anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. The countries accepting invitation, in addition of Spain, were Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, The United States and Venezuela. Panama actually provided Guatemala with space in one of it's buildings because Guatemala was unable to construct its own in the time period. Other American countries declined due to economic or political problems.

George W. Goethals, the Governor of the Canal Zone, named Mr. Bishop, Secretary of the old Isthmian Canal Commission, as his representative in the Board of Directors of the Exposition and he was a great help to the enterprise. When Mr. Bishop left the Isthmus, he was replaced by Col. H.F. Hodges.

In addition to the "Administration Building", Panama also built the "Palace of Arts" and the "Palace of Agriculture". The cost of the three buildings totaled about $180.000, a great sum in those days. Some 400 workers toiled in the projects and the construction of a new power plant was announced to supply electricity for the 8,000 light bulbs that would light the buildings.

Because of multiple set backs and problems, the opening date had to be moved again to February 6, 1915. The announcements in the papers stated:

Panama National Exposition

Official Opening Date: February 6, 1915
100 Days
Important representation of the Natural Resources of the Republic
Unique opportunity to see the best of the exhibits the United States displayed at the
International Exposition of San Francisco, California.
Opens from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM every day
Price B/. 0.25
Free entry to the Buildings
Concerts Every Night
Military Parades and other Attractions

On Sunday, the opening day, a parade started at the city and marched to the Exposition grounds. Included in the parade were the bands from the Orphans Institute, the Firefighters Corps, and the National Police with contingents from the firefighters and police units in the parade. From 8:30 PM until 11:00 PM, the Republican Band performed in concert at the Exposition while fireworks were set off. The local papers estimated that 11,000 participated in the opening festivities.

The total cost of the exposition, including the purchase of the land, was B/. 856,209. Today (The story dates from June 1986), as witnesses to that memorable episode in the history of Panama,the Spanish pavilion houses the Embassy of Spain and the "Palace of Arts" houses the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Left: Administration Building. This was one of the most admired buildings of the Exposition. Unfortunately, it was torn down.
Right: The elegant "Palace of Arts" now houses the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Left: The "Palace of Agriculture", another beautiful building for the Exposition, was also later torn down.
Right: Spain's Exposition building now houses their Embassy.

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas