(excerpt from Chapter 10 - Banjos, Bohemians and the Barbary.)
And then the dreaded letter arrived that would take Dan away from me too. Willis wrote to tell Daniel that he and William Hearst, the new young publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, were in discussions to design schematics for a proposed San Francisco World’s Fair in 1900. His first assignment was to go to Chicago and meet with the Chief Architect for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, Daniel Burnham. He was to write and draw a series of articles about the site and bring back ideas and information on cost and construction. He wanted Daniel to join him.
Before a response could go out to San Francisco, twenty-two year old Willis was back in Kansas City. This was certainly not because he missed our family. And within minutes of his arrival, he was sharing his unsolicited tone-deaf opinions.
“Father, the new house is well executed and grand. Really well done. Congratulations, but who is going to fill all these rooms?”
“Mother are we too insolvent to furnish the house? What is your plan here? Are you moving in or out? Maybe you need my help.”
“Dan, doesn’t touring get old? Haven’t you milked that turnip long enough? Time to get a real career.”
And for me, “My, my Daisy. What a young lady you have grown into. Who’d have thought it?”
His arrival inconveniently fell on an April weekend five days before my seventeenth birthday, so I remember it all too well. Dan and I were set to perform at the Platte City Opera House to raise funds for a veterans home on a full and quirky bill that included clog dancing. Willis announced he would be delighted to perform with us, although I don’t remember Dan offering an invitation.
Willis and Dan left me on my own with the excuse they needed to practice. But as was my habit, I eavesdropped on all their conversations. And all these discussions revolved around San Francisco. Willis wove a wonderful picture of the money, the building and the opportunities present in the city at continent’s western edge.
“Dan, we met through my clubs. Hearst is remarkable, and only four years older than I am. In ‘87 he took over the Examiner and has tripled it’s readership already. He’s a maverick. Yes sir, and really shaking up San Francisco. ”
“Well bully for Mr. Hearst.” mocked Daniel. “What has this to do with me?”
“Well just everything! The Chicago Exposition project is on the table. He’ll hire me. I’ll hire you! All published in his paper to stir up local interest and readership.”
“Is this a real job, or a Willis Polk pipe dream?”
“No it’s real Dan. Did you read the articles I wrote? I sent them to you. That’s a copious amount of column space in his Examiner. I have no reason to doubt his resolve, especially now that he has come into his fortune. He's ready and willing to spend it.”
Dan became more polite as the conversation went on. Willis mentioned his introduction to Hearst's mother Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst who also had building projects under consideration. Anyone who read newspapers knew about the Hearst's. California’s Senator Hearst had just died in February and Mrs. Hearst was a well known proponent of suffrage. Both the Senator and his wife were often showcased in our papers as native Missourians. How extraordinary that Willis should have become friendly with her son, I thought, if it's true.
The first clear signs that Dan was committed to joining Willis were the scenes he started drawing of The World’s Columbian Exposition. He re-interpreted images from a Spring Harpers Weekly Magazine which dedicated an entire issue to the forthcoming 1893 Chicago event and progress at the site.
“These drawings are pure imagination,” Dan told me as I watched their progress. “Very little has yet to be built on the site.” This remark referring to the 600 acres of cleared land in Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Jackson Park. Once the drawings were completed, he sent them to Willis to become part of his presentation to Randolph Hearst.
Those signed detailed drawings were eventually published in The Examiner in December of 1891 in a multi-page spread showcasing a “Feasible Plan” to eclipse Chicago with a World’s Fair in San Francisco. This was quite a brag when Chicago was not even opening for another 18 months. And before this article appeared, Willis and Dan had an all expense paid visit to the Chicago site to report first hand about the plans and progress for the Examiner. All of this was included in the article. But more importantly, Willis and Dan’s San Francisco renderings allowed everyone to see this possibility as imagined through the art and descriptions. The drawings were remarkable.
By the end of summer 1891 Dan had joined Willis in San Francisco, and Father was selling our brand new Hyde Park house and preparing for another move. I spent the final months researching for my new adventure and everything I would need to know about my new City. At a Farewell Fete given by Mrs. Goodlander whose husband G.W. was a good friend and business partner with Father, I said goodbye to Nick and Warren. All the ladies present consoled me about missing my debut. I tried to act as though I gave one fiddlestick. But neither the Warren’s nor I shed a tear at the lost prospect or the end of our sterile romance. We boarded our train for San Francisco the next day.
Willis did become the Chief Architect for the 1915 San Francisco Pan Pacific International Exposition. Although it was not Hearst's plan, he took credit for it in an article from 1911.
Building were assigned by The Chief Architect, and as was his perogative Willis chose The Palace of Fine Arts as his building. In his office discussing his plans, his employee and long-time friend Bernard Maybeck and other staff were given an opportunity to submit designs. Willis gave the entire commission to Maybeck when he saw his design. When asked why Willis would do this rather than have his office take credit, he commented "because no-one could do it better". And so, Bernard designed what all San Franciscans have loved as a beautiful landmark. But it was only a temporary building. Following the close of the Fair, Willis campaigned to preserve the PFA for future generations. It stands today after two such campaigns for all to enjoy.
"Therefore, let us preserve our Palace of Fine Arts as long as possible, six months, six years, or any length of time — maybe someday it can be made permanent…”
Willis Polk, 1915
But that's another story ...
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WR HEARST PLANS
HOT SPRINGS 1882
A WILLIS POLK GIFT
THE RLS CONNECTION 1896
EARTHQUAKE TALES FROM COPPA
PANDEMIC OF 1889
THE BOMB THAT SHOOK SF
MILAN:CITY OF WATER
POLK ON THE MAP
FEATHERS, FASHION & FLY FISHING
RARE AVIATION FILM - WWI 1914-17
1906 SAN FRANCISCO
WTF FILES - TECHNOLOGICAL
GET ME OUTTA HERE!
NO HORSES, NO TENTS, NO $
DAISY IN FRENCH LITERATURE
DAISY ON FILM!
THE WHITE DEATH
THE SYMBOLISM OF FLOWERS
POSTE DE SECOURS WWI
TRAVEL 1900: LONDON TO PARIS
DAISY: REST IN PEACE
KEITH'S, DRANE'S & KENTUCKY
MOTHER: MISSOURI COMPROMISE