Pan-American Exposition Links

Architecture, Sculpture, and Color Schemes at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition
by Eliza Northwood
June 2002

Table of Contents


Fairs and expositions were held in numerous locations worldwide in the late nineteenth century as a way for the city holding the fair or exposition to boast about their past accomplishments and future promise. The Pan-American Exposition , the first of its kind, was in 1901 held in Buffalo, New York. It was here, hailed as the "Rainbow City, that the architecture, sculpture, and color schemes were considered of the utmost importance by those planning the Exposition. The design of all three schemes was fine-tuned to accentuate the times the Exposition was to take place, as well as the purpose of why it was occurring.

The Bureau of American Relations, established in 1889, had begun planning for the Pan-American Exposition, called familiarly the Pan-Am or the Expo, immediately following Chicago's World's Fair in 1893. In 1897 it was decided by the Bureau's President, Captain Brinker, that the exposition was to be held "at some suitable location on the Niagara Frontier."

But that decision did not follow through as planned. The Spanish-American War erupted later that year, forcing the postponement of the Expo. It caused the delay of organization to commence until the end of the War in 1898.

After the War, the purpose of the Pan-Am became more pertinent than ever - it was now to be the first token of the hemispheric "good neighbor" policy recently instituted. On the Propylaea, the most important and magnificent entrance to the Exposition, an inscription written by Richard Watson Gilder read: "That century that has now begun may unite in the bonds of peace, knowledge, friendship, and noble emulation of all the dwellers on the continents and islands of the New World,."


Although there were many skeptics as to whether or not the city of Buffalo could produce as wonderful an experience as previous fairs and expositions, the group of businessmen who headed the planning committee were dedicated to devising an exposition more resplendent than ever before. The group of businessmen, called the Executive Committee, collaborated with the Board of Architects of the Pan-American Exposition to do just this

The Board of Architects was set up so that each member had a specific project to work on. Members included E. B. Green, of Buffalo; George Cary, of Buffalo, who designed the Ethnology building; August Eisenwein (of Eisenwein and Johnson), also from Buffalo, who designed the Temple of Music; and John G. Howard, of New York, who designed the Electric Tower. John M Carrere was the chairman of the Board of Architects, and presided over the entire treatment of the grounds, including all the buildings designed by the members of the board.

To make the organizational process of the Pan-Am work well in keeping with the overall architectural scheme, the board held meetings occasionally to make organizational decisions as a group. Karl Bitter, Director of Sculpture, and C. Y. Turner, Director of Color, were made members of the Board later on to ensure agreeable decisions. Also, the Building and Grounds Committee joined some of the meetings to help make decisions.

A group called the Special Committee had earlier picked the site on which to hold the Exposition. It was an area of approximately 350 acres of the Rumsey Farm. The Board of Architects changed the site slightly by extending it to envelop some of Delaware Park, a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Because it was a public park, it was to not be changed at all, so the Board decided to bring the Exposition to the edge, making it possible for spectators to enter from a natural, primitive setting into the modern setting of the Exposition.

The location of the site was deliberated before being decided upon. It was a flat, treeless, landlocked section of land that left some members of the board thinking that the site did not contain enough local characteristics, such as a waterfront view or hills. These members therefore concluded that the Exposition would not correctly depict the city of Buffalo. But the absence of hills made it very easy to be built upon, and the close proximity to Delaware Park made up for the sparseness of trees.

From an aerial view, the actual site of the Pan-Am was designed as an inverted T, the bottom of the T reaching north and touching the NY Central train terminal, and the top (pointing south) grazing the Delaware Park Lake. To the west was Elmwood Avenue and to the east was Delaware Avenue. It was within these boundaries that the Exposition was constructed.


An official seal for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition was designed, with each of the American continents being embodied as a woman in flowing clothing, the hands of each woman extended toward one another, and clasping over Latin America. The design was sold on buttons, postcards, clocks, plates, and many other miscellaneous objects which are now considered collectibles.

It was the sentiment of uniting the Americas that presented the first idea for the design of architecture for the Exposition. The idea that formed was the style of Spanish Renaissance, a style whose characteristics include ornate entrances in the form of arches, columns thick in diameter, wide, red tile roofs, cavernous domes, and towers much taller than the actual building.

The Board of Architects wanted to use the Spanish Renaissance style to promote relations with Latin American countries, a sentiment arising not only because of the Spanish-American War, but because of the original purpose of the Exposition: hemispheric unity.

Another reason for the Spanish Renaissance-inspired architecture was because at the time of the Pan-Am, America had begun to get tired of the repeated style of neoclassicism. The Board of Architects wanted to make an impact in the country using the Exposition, and it was decided that one way to do so was to change the paradigm of neoclassic architecture. The change was also implemented in order to separate this exposition from Chicago's World's Fair, from which Chicago begot the name "The White City" (The Pan-American Experience).

From this desire to have a contrast with Chicago came the idea of a Rainbow City. An important characteristic of Spanish Renaissance architecture is bright colors, and the Board of Architects used this characteristic to make the rainbow color scheme.

Starting from the south end and heading north, a wide range of colors was to be used on the buildings, a specific base color designated to each one. The colors used were implemented as to harmonize with the water, sky, and grass, and were to start as deep reds, blues, and greens, then gradually evolve into pastels and grays until reaching the Electric Tower.

The deeper meaning for the rainbow is described by C. Y. Turner, who designed the color scheme: "It] represents the fierce struggle of man to overcome the elements...As one enters the grounds, on the left will be seen buildings which represent 'elements,' and on the right those representing man and his affairs."

Turner describes the evolution of colors depicting the evolution of man, ending with the Electric Tower. The pastel of the Tower was used to signify the light of modern life after the primitive look of deep colors. Lighter colors are considered "civilized," as opposed to the dark and vivid colors of early, uncivilized life.


The evolution of man was not only depicted in the buildings' architecture and color. The more than five hundred statues situated in various places on the grounds of the Exposition were unified with the ideas of color and landscape design, and were used to signify man's struggle to overcome the elements.

Karl Bitter and his workers built of plaster hundreds of sculptures to be placed throughout the grounds of the Pan-Am, ranging from "The Despotic Age," "Lion," and "The Savage Age," (obviously portraying primitive life, and placed towards the south of the Exposition grounds), to "The Age of Enlightenment," "Abundance," and "The Arts," sculptures which no doubt were built to signify the end of man's struggle. The latter were placed nearby the Electric Tower in the northern end of the grounds (Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society).

Some of the sculptures built for the Pan-Am had in other cities been deemed too shocking for the masses, and were banned from being displayed. But Buffalo took pride in the fact that these sculptures, some of which were nude women, were not too scandalous for the eyes of the spectators, and were displayed without censorship.


The actual construction began in 1899 and extended until May 5, 1901, the first day of the Pan-American Exposition. The work that lasted for two years to create dozens of buildings, hundreds of statues, and acres of landscaping resulted in buildings that would have to be destroyed after six months - if not destroyed, the buildings would crumble of their own accord.

This was because the buildings were constructed only of staff, a plaster-like material used specifically for the Pan-Am because it is manufactured to crumble after a few short months. Staff is made of plaster mixed with hemp, wood fiber, and mesh (to hold the substance together). After being mixed, the staff is poured into molds and applied to wooden frames. The only building not to be made of staff was the New York State Pavilion, made of marble instead. [The building displaying art was made of brick because of insurance restrictions.]


Many architects contributed their talents with the Pan-American Exposition, most from the Northeast of the United States, but some from as far away as Germany and France.

George Cary was one of the most influential architects of the Exposition. Born in Buffalo, he graduated from Harvard, Columbia, and Beaux Arts in Paris. In the Expo, he, as a member of the Board of Architects, was designated as the architect of the Ethnology Building as well as the New York State Pavilion (now known as the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society). Outside of the Pan-Am, he was the architect of Buffalo's General Hospital, the State Hospital for Malignant Diseases, and the Delaware Avenue entrance to Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Another member of the Board of Architects was August Carl Eisenwein, who, along with his partner in business James Addison Johnson, designed the Temple of Music, one of the most well known buildings of the Pan-American Exposition. His architectural firm Eisenwein and Johnson also designed the Calumet, and the Niagara Mohawk Building, all of which can be found in downtown Buffalo.

The Electric Tower was designed by Board of Architects member John Galen Howard of Howard, Cauldwell, and Morgan, a film centered in New York City. Howard was known as a leader in the architectural style of American Renaissance, a quality that helped greatly in the Renaissance-inspired architecture of the Pan-American Exposition.

Other architects included Robert Peabody of Peabody and Stearns; George Foster Shepley of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge; and Edward B.Green., of the distinguished firm Green and Wicks. These architects designed the Forestry and Horticulture Buildings, the Agriculture and Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Buildings, and the Electricity and Machinery and Transportation Buildings, respectively.

The Buildings

The Horticulture Group The first buildings to be seen on the west by spectators entering into the esplanade from the south are those of the Horticulture Group. Designed by R.S. Peabody, the Horticulture Group was made up by (looking at it from the front, left to right), the Mines Building, the Horticulture Building, and the Graphic Arts Building, connected by enclosed conservatories.

Situated in the southern portion of the Exposition, the Horticulture Group was one of the buildings representing primitive life. Because of this, Charles Turner selected a base color of deep orange, with accent colors being blue, white, yellow, and a bit of red. Ornamentation was added to give it a Spanish Renaissance style, even though the building was more Italian than Spanish in style. Other additions to the ornamentation included domes, arches, and detailed engravings.

The Government Building: Three more separate buildings could be found across the esplanade from the Horticulture, to go along with the symmetric pattern of the Pan-Am grounds, but they were called simply the Government Building. The Fishery, Government Building, and the Colonial displays were collectively thought of as one building.

The Government Building, designed by Board members and architect J. Knox Taylor, had planned to be consistent with the color and the architectural scheme of primitive life, being in the southern part of the Expo grounds, but unfortunately, the plan was not carried out efficiently. Instead of being painted a warm yellow base with accents of green, blue, and gold, it was instead painted white. The only patch of colored appeared as a patch of red and a single blue dome. But the Government Building was still considered a Spanish Renaissance style with arches and domes.

The Ethnology Building: George Cary designed the Ethnology Building, the one going north on the east side of the Exposition grounds. It was more of an Italian Renaissance architectural style, but still consistent with the scheme. Turner chose orange-gold to be the main color, to signify primitive life. But the gold was a step towards "civilized" colors, an example of the gradual color
change of the buildings.

There were some ornaments on the Ethnology Building that were not found elsewhere, one being statues of a chariot being pulled by four horses atop each arched entrance. The chariots were called "Quadriga," and were created by A. Proctor. The building is considered a "gem" of the Pan-Am, being one of the most-ornamented building constructed.

The Temple of Music: Across from the Ethnology Building was the Temple of Music. Similar to the Ethnology Building, the Temple of Music's architectural style, designed by Esenwein, was of Italian Renaissance, with a blue-green dome to match. The base color was red, indicating the still primitive area of the grounds.

Despite the beautiful architecture, the Temple of Music is unfortunately more famous for the scandalizing event that occurred on it steps than for its stunning appearance. On September 19, 1901, then-President William McKinley was fatally shot by self-proclaimed anarchist Leon Czolgosz, an event that overshadowed the magnificence of the Exposition itself. Spectators continued to come, but the shooting left a lasting impression on the atmosphere of the Pan-American Exposition.

The Machinery and Transportation Building: Next on the path north was the Machinery and Transportation Building. Green and Wicks designed this building to be exact Spanish Renaissance style, with dozens of arches, towers, columns, and of course wide, red-tiled roofs. The wide space inside the building showed the ingeniousness of wide eaves and domes. This was the first building to be colored with a more "civilized" color than a "primitive" color. Rather than a brilliant, vivid base color, Turner instead chose green, with accents of red, brown, and green.

A difference in the Machinery and Transportation Building lay in the inspiration of design. For this building, Green and Wicks looked to the missions of Spain, whose ornaments were more consistent to the scheme of the Exposition than the missions of California or Mexico.

The Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building:To be consistent with the symmetry of the Exposition grounds, across from the Machinery and Transportation Building was the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, having the same dimensions as the former. But being designed by George Shepley rather than Green and Wicks meant the building would be

Still in the Spanish Renaissance style, Shepley neglected the "mission" style that was characterized in the Machinery and Transportation Building. There were still many arches and columns, but compared to the Machinery and Transportation Building, an absence of towers. A large blue and gold dome rose to match the building, but the base color was a warm gray, an even more modern color than the green of the Machinery and Transportation Building.

The Agriculture Building: Shepley was the architect of another building, this time the Agriculture Building. Located just north of the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, it is noted as one of the generally least ornamented buildings of the Pan-Am.

Characteristic of the Spanish Renaissance style, the exterior was full of arches and red-tiled roofs, but there were neither domes nor towers. But the detailing on the ornaments above the entryways was very intricate, so much so that it has been observed as some of the best ornamentation of the Exposition.

The base color, a warm yellow, was also worthy of accolades. Richard Barry, author of Grandeurs of the Exposition, said, "The scheme, which elsewhere has been a quasi-success, seems here to have been a marked success" It was subtle enough to not take away from the near-by Electric Tower, but vibrant enough to comply with Spanish Renaissance style.

The Electricity Building: Green and Wicks again used the Spanish Mission style when designing the Electricity Building. Towers, domes, and archways, were painted a warm yellow base with gray and green accents, making subtle ornamentation. Because it was so close in proximity to the Electric Tower, right next to the Machinery and Transportation Building, the subtle coloring was the perfect was to present the Tower in all its grandeur. The Electric Tower was more a favorite attraction than a favorite architecture example.

The Electric Tower: The Electric Tower signified the final success of man over the elements, the end of the struggle. The base color was ivory, the accents a deep green " near the color of Lake erie as it was possible to get," and a gold implying the wealth of the modern world. Turner designed the coloring himself: "The tower itself is a cream white...tinted with blue, green, and gold, getting fainter until the top is reached, terminating in the figure representing all that man has accomplished over the elements."

Through the bottom flowed a mini Niagara Falls, whose water flowed at a rate of eleven thousand gallons per minute. John Galen Howard designed the Tower to represent the importance of Niagara Falls in the Pan-Am, whose purpose was to introduce electricity.

Niagara Falls was apparent in every building of the Exposition. Each one had some decoration of deep green, the color representing the water flowing over the falls. "The panels have the brightest fresh blue-green we could make, as intended to suggest the water as it curves over the crest at Niagara" (Turner). That green flowed throughout the grounds, and together with the rainbow effect of the base colors of the buildings, was the epitome of the "Spirit of Niagara."

A member of the Women Managers in Charge of Fine Arts Committee in the Pan-American Exposition, Evelyn Rumsey Cary was commissioned in 1899 for the Pan-American official poster, after the preliminary decision had been made, and planning had gone into action. Keeping in mind the significance of Niagara falls to Western New York, Mrs. Cary painted "The Spirit of
Niagara," a beautiful portrayal of a woman as the Niagara Falls.

Water flowing, a rainbow like a halo above her head, and the city's (then) skyline in the background, "The Spirit of Niagara" was by most considered a perfect embodiment of the Exposition. In fact, Mrs. Cary was awarded the Fellowship Prize in 1900 for the design. But the woman of the falls was vaguely clothed, and some saw her as nude. Because of this, many adaptations and variations were made to prevent the thought of immorality.

The Ending

The magnificent buildings, though destined for greatness in history, were destined to be destroyed. The years of work were spent with sad anticipation knowing that the hard work was inevitably in vain, for the workers knew that the buildings would be torn down at the end of the Exposition, in November of 1901.

Mr. Rumsey had let the Special Committee choose his farm for the grounds of the Exposition, but only after being promised it would be returned to him in the exact condition in which he agreed to let them use it. Therefore, the buildings were to be demolished, the canals filled in, and the land to be completely cleared. It was for this reason the buildings had been made of staff rather than marble.

The only building to still remain today from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition is the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, what was originally called the New York State Pavilion. Constructed out of Vermont marble by George Cary, it stands in neoclassic Greek architecture as a symbol of civilization, as specifically seen by the pediment sculpture designed by Charles Neihaus, who also built the Lincoln Statue atop the steps, surveying what used to be the ground of the Exposition.


Visitors topped eight million by the end of the Exposition, the largest number of people ever to visit the city of Buffalo for one purpose. But bad weather, the death of McKinley, and othe rmiscellaneous unfortunate events caused a smaller number of patrons than expected, and Buffalo ended up in debt, rather than with inumerable profits.

There has been much disagreement about the success of the Pan-American Exposition, specifically relating to the architecture and color schemes. Some say Turner's rainbow of colors had worked better than had been imagined, and it was the best part of the Exposition. Others argue that his color choices did not serve the purpose, which was to create the illusion of a rainbow across the grounds, being too vivid or too subtle.

Similarly, some congratulate the architects who constructed a masterful design, and others say the architecture was not as good as expected. It can be inferred that the architecture was not to everyone's liking, because the Spanish Renaissance style did not catch on as a contemporary style. But it was still a well-planned endeavor on the part of the architects.

For six months, architecture served as North America's hand being extended to Latin America, whose inhabitants counted as more than 100,000 of the patrons of the Exposition. Along with the color scheme, Buffalo truly became the Rainbow City as a result of the Pan-American Exposition.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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