American Studies •  American West and History

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The San Diego World's Fairs and Southwestern Memory, 1880-1940

Matthew Bokovoy

In the American Southwest, no two events shaped modern Spanish heritage more profoundly than the San Diego Expositions of 1915-16 and 1935-36. Both San Diego fairs displayed a portrait of the Southwest and its peoples for the American public.

The Panama-California Exposition of 1915-16 celebrated Southwestern pluralism and gave rise to future promotional events including the Long Beach Pacific Southwest Exposition of 1928, the Santa Fe Fiesta of the 1920s, and John Steven McGroarty's The Mission Play. The California-Pacific International Exposition of 1935-36 promoted the Pacific Slope and the consumer-oriented society in the making during the 1930s. These San Diego fairs distributed national images of southern California and the Southwest unsurpassed in the early twentieth century.

By examining architecture and landscape, American Indian shows, civic pageants, tourist imagery, and the production of history for celebration and exhibition at each fair, Matthew Bokovoy peels back the rhetoric of romance and reveals the legacies of the San Diego World's Fairs to reimagine the Indian and Hispanic Southwest. In tracing how the two fairs reflected civic conflict over an invented San Diego culture, Bokovoy explains the emergence of a myth in which the city embraced and incorporated native peoples, Hispanics, and Anglo settlers to benefit its modern development.


Matthew Bokovoy, a San Diego native, lives and writes in Norman, Oklahoma. Bokovoy serves as co-editor of the Journal of San Diego History.


"Bokovoy's book is groundbreaking. It does not seek to sell San Diego to tourists, but to examine how we first began to sell ourselves to tourists, and what our contradictory myths of origin mean. It is a story for a mature city that can look to its history for a deeper understanding of local identity."


The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Thought-provoking and engaging in its prose, this book will not disappoint."


H-Net Book Review

" The San Diego World's Fairs is a fascinating examination of the role the fairs played in the development of California's 'culture of abundance' . . . eminently readable."


Journal of the West

". . . intriguing . . . worthwhile and engaging reading for a wide set of California and southwest historians, scholars of culture, and those interested in the workings of memory."


Southern California Quarterly

"There is plenty in the book to intrigue us, especially the architectural elements of the fairs' programs."


The Santa Fe New Mexican

"In the Panama-California Exposition, history presented as a unifying myth was created and celebrated, whereas for the later California-Pacific International Exposition, the myth was now celebrated as history. The road to this inversion is simply fascinating."


The Public Historian

"This trip to San Diego's fairs should not be missed by US cultural historians, western historians, borderlands historians, or fans of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City."


American Historical Review

"A lively exploration of the social significance of the fairs, as well as the cultural machinations of its participants....excellent insights into the way the fairs combined Spanish, Mexican, Indian, and Anglo heritages under a single Progressive banner."


CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship

"Matthew Bokovoy's premise is simple and intriguing....lucidly written, nicely illustrated, and fairly argued."


Journal of American History

Published in association with the San Diego Historical Society

6 x 9 in. 336 pages 59 halftones