(excerpt from Chapter 10 - Banjos, Bohemians and the Barbary.)
And then the dreaded letter arrived that would take Dan away from me. 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 letter 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 conveniently 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 eaves-dropped on all their conversations. And all 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 edge.
“Dan, we met through my clubs. Hearst is remarkable, and only four years older than me. He took over the Examiner in ‘87 and has tripled it’s readership already. He’s a maverick and really shaking up San Francisco. ”
“Well bully for Mr. Hearst.” mocked Daniel. “What has this to do with me?”
“Everything! We have been talking about a project inspired by the upcoming Chicago Exposition. He wants to bring the World’s Fair to San Francisco and will hire me to draw the schematics and publish them in his Examiner newspaper. He wants to stir up local interest in a fair and readership to mark the new century in 1900.”
“This is a real job, or a pipe dream?”
“No it’s real Dan. Have you seen the articles I have already written for him? They are given copious column space in his Examiner and I have no reason to doubt his resolve, especially now that he has come into his fortune.”
Dan was polite as the conversation went on. Willis then mentioned his introduction to Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst who also had building projects under consideration. I knew exactly who they were because 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.
“Don’t let it pass you by! You’d be working on such important projects immediately.” Willis implored. He failed to mention how much he needed Dan. That would come later. “Aside from the World’s Fair project, I have become a member of the extraordinary Bohemian Club full of writers, artists and the scions of industry who support the arts. What fun we have! A small group of us leased a yacht and call ourselves The Roseleaves Social and Outing Club."
"I'll guess there's a good bit of drinking on that bathtub," laughed Dan.
"And we have decided to build a country retreat outside the City," Willis ignored him caught up in his own story. "We're calling it The Owl’s Nest. My friend Nate Brittan donated land on Druids Hill. Yes, it's really called Druids Hill! Better yet, he’s commissioned me to design it.”
“It all sounds fine Willis, for you, but what exactly will I be doing?”
“Why working side-by-side with me!” he said not missing a beat.
Side-by-side with Willis, I thought. Was that even possible?
Willis was no sooner in, than he was out of Kansas City, and he apparently had more than talks with Dan. It seemed Mother and Father also had a taste of the elixir he was selling. And if this was the cure that brought Mother back to life, I was not going to be the fly in the ointment. And admittedly, San Francisco was even starting to sound exciting to me. What if I could meet Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst? Well, that would be something!
The first visible signs that Dan was committed to joining Willis became clear when he started drawing scenes of The World’s Columbian Exposition. He re-interpreted images from a Harpers Weekly Magazine of that Spring which dedicated an entire issue to the forthcoming 1893 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 .” 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 their drawings. The drawings were remarkable.
By the end of 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. Neither shed a tear at the end of our sterile romance, nor did I.
Author's Note: Willis was the Chief Architect for the 1915 San Francisco Pan Pacific International Exposition, but that was not Hearst's plan. Willis chose to design the Palace of Fine Arts, but gave the commission to Bernard Maybeck when he saw his design because he thought 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 building.
"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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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