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    In 1915, when the Panama-Pacific Internation­al Exposition (PPIE) opened, San Francisco was already a gay mecca for those in the know. Some 25 years beforehand, author, playwright and poet Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disap­pears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attrac­tions of the next world.”

    LGBT people did “disappear,” or at least try to from the law, only to be found later at places like the Dash, a gay bar at 574 Pacific Street. The city, according to, closed Dash in 1908 after police found its patrons perform­ing oral sex under the dresses of cross-dressing male entertainers. Before the closure, such en­tertainers would dance on top of tables, inviting the attention.

    At the time, the gay community was growing in the Barbary Coast neighborhood, the area now covered by the Financial District and North Beach. In later years, it would be the home to San Francisco’s first lesbian bar (Mona’s Club on Union Street), and the first leather bar (Why Not at 518 Ellis).

    In addition to heading over to the Barbary Coast, LGBT visitors to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition could have brought with them Marcel Proust’s then new In Search of Lost Time. The work marked the first time a modern Western author treated homosexuality openly in literature.

    Yet, as for the Dash’s closure, this was not a great time to be out of the closet. In the fall of 1914, just before PPIE opened, some 500 gay men were arrested as “social vagrants,” which led to the passage of a law prohibiting “acts techni­cally known as fellatio and cunnilingus.” Those convicted could spend up to 15 years in prison.

    When you visit Jewel City at the de Young, consid­er then what those before us faced. It is little won­der that so many works by closeted LGBT artists absolutely sizzle with queer energy, likely serving as a creative release, a silent shout for connection, and an expression of their true selves.

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    “The overwhelming message of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, mounted a veritable instant after the tragedy of the 1906 earthquake and fire, is one of an optimistic, au­dacious San Francisco, not unlike the city of to­day…San Francisco’s Jewel City was the realiza­tion of the common dream of many individuals, a goal achieved.”—Historian Laura A. Ackle

    The year 2015 marks the centennial of the Pan­ama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), the San Francisco world’s fair that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and the city’s reconstruction following the great earthquake of 1906.

    The grand exposition covered 76 city blocks and boasted national and international pavil­ions showcasing innovation, industry, and the arts. At the heart of the PPIE was one of the most ambitious art exhibitions ever presented in the United States, encompassing more than 11,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and pho­tographs, in addition to a significant array of public murals and monuments.

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    To mark this anniversary, the exhibit Jewel City, opening at the de Young in San Francisco on October 17, revisits this vital moment in the in­auguration of San Francisco as the West Coast’s cultural epicenter. The landmark exhibition re­assembles more than 200 works by major Amer­ican and European artists, most of which were on display at this defining event.

    Jewel City shares examples that signal the key artistic trends of 1915, from the conservative to the avant-garde: American and French Im­pressionism; works by members of the Ashcan School; paintings from the emerging modernist styles in Italy, Hungary, Austria, Finland, and Norway; and more.


    Highlights include an impressive survey of American art, with works by Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington, John Sloan, Robert Henri, and other masters. In addition, the presentation boasts an extensive offering of European paint­ing and sculpture, with examples on view by such greats as Gustave Courbet, James Tis­sot, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Rodin, Théo van Rysselberghe, and Edvard Munch. Monumental murals designed for the fair, including those by Arthur F. Mathews and William de Leftwich Dodge, will be seen for the first time in nearly a century.

    For more information about the exhibit, please visit:

    To learn more about the City’s full PPIE pro­gram, go to: