The world expositions of the 19th and 20th centuries often led to new architectural styles in the United States, and the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 was no exception.

San Diego hosted a two-year celebration for the opening of the Panama Canal. Architects who designed the structures for this grand event deviated from the Greek and Roman architecture traditionally used for these types of exhibitions and instead selected Spanish Revival for the theme. This unique style, featuring red tile roofs, walls of stucco, decorative wrought iron and half-round arches, doors and windows captured the attention and imagination of visitors everywhere, including those from the East Coast.

Hershey Convention Hall -C Emlen Urban-Milton Hershey 1915 courtesy Hershey Archives.JPG

A 1915 image of Hershey Convention Hall in Hershey, designed by Henry Y. Shaub for businessman Milton Hershey. 

Local entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey and architects C. Emlen Urban and Henry Y. Shaub were captivated by the charm and character of this nonindigenous architectural style, and quickly introduced it into their domestic and public buildings when possible. Considered informal, eclectic, fanciful and romantic, the Spanish Revival style remained popular from 1915 to 1940.

By the 1920s, Shaub was emerging as the “go-to” architect in Lancaster County for school design work. In 1923, the school directors of Lancaster city retained Shaub to design what was to be the largest and best-equipped elementary school in the city: George Ross Elementary School on North Queen Street. The new school building included 21 classrooms, an auditorium and gymnasium.

The architectural features Shaub selected include low-profile hip roofs with red clay barrel tiles, large half-round arched windows and door openings, decorative wrought-iron grills, cast-stone decorative motifs including open textbooks, deep-bracketed overhangs and blind niche balconies. In lieu of traditional stucco on the walls, Shaub elected to use a buff-colored wire-cut brick to create the visual texture found in stucco.

Today, 95 years later, George Ross Elementary continues to serve the needs of School District of Lancaster students in a setting and a building design that has withstood the test of time and style despite its Southern California heritage.

What other world expositions launched architectural styles?

The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 used beaux-arts classicism as its unifying theme, while the 1925 Paris Exposition introduced the world to the art and style of art deco.

Did Shaub design other schools in the Spanish Revival style?

Yes. Maytown Elementary School, designed in 1928, has Spanish Revival features including large half-round windows and decorative wrought-iron balconies.

What Spanish Revival buildings did Urban design for Milton Hershey?

The Hershey Theatre, Hershey Convention Center and Hotel Hershey all are examples of Spanish Revival designed by Urban between 1915 and 1920.

  • This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email GScott@rlps.com.