Explore by Timeline: World War I and the Roaring Twenties (1914-1929)
Opening of the Panama-California Exposition
Fueled by plans to build the Panama Canal, the turn of the twentieth century brought aspirations of prosperity and status to San Diego. Civic leaders who lobbied for the construction of the canal hoped that the promise of increased commerce would establish San Diego as an international trade center rivaling San Francisco. A new federal building was commissioned to showcase San Diego’s newfound standing and to provide governmental offices in anticipation of a burgeoning population and urban growth. To attract attention to the city, civic leaders began planning the 1915 Panama-California Exposition to celebrate the successful completion of the canal. The U.S. Courthouse was completed in 1913 and opened in time for the Exposition.
James A. Wetmore Becomes Acting Supervising Architect
Attorney James A. Wetmore served as the Treasury Department’s head of Law and Records Division from 1896 to 1911, before becoming executive officer to supervising architects James Knox Taylor and Oscar Wenderoth. After Wenderoth’s 1915 resignation, Wetmore became acting supervising architect, a role he held for almost twenty years—longer than any of his “permanent” predecessors.
Despite not being a professionally trained architect or, for that matter, ever being named permanent supervising architect, Wetmore was well respected by his colleagues and performed his administrative duties well. During his tenure, classicism continued to be the standard for federal buildings, and it became policy for the Office of the Supervising Architect to prepare the designs.
World War I Halts Public Building Projects
With the exception of marine hospitals and immigration stations, World War I brought public building construction to a standstill. As the younger staff of the Office of the Supervising Architect entered military service, Wetmore managed only a few draftsmen doing minimal work.
After the war, construction resumed, and by 1922 it had resumed to its pre-war activity level. New memorials were incorporated into federal building landscapes, such as in Hilo, Hawaii, where the American Legion planted seventeen royal palms along Kekaulike Street to commemorate Hawaiian citizens who died in World War I.
The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect on January 16, 1920. Until it was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933, the sale manufacture, and distribution of alcohol was prohibited in the United States.
A dramatic incident in Prohibition history occurred in a courtroom in Butte, Montana, on May 21, 1924. John O’Leary, a convicted bootlegger, began shooting a gun wildly about the crowded courtroom before turning it on himself. O’Leary survived, and no one else was injured.
Public Buildings Act of 1926
On May 25, 1926, Congress passed the Public Buildings Act. The act gave the secretary of the treasury the discretion of hiring private architects and provided $50 million for building projects in Washington, DC.
The allotment allowed for the development of the Federal Triangle, the most ambition federal construction campaign to date. After some debate, it was decided that talents of private architects would be engaged. Secretary of the Treasury chose Edward H. Bennett to be lead consulting architect. A board of other architectural consultants each designed one building for the successful project.
Stock Market Crash
The stock market collapsed on October 29, 1929, plunging the country into an economic depression. The public buildings program was used to promote employment. Private architects were soon awarded contracts for the design of larger federal buildings. One of these buildings was located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where federal officials retained private architects Guy Mahurin, who was from Fort Wayne, and Benjamin Morris, a New Yorker, for its design.