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American IlluminationsUrban Lighting, 1800-1920$
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David E. Nye

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780262037419

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262037419.001.0001

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City Beautiful

City Beautiful

Chapter:
(p.161) 7 City Beautiful
Source:
American Illuminations
Author(s):

David E. Nye

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262037419.003.0008

Expositions in St. Louis and San Francisco and the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration were brilliantly coordinated electric landscapes. Urban planners such Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Mulford Robinson successfully promoted new parks, restrictions on electric advertising, and tasteful lighting along boulevards. But commercial energies retained their focal points in the downtown and amusement parks, where spectacular lighting effects had free play. The controversy over how to light American cities resulted in a compromise between the City Beautiful Movement and the individualistic forces of commerce. The resulting hybrid landscape was neither the harmonious, horizontal city of the great expositions nor the visual cacophony of Times Square but a lively compromise. It lacked an intentional unifying style, but when viewed from a skyscraper or an airplane, it was impressive and unexpectedly attractive. It expressed tensions between Beaux Arts tradition and American iconoclasm, between the horizontal city and the vertical thrust of commerce, between an exuberant popular culture and a reverence toward patriotic symbols.

Keywords:   advertising, billboards, city planning, lighting systems, Frederick Law Olmsted, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Hudson-Fulton Celebration, Panama Canal, Panama-Pacific Exposition, Charles Mulford Robinson

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