The revolutionary ally of the troubled American States has been rather slow to embrace the idea of participation in the Centennial Exposition. The cause may be attributed to the timid manner in which Secretary Fish drew the attention of foreign governments to the display. For some time it was doubtful whether France would be interested in the exhibition. When this Government arrived, the delay was such as to affect all preparations.
When the exhibition opened on the 10th of May, the French department was behind those of the other nations, and the special French buildings were scarcely begun, the principal one, indeed, having met with misfortune by a great wind during the latter part of April.
France is now represented by three ships. The main one may be said to be of surprisingly simple appearance, presenting almost nothing in the way of architectural elaboration beyond the most ordinary structure. The walls are of brick, which is not nearly as good as the ordinary brick used in Philadelphia dwellings. A slight attempt at ornamentation is made by interspersing the walls with black cross-headed bricks and diamond figures - a style of ornamentation common in early brick buildings constructed in Philadelphia between the Penn Colony and 1719-20. The roof is gabled, of moderate pitch, the cornice of galvanized iron, and pilasters of this metal are placed on the exterior walls.
The sides of the doors are lined with blue, black and white tiles brought from France. The arrangement strikes the viewer as peculiar, though he may not insist that it is beautiful. The large doors are of iron. Most of the roof is made of glass, which projects a strong light inside.
The size of the building is 90 x 45 feet; height 30 feet. Architect and engineer, M. Lavonie. Builder, Mr. D'Hevigny.
The object of this particular structure is the display of models of railways, bridges, fortresses, depots, factories and public works. The location is east of the Art Gallery Annex on Lansdowne Drive. Most of the materials came from France and the building was erected by French workers.
Near this Public Works building is the headquarters of the French Commission in a 20x53 foot pavilion, notable for the stained glass windows that adorn it.
Another pavilion nearby is built entirely of zinc. It is an octagon 24 feet in diameter, with an adjoining rectangular wing 27 feet long. This structure is intended for the display of zinc ware.
The French Ceramic Pavilion, for the display of pottery, tiles and bronzes, is located near the Moorish Villa, which is on the north side of Lansdowne Drive and north of the Swedish School. It is built of iron and tiles. The contents show the skill of French artists in fine porcelain vases and earthenware.
©Centennial portfolio: a souvenir of the international exhibition at Philadelphia - 1876