GLASGOW and New York are linked in many ways, through commerce, culture and even layout, being grid-like cities that grew up around their rivers.

In February 1939, these links were strengthened when the Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, wrote to Patrick Dollan, Glasgow’s Lord Provost, inviting him to attend the World’s Fair being held in the city that summer.

Dollan promptly accepted, delighted for the opportunity to “further the happy relations between the democratic cities of New York and Glasgow”.

In July, a civic delegation including Dollan, his wife Agnes and a dozen or so Glasgow Corporation officials left the Broomielaw bound for the Big Apple.

Glasgow Times: Patrick and Agnes DollanPatrick and Agnes Dollan (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

They travelled on board the RMS Transylvania and enjoyed a pleasant crossing, although Agnes later recalled a moment of terror when an enormous rumbling sound caused panic among the passengers, who feared they had struck an iceberg.

Glasgow Times: Lord Provost Patrick Dollan and his wife Agnes on their way to New YorkLord Provost Patrick Dollan and his wife Agnes on their way to New York (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

As it turned out, the noise was caused by staff in the restaurant above moving some chairs.

After a nine-day voyage, the Glaswegian group was received in New York by an official welcoming party (including pipers, naturally) and hundreds of fellow Scots who cheered their arrival.

The Lord Provost embarked wearing his robes and chain of office, which the New York Times made a point of valuing at $1500 and $7500 respectively. “The Americans like to have financial values placed on everything,” Dollan later remarked.

Dollan spent 16 days in New York and was keen to stress that it was a work trip, not a holiday.

Glasgow Times: Mayor La GuardiaMayor La Guardia (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

He and his officials met their American counterparts in planning, housing, health and other municipal functions, and reported back to the Corporation on lessons learned.

Writing in the Evening Times, Dollan composed a series of articles on the visit, noting that he worked for 15 hours each day and visited every municipal department available to him, travelling more than 2400 miles around the city and beyond.

He was given access to offices in the New York City pavilion at the World’s Fair and spent six days at the event.

Comparing the spectacle with the 1938 Empire Exhibition held in Glasgow, he called the New York extravaganza “a marvellous enterprise but not so pleasing artistically as Bellahouston.”

Glasgow Times: Patrick Dollan, Lord Provost of GlasgowPatrick Dollan, Lord Provost of Glasgow (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Dollan found more comparisons between the Big Apple and his homeland. Broadway was New York’s version of Argyle Street and Fifth Avenue was simply the American answer to Great Western Road, whilst “Coney Island is a popular adaptation of Dunoon and Rothesay at the Glasgow Fair.”

Elsewhere, Agnes Dollan visited some of the city’s famous department stores and declared them inferior to those in Buchanan Street or Sauchiehall Street. “Glasgow shops are preferred by me,” she noted.

The delegation stayed at the famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel and enjoyed its hospitality immensely.

“References to the famous hotel have been frequent at recent meetings in the city,” wrote to the Lord Provost to staff there upon his return to Glasgow.

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As well as being a fact-finding mission, the trip took on added significance as the clouds of war gathered across Europe in the summer of 1939. It acquired a diplomatic element, since the USA was determined to stay out of any conflict.

Much hinged on the personalities of Dollan and La Guardia, his counterpart in New York and in some respect the second most powerful man in the country.

Glasgow Times: The Glasgow delegation in New York in 1939The Glasgow delegation in New York in 1939 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

La Guardia and Dollan were in many ways kindred spirits. The children of immigrants, they were both hardened political campaigners with a gift for rhetoric and ran their respective complex municipal machines through the power of personality.

“We became friends at sight,” Dollan later recalled, and the feeling was mutual.

“Pat Dollan is a swell guy,” remarked La Guardia after their first meeting. “He is just like me.”

The pair continued to correspond after the outbreak of war. In one letter held at Glasgow City Archives, La Guardia wrote to Dollan: “In the midst of your burdens and anxieties, I want you to know that we think about you.”

La Guardian and Dollan both left their mark on their local built environments, but in different ways.

While one gave his name to a major New York airport, the other had an East Kilbride swimming pool named in his honour.