Treasure Island: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

We look at so many historical images here—more than 21,000 on the site to date—that we almost start believing our ancestors lived in a desaturated world of gray and sepia. So when we hit a run of color slides we can’t help feeling like Dorothy stepping into Oz after the twister. Look how the little girl’s yellow dress pops in this view of the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) on Treasure Island.

Tower of the Sun from the Court of the Seven Seas on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940.
Tower of the Sun from the Court of the Seven Seas on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940. (wnp25.2906, 35mm color slide, courtesy of a private collector.)

Here’s an achingly vibrant shot from the expo of flowerbeds and a woman in red hat and gloves:

Flower bed on California Avenue on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940.
Flower bed on California Avenue on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940. (wnp25.2907, 35mm color slide, courtesy of a private collector.)

Newcomers, and a lot of longtime locals, may be unaware that Treasure Island was created in the 1930s specifically for the Golden Gate International Exposition world’s fair. The pancake-flat 400 acres of dumped rock, sand, and topsoil was intended to serve as San Francisco’s airport when the exposition closed. (This plan was not, as the buzzword goes today, scalable. Can you imagine a 747 touching down there today?)

With a theme of “Pageant of the Pacific,” the fair celebrated the opening of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, and had its own mythology. An eighty-foot-high goddess of the ocean and a “Tower of the Sun” stood over a strange landscape of ziggurats, Sinophilic villages, English gardens, and carnival sideshows.

In black and white, with the names of explorers and conquistadors emblazoned on high walls around her, the goddess “Pacifica” is a guardian to some great tomb.

The Court of Pacifica, with the eighty-foot-high ocean goddess statue at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.
The Court of Pacifica, with the eighty-foot-high ocean goddess statue at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, 1939. (wnp14.4379, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

But the colossal walls and columns lose their chill and gain some hoke when you see them splashed in mauve and butterscotch. The sign for “Vacationland” in the background of the photo below puts one in mind of Walt Disney’s amusement park offerings to come:

Golden Gate International Exposition, Fountain at the Court of Pacifica, Ford Building beyond.
Fountain at the Court of Pacifica, Ford Building beyond. (wnp25.1781, 35mm color slide courtesy of a private collector.)

In 1939, the fair had fine art from Europe. In 1940, an “Art in Action” exhibition had cutting edge bohemian sculptors and painters such as Diego Rivera working onsite. But counter-balancing all the high culture were low-brow entertainments belying the grandeur: Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch (women in cowboy hats and skin-colored tights), monkeys racing tiny automobiles, and Guess-Your-Weight side-show stands on the “Gayway.”

As with almost all world’s fairs, Treasure Island lost lots of money. The approach and arrival of World War II cast a pall on the celebratory spirit that purple walls and golden fountains couldn’t lift. The Navy took over the island for decades.

Now San Francisco is making a riskier bet than the GGIE. As sea levels rise with climate change, the city wants to build 8,000 residences and 500 hotel rooms on a poker chip of made land reached by a single causeway and a bridge with a history of seismic resistance issues. Challenge the goddess Pacifica at your risk.

Oldsmobile on Yerba Buena Island, 1938. Treasure Island and GGIE under construction.
Oldsmobile on Yerba Buena Island, 1938. Treasure Island and GGIE under construction. (wnp14.2403, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

Lindbergh in SF: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

On a rainy September 16, 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh flew in to San Francisco. By the time hundreds of thousands of people met him on Market Street, the sun had begun to shine and one reporter opined, “Apollo must have felt bound to add his homage to this fellow rider of the skies.”

Spirit of St. Louis at Mills Field.
Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis entering special hangar at the municipal airport at Mills Field, September 16, 1927. (wnp36.03528, Department of Public Works photo by Horace Chaffee, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

It’s difficult to conjure a modern day example that compares with the acclamation Lindbergh received for being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927. Today, in the United States, such hero worship with motorcade parades and thousands cheering themselves hoarse are reserved for championship football or baseball teams. Even then, an entire squad of victorious athletes shares the accolades over a series of vehicles, and in only one city for one day. Lindbergh’s life from May 1927 to April 1928 was a series of mad parades from New York City to Mexico City. He made 82 stops in 48 states flying the Spirit of St. Louis around North America and had the hero’s welcome wherever he went.

Banqueted, feted, pelted with ticker tape, deluged by fan letters, mobbed by hoards in hotel lobbies, Lindbergh also had to make speeches, wear tuxedos nightly, and deal with hundreds of reporters asking him about his love life.

It was the same in San Francisco. He had left Portland, Oregon, at 6:20 a.m., flew down the coast and buzzed San Francisco’s nascent skyscrapers at 1:45 in the afternoon, and then landed at Mills Field on the peninsula. The second the monoplane was in view of the field, some 5,000 people who awaited his arrival stormed the runway. Lindbergh had to circle repeatedly, gesturing he couldn’t land, until infantrymen were able to push back the receiving committee of thousands.

Lindbergh motorcade on Market Street.
Charles Lindbergh welcomed with ticker-tape parade on Market Street, September 16, 1927. (wnp27.4115, print courtesy of a private collector.)

After his parade into the city, the flyer fought through the Civic Center (“a pin cushion for people,” a reporter described it) to City Hall’s balcony to be introduced by the mayor and to give a short speech. A reporter wrote that the weary Lindbergh spoke “as though he was reciting a piece he had learned by heart and he appeared relived when the piece was finished and he could sit down again behind the friendly screen of the balustrade.” He was presented with proclamations, scrolls, and medals from an eleven-year-old boy (representing San Francisco’s children), the postmaster (who recommended to Lindy that he marry a California girl), and the Swedish Consul-General (Lindbergh’s father was Swedish).

Spirit of St. Louis at Mills Field.
Charles Lindbergh addresses the crowd from City Hall, September 16, 1927. (wnp36.03532, Department of Public Works photo Book 40 #A609, by Horace Chaffee, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

After a short rest at his hotel, where reporters asked for his opinion on the uncertain morality of modern youth, Lindbergh changed into dinner dress, and went to the Palace Hotel to dine with 1,800 of the city’s fine society. There he gave his much-practiced short pitch for the establishment and growth of commercial aviation—he proposed airports at all cities and predicted that passenger carrying planes would soon be widely used—before finally be allowed to retire for the evening.

The next morning, Lindbergh flew to Oakland, and did the same thing all over again.