GGIE at Night: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

Color images of the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) have seduced me before. With 2019 being the 80th anniversary of the fair, I am returning to Treasure Island to highlight some recently-scanned OpenSFHistory night views of the “Pageant of the Pacific.”
 

Night view of Fountain of Western Waters in the Court of Pacifica, August 28, 1940.Night view of “Fountain of Western Waters” in the Court of Pacifica at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. August 28, 1940. (wnp25.5650; courtesy of a private collector.)
 

Designers of the fair gave significant thought to color and lighting and how to integrate both successfully with the overarching theme of a united Pageant of the Pacific culture (even if that unity was imagined through the lens of American and European colonization). Jesse Stanton, the exposition’s official director of color, found ways to connect and define enormous pavilions with a palette of Pacific-inspired shades with names like “Polynesian Brown” and “Imperial Dragon Red.”1
 

Night view of Towers of the South in Court of the Moon at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940.Night view of Towers of the South in Court of the Moon at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940. (wnp25.5665; courtesy of a private collector.)
 

A vermiculite-infused plaster coated the 200,000 square yards of palace towers and the exposition’s high walls—erected as much for wind baffles against bay breezes as for their imposing grandeur—making the fair sparkle in daylight and shimmer at night under the unworldly new technology of florescent lighting.2
 

Night view from Portals of the Pacific to Elephant Tower at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. August 28, 1940.Night view from Portals of the Pacific to Elephant Tower at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. August 28, 1940. (wnp25.5649; courtesy of a private collector.)
 

Night view of lighting and St. Francis of Assisi statue in Court of Honor at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. September 25, 1940.Night view of lighting and St. Francis of Assisi statue in Court of Honor at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940. (wnp25.5662; courtesy of a private collector.)
 

Kodak introduced its Kodachrome film in 1935, and for more than seventy years it was the professional photographer’s choice and the amateur’s darling, lauded and admired for its stability and vibrancy to the point that it had its own pop song. (Please feel free to sing wherever you are.)

The 828 film format of these GGIE night views only had eight exposures per expensive roll. Each shot cost the equivalent of $3.25 today before processing. In 2019, when diners can snap off a dozen shots of their evening cocktail, every color slide image from 1940 is a treasure.
 

Night view of Court of Flowers and “Girl and Rainbow” fountain at the the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940.Night view of Court of Flowers and “Girl and Rainbow” fountain at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940. (wnp25.5660; courtesy of a private collector.)
 

These slides are marked with dates and exposure settings and all were captured in the last months of the exposition, some just four days before closing day. The anonymous photographer kept the slides in a labeled varnished wood box with a detailed notebook on each location captured. We have information on just about every thing but the photographer’s name, although we have a suspicion based on a few slides of women’s clubs that the artist may have been female.

Each GGIE scene in the set is a stage without actors, focused on documenting the imaginative work of architects George Kelham, Arthur Brown Jr., William Merchant, Ernest Weihe, Louis Hobart, and Timothy Pflueger. While so many black and white images of the fair do the same, these color views also celebrate the genius of color director Jesse Stanton and lighting designer A. F. Dickerson. In grayscale, the exposition can come off as a marble city of the past; in color, the world sparks with life, theater, and a full spectrum of moods, desires, and inspiration.
 

Night view over pool in Court of Reflections to Triumphal Arch at Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940.Night view over pool in Court of Reflections to Triumphal Arch at Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Taken with early Kodachrome 828 format film. September 25, 1940. (wnp25.5656; courtesy of a private collector.)
 

Notes:

1. Andrew M. Shanken, Into the Void Pacific, (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2014), pg. 83.

2. Ibid.