academic environmental studies   macalester college
                               1939                                                             2008                                                             2030?
golden gate expositionTreasure Island from airredevelopment

Treasure Island Redevelopment


Island of Sand: The History of Treasure Island

The Redevelopment Plan

Criticism and Conclusion

References & Resources

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Island Of Sand

The Making of Treasure Island

     Without the technological optimism of the 1930s and 1940s, Treasure Island would not exist. The WPA created Treasure Island out of 29 million cubic yards of dredged mud and fill from the bottom of the bay and the Sacramento River delta in 1937 on the shoals of Yerba Buena Island, a natural island roughly midway between San Francisco and Oakland. The name “Treasure Island” was a reference to the region’s Gold Rush era history: the upper reaches of the Sacramento River and its tributaries were the area of the state whose riches attracted a great migration to San Francisco in the first place. The initial purpose of Treasure Island was to attract even more people to the burgeoning city: its first use was to host the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, named the Golden Gate International Exposition. It was designed to be a celebration of much of San Francisco’s other advancements in infrastructure, such as the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. As the newsreel video below demonstrates, these, along with the formation of the island itself, were seen as signs of continued progress and technological advancement.
    Once Treasure Island was finished hosting the Golden Gate Exposition, it was planned to serve as San Francisco’s International airport. However, when the Golden Gate Exposition ended in 1940, the island became a part of plans for possible war in the Pacific. The Navy, wanting Treasure Island’s strategic position in the middle of the Bay, struck an agreement with the city of San Francisco to trade Mills Field, a larger area south of San Francisco, with the city. (Mills Field would later become San Francisco International Airport.) Building 1, which served as the administrative headquarters of the Golden Gate Exposition and was built to become an eventual airport terminal, instead was transformed into the communication and command center for the Pacific theatre during World War II. During this time, Treasure Island was host to another technology milestone; the first commercial trans-Pacific airline service, on the Pan-Am China Clipper seaplanes. After World War II ended, the Navy continued to use the island as a training center and regional headquarters until 1993, when the congressional Base Realignment and Closure Commission slated it to be part of a wave of decommissioning. In 1997, the Navy left, leaving 400 open acres in the center of the 6th largest metropolitan area in the country. Since then, not much has changed on the island. 1,500 people currently live on the island, in the same houses and barracks that used to house Navy recruits. The island now hosts a scattered array of uses: a Job Corps campus (a vocational program run by the U.S. Department of Labor for 16 to 24-year-olds), low-income housing, movie studios, a field for youth baseball and softball games, an annual weekend music festival. As of May 2010, the city is buying Treasure Island from the Navy for $105 million, and attempting to win final approval for redevelopment into a sustainable urban neighborhood atop 29 million cubic yards of fill. Once again, the government is hoping to attract people to Treasure Island with technological innovation and the promise of wealth.

This video, from the Prelinger Archive, shows narrated newsreel footage from the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition.

court of the sun

Figure 2a and 2b: The 1939-40 Golden Gate Exposition


building 1
Figure 2c: Building 1


Last updated:  5/7/2010


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