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1939 GOLDEN GATE INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION—A TREASURE OF AN ISLAND

INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITIONS OFTEN have special features that remain after the expo itself has ended. Seattle’s Space Needle, built for that city’s 1962 World’s Fair, is such an icon. Brussels’ Atomium, built for its Expo 58, represents an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. San Diego’s Balboa Park, hosting both the 1915–1916 Panama-California Exposition and 1935–1936 California Pacific International Exposition, left a wealth of architectural landmarks.

But what about an entire island? Indeed, Treasure Island is an artificial island built in San Francisco Bay for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. 

Travel Tips, The Peck-Judah Co., 1939.

 SimanaitisSays friend Bill Rabel (his Traveller appeared in this website’s recent MORRIS MINOR feature) kindly sent me a Travel Tips magazine published in 1939. Its 95 pages include the Golden Gate International Exposition, extensive touristic information along the west coast, 1939 style, from Seattle to San Diego, as well as other Motorlogues from the coast to Lake Tahoe; Reno; Ensenada, Baja California; and eastward to Phoenix, Tucson, and as far as Carlsbad, New Mexico. Travel Tips is a treasure trove of what it terms “Authentic Information for the Traveler in the Great West.”

This and following images from Travel Tips, Winter 1939.

Bridging the Bay. The Golden Gate International Exposition celebrated San Francisco’s two newly built bridges: The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936; the Golden Gate Bridge, in 1937. 

According to Wikipedia, Treasure Island is 5520 ft. long by 3410 ft. wide. Yerba Buena Island is to its south. This natural island connects the western and eastern spans of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Map image by Dr. Blofeld.

Forming a Treasure. The creation of Treasure Island took advantage of the Yerba Buena Shoals, a shipping hazard in the bay at varying depths of less than 27 ft. The island’s 400-acre geometrical shape was constructed from 260,000 tons of rock, followed by dredged bay sand and 50,000 cubic yards of top soil. Some 4000 trees, 70,000 shrubs, and 700,000 flowering plants completed Treasure Island, which opened on February 18, 1939. 

A Journey Around the World. Travel Tips waxes eloquent about “more than thirty nations pledged to participate.” The Netherlands East Indies description is typical: “Copied from an ancient Hindu-Javanese temple, this presents a mass of intricate carvings suggesting the dark mysteries of the Orient, with all its fascination.”

“New Zealand,” Travel Tips continues, “will present a native Maori dwelling, with great pillars faced by carvings of Polynesian Gods, and native Maoris demonstrating their famous ‘haka’ dance, ancient chants, and other characteristic music.” 

“From across the steaming jungles of Malaya,” Travel Tips says, “will come a most picturesque exhibit,” (with a surprise to come): “The Sultan of Johore presents on Treasure Island a replica of the ‘Johore Dowan,’ or Sultan’s Council House. The Sultan’s own world-famous bagpipe band will be one of the main attractions.” 

Who would have guessed?

Genuinely International. “The largest foreign exhibit,” Travel Tips notes, “is that of France, covering 70,000 square feet. Norway presents a typical ski lodge. Other European nations lay stress on their tourist attractions.”

Where to Stay? Extensive lists of hotels accompany each of the Travel Tips Motorlogues. As an example, for budget travelers to San Francisco, the Hotel Virginia, O’Farrell & Mason Streets, was “Close to Shops and Theaters, $1 to $2.50 per day.” 

The Hotel Californian, Taylor & O’Farrell, was evidently rather more up-market: “All Rooms Outside. All with Tub & Shower. All with Radio,” $3.50 to $5.00 for one; $5.00 to $9.00 for two.

How to Get Around. The Travel Tips Motorlogues suggest that many people would drive from home to San Francisco. On the other hand, maybe one could fly there and rent a Drive-Ur-Self car. 

Or, ….

Treasure Island Fame Came Quickly. The 1939 Marx Brothers’ movie At the Circus introduced the song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” One of its lines is, “Over on the West Coast we have Treasure Island.” The rest of the ditty is as Marxian as its title suggests. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

3 comments on “1939 GOLDEN GATE INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION—A TREASURE OF AN ISLAND

  1. Andrew G.
    October 1, 2020

    Great post, Dennis! Speaking of “travelers in the great west”, I’ll be glad when this plague is over — I’m overdue for a road trip. Talk about an itch you can’t scratch…

    The last line of the Hertz ad caught my eye. Just like the later wartime use of Treasure Island, the old Del Monte Hotel was converted to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. It was a fun to explore the sprawling, vintage Spanish-like architecture when I was stationed nearby in the early nineties. Academia seemed to suit the historic dignity of the facility.

    • simanaitissays
      October 1, 2020

      Thanks, Andrew, for your kind words and comments. By the way, thanks goes to reader Bill Rabel who kindly sent me this magazine. “Travel Tips” is sure to recur here: One of the Treasure Islands features was a Pan Am China Clipper terminal (see the small type in the Tour ad). Other airlines have ads in “Travel Tips.” In fact, “Travel Tips” ads in general would make a neat feature.

      • Andrew G.
        October 1, 2020

        Yes, some fascinating topics — hat’s off to Bill Rabel for sharing with you. I remember getting into my dad’s old stash of early ’40s aviation magazines, looking for speedy “pursuit” planes, only to be stunned by my first glimpse of the magnificent Boeing 314 Clipper. If looks were everything, we’d never have gotten past all of the luxury seaplane airliners (like that Treasure Island Martin) of the era.

        By the way, I should have referred to the Hotel Del Monte as “posh”, not “old” which it wasn’t back in the day. Mea culpa!

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