In Quest of. . . Treasure Island

It was a gem of an exhibition, in the literal meaning of the word exhibition. It was built for the world’s fair in 1939, and all the nations of the Pacific built exhibitions there to display their cultures and products and ingenuity. That would be the theme. All the nations of the Pacific would have unique cultural displays, their own buildings and pavilions. China had its pagoda, Japan its teahouse architecture, Australia its colonial building. American even brought a train and western motif. Promenades. Great gates of elephants representing what was still the very exotic Eurasian subcontinent.

The center of it all was a giant statue. Dubbed Pacifica, it was exhibition’s finest symbol. She was to be the Statue of Liberty of the West. She was, moreover, the only art deco giant statue there was. Hosting the exhibition, San Francisco had specially commissioned dozens of statues. They were made by fine art deco artists of the time. Pacifica was designed and built by Ralph Stackpole, San Francisco’s finest realist artist at the time. They were made in cement, and are a glorious representation of the 1930s, of art deco and of realism and its nuances, and the symbolism required by the theme of the Pacific cultures. Personifications presented nations and concepts.

The exhibition was built upon Treasure Island in San Francisco’s Bay. Thus it was something all the cities around the bay could see, all passing ships behold, all aircraft flying overhead into SFO easily examine.

Treasure Island is a manmade Island, an extension of Yerba Buena Island, a solitary pinnacle in this area of the Bay. It is the central connecting point of the famous landmark the San Francisco Bay Bridge. It was a Naval base, used largely by the Coast Guard. Old Houses exist on Yerba Buena, where admirals and other officers once lived.

Yerba Buena remains largely untouched today, but Treasure Island and all its glory faded due to World War II. The Navy took it over, and in their rush spared little. There was little mercy shown. Even great Pacifica was hastily destroyed.

But I don’t wish to go there first. I want to share with you the glory of Treasure Island so that you’ll understand what I seek.


A classic aerial showing the manmade island and the Golden Gate Exposition packed with visitors. The parking lot is full, and ferries continue to arrive from the city.


An original tourist map. Download it as a guide.


As seen from the bay.


I believe this is a model. The Spire of the Sun was central to the main entrance. The sun cast its rays on the Pacific, causing all things to grow.


Now from rare color photos see what greeted visitors. One side of the main or Elephant Gates. The Spire of the Sun in the background.


The Court of the Seven Seas, on the left side of the Spire of the Sun. We are actually looking back at the main entrance area. The Elephant Gates would be to the right of the Spire.  Looking behind us, this night shot shows the Court of Pacifica.


The Statue of Liberty of the West Coast– Pacifica. Before we return here, let’s look at a few random shots to give you a taste of the  exhibition.

To give you a size perspective:


Walking along the Court of the Moon. Yerba Buena Island is in the background.


The other side of the Spire of the Sun– the Court of the Moon.


Straight in from the main Elephant Gates was the Triumphal Arch. Beyond that another court and then the lagoon. Beyond that the beautiful and futuristic (by the standards then) Federal Building.


The Federal Building and its colorful mural.


Around another lake was clustered other Pacific exhibitions– here Australia, New Zealand. The Federal Building can be seen in the background.




The Japanese Exhibition.


This aerial may help you envision it.

Let’s return to the Court of Pacifica.

Pacifica-StatueThe color contrasts were beautiful. Pacifica towered an Art Deco giant symbolizing all the cultures and bounty of the Pacific.


This captures the great fountain in the Court of Pacifica.


This fountain would hold some of the most exotic Deco statues.


A closer example.


In color, water cascading down over jade green tiles.

"Peace-Makers" Mural in Court of Pacifica
Peacemakers symbolizes the unity of East and West. At the 1939 – 1940 San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition (World’s Fair).

I chose this photo out of a magazine because it has a great write-up next to it. A Roman or Greek figure followed by various representations meets very Eastern symbols, showing the confluence of the Pacific cultures.

Sadly, almost all is destroyed. WWII caused the nation to overreact. The Navy got Treasure Island for a base and started bulldozing and dynamiting. Pacifica herself was blown up. This 1942 photo below shows how much had already been destroyed.


Some had been retained, if the Navy could use it. But most was trashed. The Spire is already destroyed in the picture. So is Pacifica. Barracks have been put in behind the Court of the Seven Seas. Barracks have already been built, lakes drained, a makeshift runway put in.

In our next posts let’s go on a journey of discovering Treasure Island. From its glory days to its sad decline to today. Some statues survived. Others are ensconced in a warehouse. Some things are irretrievable.  But they have still left us a path that can inspire the future.


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