The Magic City: Plans for Treasure Island 1939-2014

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  A review of utopian themes in planning that stood in stark contrast to the harsh economic hardships wrought by the Great Depression. In 1936 and 1937, San Francisco completed two large infrastructure projects: the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. The public works projects were important economic drivers to a city hard hit by the Great Depression. The bridges' completion were feted with the Pageant of the Pacific -- an optimistic exposition held on man-made Treasure Island symbolizing the City's perseverance over hardship and as conscious occupant of a community of cities along the Asian-Pacific rim. War and military use stood in contrast to the expo's utopian origins until planning for San Francisco's most sustainable neighborhood was publicly introduced in the first part of the 2000s.
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  • 1. The Magic City The Golden Gate International Exposition Treasure Island 1939-1940
  • 2. “Cities envision themselves. Cities think and dream. In a model of civil polity, cities envision themselves through the dreams and speculations of their individual inhabitants.” -Kevin Starr, Visionary San Francisco
  • 3. Metaphors • Boston (Puritan) • New York (Money, Taste) • Savannah (18th c. utopia; benign, rational) • Atlanta, Omaha (depots; railroad cities) • Chicago (crossroad, brawny, industrial) • Los Angeles (city of dreams) • San Francisco (the urban metaphor itself) – “Heroic act of self determination in defiance of topography and distance from other urban centers”
  • 4. Historical Context
  • 5. The Golden Gate International Exposition
  • 6. Bay Bridge under construction at Yerba Buena Island in 1935
  • 7. The Key System operated on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, which provided an East Bay rail link to San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal
  • 8. Federal, State, Local Participation • Federal • State • Local • New Deal, WPA • Tidelands Legislation • Advisory Planning Committee; PUC
  • 9. Site Selection • Golden Gate Park – Beautiful setting, landscaping and programming challenges, potential environmental damage eliminated from serious consideration • China Basin, Candle Stick Point – Available land, rail and auto accessibility, but aesthetics of industrial area raised serious doubts • Lake Merced – Auto accessibility, grading and filling for building sites was a constraint, fog and weather were seen as detriments to visitor mood, site bore no relation to bridges.
  • 10. Yerba Buena Shoals • 735 acres of shallow bay area north of Yerba Buena Island • 1 ¾ miles from the Ferry Building and ¾ mile from Key System mole on EBay side • Unusual setting, climatic conditions, sight lines, accessibility by bus, train, ferry and automobile • Reuse of Treasure Island as a future airport all factored into decision to create the Island
  • 11. Atlantis Rises
  • 12. Construction • Army Corps of Engineers dredged materials (3mill yd3/mo) from Bay over 18 mo period to raise an island from a depth of -2 to -26ft below sea level to 13 feet above mean low water. • 5,520 ft long x 3,400 ft wide (400acres) • Soil desalinization to allow for future vegetation • Water pipes under the lower deck of Bay Bridge supplied fresh water to Treasure Island • $18,937,000 construction budget (1936); $281million (est 2008)
  • 13. Pageant of the Pacific
  • 14. Expo Design Framework • Over a million square feet of exposition space • Modern design idiom with mingling of Oriental, Cambodian and Mayan styles • Prefabricated building construction, assembled onsite • No single focal point in expo grounds, area laid out with treelined avenues & streets, subdivided into blocks just as a “city of ideal, advanced planning” • Buildings were 65-85 feet tall and sited to take advantage of natural light and block winds
  • 15. Attractions • Portals of the Pacific • Tower of the Sun • Cavalcade of the Golden West • International Pavilion • Hall of Western States • California Counties Pavilion • Avenue of the Palms • Lake of Nations
  • 16. Themes The exposition celebrated the ascendancy of California and San Francisco as economic, political and cultural forces in the increasingly important Pacific region. • Magic, Atlantis – Lighting • The Helping Hand of Uncle Sam • Unity – Pan American Unity (Diego Rivera mural) • Peace – “The Peacemakers” diorama (Bruton) • Religious Tolerance • Man vs Nature – Conquering the West by water, Conquering the West by land
  • 17. • Expo had a two year run, extended the second year to raise additional revenues • 17 million visitors • Not a financial success • Treasure Island was transferred to the Navy shortly after the exposition closed and used as a naval station
  • 18. “We’re always looking to build the ideal city, but tussling with messiness along the way.” -Charles Fracchia, SF Museum & Historical Society
  • 19. Thank you.
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