Treasure Island Naval Base

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During the last decade, the world’s two largest bridges have been flung across San Francisco Bay...and to celebrate their completion, the world’s largest man-made island was risen from the waters of the bay.

In 1935, the residents of the City of San Francisco decided that the City should hold a "Fair" to celebrate the engineering of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco and Oakland Bay Bridge, as well as to celebrate the ascendancy of California and San Francisco as an economic, political and cultural force in the increasingly important Pacific region. There was also the thought that the City should create an international airport. Six sites were considered. They included Golden Gate Park, Presidio of San Francisco, China Basin, filled lands south of Hunters Point, the Lake Merced area, and the shoals north of Yerba Buena Island. The shoal area was ultimately chosen because it was accessible from all parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. Thus, Treasure Island was born.

Beneath the level waters of the Bay is an uneven terrain down to 2 to 382 feet. Mariners have long avoided the treacherous shoals just north of Yerba Buena Island, which was no place deeper than 26 feet. These watery acres were waste territory, until it was decided to create upon them the site of the Golden Gate International Exposition, to be known as Treasure Island during 1939 and thereafter to become an airport for the Trans-Pacific clipper ships.

Rock walls composed of 287,000 tons of quarried rock were sunk in the shoals. Twenty million cubic yards of sea bottom were dredged up and piled within the walls. When the sand was 13 feet above sea level, engineers “unsalted” it by a leaching process. Barges brought 50,000 cubic yards of loam from the mainland to enrich it. When the engineers finished, a 400-acre island, a mile long and two-thirds of a mile wide, had appeared in the Bay, connected by a 900-foot paved causeway to the Bay Bridge and equipped with ferry slips and landings for small craft and flying boats.

Meanwhile, specialists in the study of plants were hunting through all the continents for unusual trees and plants. For many months orchids, hibiscus, datura, rare silver trees, orange trees, and palms were acclimated in a San Francisco plant hospital, where also are the electrically heated propagation beds that bring to bloom the plants to compose the ever-changing floral patterns of the Fair grounds. Horticultural plans call for planting 4,000 trees, 70,000 shrubs, and 700,000 flowering plants. To sprinkle the plants and quench the thirst of visitors, San Francisco water was piped over the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge to a 3,000,000-gallon reservoir cut in the solid rock of Yerba Buena Island.

With the help of federal aid, the construction of three permanent structures began, which later would serve the airport. The building consisted of a $800,000 administration building and two $400,000 steel and concrete hangars, each 335 feet long and 78 feet high, used temporarily to house the $20,000,000 art exhibits and the foreign treasures loaned for the Fair. Finally, around these structures, began to rise a $50,000,000 fantasy, which was America’s World’s Fair on the Pacific.

The fair grounds are designed as a walled city, enclosing a series of connected courts. Although a primary consideration was to plan step-saving routes across the 400 acres, the effect first noticed is the island’s beauty, its vistas of pools, gardens, and lagoons, bordered with exotic buildings representing the Pacific nations. Cambodian, Mayan, and Incan motifs give a charming strangeness to this modern Exposition “city.”

From the Central Court, where the Island’s two systems of avenues and courts intersect, rises the 400-foot Tower of the Sun. Northward the mile-long Avenue of the Seven Seas leads to the Court of Pacifica, portal to the Fair’s open-air pageant, the Cavalcade of the Golden West; southward, to the Port of the Trade Winds, anchorage for trade ships, junks, square riggers and yachts. The main cross-avenue leads to the central Court of Honor into the Court of the East and thence to the lake of All Nations, a lagoon overlooked by the $1,500,000 United States Government Building and exhibit area. At the north end of the island, next to the 12,000-car parking lot, lies the Gayway, a 40-acre fun zone, with its cyclone coaster, rocket ship, giant crane, and other thrill rides and shows.

In the exhibit pavilions, visitors will see a $1,000,000 “mineral mountain” of ore with miniature models showing gold mining operations and a $1,000,000 relief map of Western America—so large that the borders of the States can be traversed on foot paths. They will witness demonstrations of the electric eye, television, electronic music, atom-smashing, chemical agriculture. The latest sub-stratosphere transport planes—even Douglas Corrigan’s famed “Corrigan Crate”—will be on exhibition. Forty or more foreign nations will exhibit in the International Building and Pacific Nations’ Exhibit Area; the United States and nearly half the States of the Union, in the Federal Building and Hall of Western States; the State and Counties of California, in the California Building Group. A cross-section of American business and industry will be displayed in pavilions and exhibits valued at more than $15,000,000—the Halls of Varied Industries, Electricity and Communications, Foods and Beverages, Homes and Gardens, Mines, Metals, and Machinery, Science, and Vacationland. The Fair’s Gayway, a mile-long circular boulevard, will be lined with showplaces—the Chinese City, Hollywood Boulevard, Streets of the World, and many others.

The islands colors, stimulating, unforgettable, represent the first extensive application of chromotherapy—the science of health treatment by color usage. In the daytime the effects are gained with flowers and tinted walls; at night, with fluorescent tubes, with the new “black light,“ with ultra-violet floods, underwater lamps, translucent glass fabric pillars, and cylindrical lanterns 75 feet high. Some of the flower beds are played upon by artificial moonlight, others bathed in sunshine created out of neon and mercury. The $1,000,000 illumination program presents at nightfall the illusion of a magic city of light, floating on the waters of San Francisco Bay.


The construction of Treasure Island began in February 1936 and was completed in January 1939. To build the 403 acre Island 29 million cubic yards of sand and gravel were transported to or dredged from the Bay and the Sacramento River delta. The name "Treasure Island" refers to the gold-laden fill dirt that washed down from the Sierras into the Bay, from which fill was dredged to create the island. Approximately 259 thousand tons of rock were used to create a rock wall to contain the Island.

Buildings and structures for the Golden Gate International Exposition were going up even before the Bay fill dried. Many San Franciscans at the time simply referred to the exposition as the "Fair". The Fair opened in February of 1939. It reopened in May of 1940, and eventually closed in September of 1940. Records showed that over 200 thousand people attended the last day of the Fair on September 29, 1940. At a cost of $50 million, the Island was adorned with exhibits, temples, pavilions, pools, gardens, gigantic sculptures and monuments from or representing the interests of foreign nations, American states, California cities and counties, and national and local industries. The theme of this international exposition was "Pageant of the Pacific."

One of the most spectacular structures, and the centerpiece of the Fair, was the Tower of the Sun. The Tower of the Sun was a slim, octagonal needle with a statue of a phoenix at the top that extended majestically 400 feet into the air. The phoenix symbolized San Francisco's rise from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire. A 15-foot scale model replica of the Tower of the Sun can be seen on the concourse level in Building One on Treasure Island.

Big bands and Hollywood stars appeared at the hundreds of free outdoor shows. Judy Garland and Irving Berlin performed at a music festival in September of 1940, less than a week before the Fair closed.

As American involvement in World Was II was becoming more certain, on February 28, 1941, the Island was leased from the City of San Francisco by the United States Government. On April 1st, 1941, it became a military base known as Naval Station Treasure Island which also included portions of Yerba Buena Island. It became the headquarters of the 12th Naval District. The Islands served as the " Gateway to the Pacific" in the battle of the Pacific.

The conversion from the Fair to airport to Naval Station was fairly casual in the beginning. Very little money was allocated by the Navy until the attack at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, in December 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor caused the nation's priorities to change. As the war in the Pacific and Europe called for more and more Navy men, many women put on uniforms and took the title of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). By 1945, more than 800 women officers and enlisted women were stationed at Treasure Island.

During World War II, the Islands served as a gateway to and from the Pacific. After the War the Islands served as a major center for thousands of Navy personnel returning for the War.

In September 1993 the Department of Defense decided to close the Naval Station and return it to civilian use. Over the next few years much of the Island will return to City"s stewardship to provide recreation, open space, economic development, and other publicly oriented uses.

Yerba Buena Island, in contrast with Treasure Island, is a natural island. In 1775, the Spanish entered San Francisco Bay. They gave the Island the name Yerba Buena. Yerba Buena is Spanish for "Good Herb" and was reportedly given to the Island for the wild mint that grew there in abundance and was used by Spaniards to flavor their tea. Yerba Buena Island was also known as Wood Island, Bird Island, and most popularly, Goat Island, its official name from 1895 to 1931. The name came from the herds of goats raised there for food from about 1850 to 1931, when the name was officially changed back to Yerba Buena Island.

The US Coast Guard Installation at Yerba Buena Island occupies approximately half the Island at the southern side. This facility will remain an active Coast Guard Installation.


. ..In 1866 the U.S. Government made Yerba Buena Island an Army post. After 32 years of use the Army discontinued it's Yerba Buena activities and in 1898 the Navy took over occupancy, establishing a training station on the island.
. ..Man-made Treasure Island, connected by a causeway to Yerba Buena, was built during a 14 month period, starting in November, 1937, to serve as the site for 1939 - 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition. The 403 acre island's $50 million "Worlds Fair" wonderland attracted many visitors from all over the world who joined with the Bay Area population in celebrating completion of two fantastic engineering feats, the Oakland Bay and Golden Gate Bridges.
. ..Soon after the exposition opened, World War II began. In late 1940, when the fair closed, the island was turned over by the City of San Francisco to the Navy for emergency use. After the war the Navy acquired Treasure Island on a permanent basis.
. . .As many as 12,000 men each day were processed through the island during the war. Since 1941 several million men and women either served at Treasure Island, received Pacific area assignments, or were separated from service here. The island was the Navy's largest separation center and served primarily as a strategic location for numerous naval activities.
. . .Major naval organizations located at Treasure Island included the U.S. Naval Station itself which provided varied support for elements of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and administers to the island's many tenant commands and units - Headquarters offices of the Commandant Twelfth Naval District and the Commander, Western Sea Frontier; the Navy Regional Naval Schools Command; the Navy Regional Finance Center; Naval Training Center.
. . .In 1970's, the progress at Treasure Island was a multi-million dollar building program designed to replace, by 1980, remaining World War II structures.
. . .The economic impact on the San Francisco - Oakland area was considerable. Approximately 10,000 military and civilian personnel were employed on the island who received an annual payroll of about $26 million. The Navy spent many millions more annually in purchasing supplies, service and construction from the SF - Oakland Bay Area business firms. More than 15,000 privately owned vehicles were registered at Treasure Island.