My Dad was the foreman of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company crew at Treasure Island at the time of the Golden Gate International Expo, enabling him to get passes for my sister Betty and me. What a great summer that was! There was so much to see and do.
To add to the atmosphere of the fair and the celebration of the opening of the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridges, San Francisco took on a Western theme. The citizens had to dress in some type of cowboy gear. It was great fun for us catholic grammar school kids because we could wear cowboy stuff to school instead of our uniforms, cap pistols and all. By the way, that’s how Levis jeans got so popular. Everybody bought some and really liked them after finding out how rugged and comfortable they were. The original Levi factory was on Valencia Street between 15th and 16th Streets. My dad thought the whole thing was silly and didn’t join in until he was caught by the Keystone Cops on Market Street and put in Kangaroo Court, a wooden play jail on a trailer with a judge. What a burn up for him! He was fined and ordered to wear something western. He finally broke down and bought a neckerchief that he kept taking off and on.
Almost every major company had an exhibit at the fair. I saw television for the first time. They transmitted from the GE exhibit to the other end of the Island. There also were free outdoor shows with name performers. I remember my sister and several of her high school pals catching the first ferry in the morning to get good seats for Bing Crosby’s show. It also featured most of the big bands like Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Harry James and Count Basie.
I saw it all, even Elsie the Cow, who was the trademark of The Borden Milk Company. Elsie was in a streamlined trailer, one side made of glass. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and The Andrew Sisters also gave a free show but you couldn’t get near that one. There was a show with a cast of hundreds called the Cavalcade of the Golden West. It was a history of the United States telling about driving the final stake for the trans-continental railroad with actual locomotives moving on the stage. It reenacted Custer’s Last Stand with the Cavalry and Indians on horseback shooting their rifles. There also was Billy Rose’s Aquacade featuring Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller, the Folies Bergere and a great Amusement Park at the north end of the Island.
The movie Alexander Graham Bell, starring Don Ameche and Henry Fonda as Mr. Watson had its west coast premier in 1939 on Treasure Island. My Mom and Dad had a photo, now missing, of Ameche, Fonda, the president and other officers of PT&T with my Dad in front of the theater before the premier. The Telephone Company had an exhibit in the Trade Building. One of our very close friends, Beverly Grubb the future Mrs. Jim Hagarty, was one of the hostesses there in 1940. She recently showed us a picture of her and the crew in front of the “Tower of the Sun.” What a beauty she was and still is.
The Fair was originally built to become the San Francisco Oakland International Airport. The three permanent buildings on the south side of the island were to be the administration building and two hangers. Pan American Airlines’ “China Clipper” was housed and took off from there. The inlet between Yerba Buena and Treasure Island was known as “Clipper Cove.” The war came along and changed all that. “TI” (Treasure Island) became a Naval Base, the operations base for the Western Sea Frontier.
Matt O’Neil, Sacramento, CA
From SAN FRANCISCO'S LOST LANDMARKS, James R. Smith
Post a Follow-up: