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Preparations for
the World's Fair

Pan American Clipper at Treasure Island

24 Views of the Fair (PowerPoint)

1940 World's Fair Set to Open

ASCAP Cavalcade of Music at the Fair

Huff's Sculptures at the World's Fair

Dedication of San Francisco Airport

Mayor Rossi's Labor Day Speech at Treasure Island

Aerial View of Treasure Island - 1994

Treasure Island - Environmental Hazards - 1995

The Fair Closes

By Tom Moriarity

The lights are down these November nights on Treasure Island. A month ahead of time, to be sure. But whether the blackout is to be permanent, or whether the group known as 1940 Exposition, Inc., will succeed in raising $1,650,000 of new, free money to guarantee a four-month encore of the fair next year the fact remains that last October 29 at midnight a highly successful Western exposition went into history. And not just the San Francisco Bay region but the entire West, from Vancouver, B.C., to San Diego, and from Colorado to the Pacific, benefited by its success.

Bank of America advertisement for the 1939 Treasure Island fairIt will be some time before the Golden Gate International Exposition management can know whether or not the underwriters will get their guarantees back in full or in part. Yet if you were an underwriter whose business was drawn mostly from the Western states, you could probably look right now at your balance sheets and realize that in stimulation of the whole economy, your exposition "risk" has paid splendid dividends and been more than justified in a personalized way.

As an educational, a cultural, and an entertainment agency the fair has accomplished more than it set out to do. It would be difficult to find a corporal's guard out of the ten and a half million attendance who left the island with the conviction that the visit had not been one of mental and spirit-lifting gain.

Aside from opening up the horizons of people's viewpoints, the fair rolled up indisputable facts and figures proving that it stimulated business tremendously.

  • Records of the State Department of Agriculture reveal that to date 21 per cent more out-of-state cars have entered California in 1939 than for the same period in 1938. Close to 100,000 out-of-state automobiles came to Treasure Island. This was around 35 per cent of all "foreign" cars entering the State during the fair period.
  • Conservative estimates give $100,000,000 as the amount of new money that was brought into the Bay region.
  • California did $367,000,000 more business for the first six months of 1939 than for a similar period last year. San Francisco Bay district's share of this gain was about $168,000,000. This was on top of the $35,000,000 for construction before the fair opened.
  • Most of the tourists included southern California in their itineraries, the All-Year club and other agencies report.
  • Transcontinental railway lines report an increase of 40 per cent in travel to the West, while ticket validations in San Francisco alone showed an increase of 166 percent. In fact, the exposition helped materially in making 1939 one of the greatest tourist seasons in history. Despite the inequality of distance between the Middle West and Treasure Island, and the Middle West and the New York fair, San Francisco led New York by three to two, travel from Chicago to California having increased nearly 100 per cent over last year.
  • Approximately two-thirds of those who came to the exposition were visiting California for the first time. Of this number, perhaps one-half may be expected to come again with the next two years.
  • A total of 1,710,511 vehicles crossed the Bay Bridge from the period of February 18 to September 30 (latest available figures), producing a total revenue of $840,204, and speeding the day when the bridge toll may again be reduced.
  • Key System ferryboat operation profited to the extent of $150,481 between February 18 and September 30.
  • National Park business gained materially, as witness: Yellowstone Park–1938, 466,185 guests; 1939; 486,936 guests. Grand Canyon–1938, 336,557; 1939; 395,940. Yosemite–1938, 443,325; 1939,466,552. Lassen–1938, 73,005; 1939, 100,880.
  • Business in San Francisco and Los Angeles hotels and restaurants went up 35 to 40 per cent.
  • Over $2,500,000 was spent during 1939 by various promotional agencies of the eleven Western states in advertising the fair, California, and the West. A survey reveals that these agencies stand ready to increase their 1940 budgets by $500,000 if there is a 1940 fair. The additional travel potential, due to war, is 300,000 Americans who ordinarily would go to Europe.

  • Indeed, California's world's fair was an outstanding success. So, with the blackout in effect on Treasure Island, let's examine the men and policies behind that success, and then consider the future.

    Early in June of this year Charles H. Strub, former San Francisco sports promoter (Seals baseball team) and more recently manager of the Santa Anita horse racing park which he'd organized in 1934, was appointed Managing Director to serve without salary. His personality and dynamic plans brought harmony to the working staff, which quickly staged a "Summer Re-opening" and recaptured the flagging interest in the fair. All through the summer and fall months, big-name personalities of radio, screen, and entertainment worlds were booked on Treasure Island and played before S.R.O. crowds. Attendance spurted and the goose hung high.

    No man was more entitled to enjoy the feeling of "a job well done" when, on midnight, October 29, taps were sounded by the Thirtieth Infantry and the 1939 span of the fair was ended.

    Modestly, Mr. Strub reviewed the work for "California's" reporter:

    "The Golden Gate International Exposition merits the success which it has had and of which it may be well proud," he said. "Early in June, when I was solicited by the Board of Management to take over the duties of Managing Director, I found Treasure Island truly a treasure island–a man-made island of four hundred acres, beautifully landscaped, with artistic architecture, with lighting effects which will undoubtedly result in Treasure Island's taking its place in history as the most beautifully illuminated of all world's fairs, with one of the most superb displays of fine arts ever assembled, with exhibits that would be a credit any world's fair. I found Treasure Island a fantasy of form and color excluding all suggestion of a workaday existence.

    "Wholly convinced that a world's fair should present to the public the best in the field of entertainment, we were successful in presenting as free attractions innumerable great artists.

    "Mine was an exacting job, perhaps, but a most interesting and gratifying one. The exposition could not have met with success but for the whole-hearted enthusiasm and coöperation of the entire personnel.

    "To take the five 'Forgotten men'–James B. Black, Colbert Coldwell, J.W. Mailliard, Jr., Atholl McBean, and Philip Patchen–who so generously, without compensation, gave up three years of their busy lives to the exposition, and to Leland W. Cutler, who assumed the responsibilities of president of the exposition, California and San Francisco in particular, owe a deep debt of gratitude."

    Asked why the original closing date of December 2 had been moved ahead to October 29, Mr. Strub declared that good showmanship forced recognition of the possibility of inclement weather conditions during November, while it could be expected that total attendance during October would boom if the public were given concentrated entertainment features during the better weather. The decision was one of wisdom. Record-making days followed, the week-end of October 7 and 8 drawing 274,359, with Sunday, October 8, setting a new one-day high at 187,730. Saturday, October 21, established a new week-day record with 141,938, and closing day, October 29, hit 147,674.

    And now what of Treasure Island's future? The island, created by state and federal funds, was leased by the exposition from the City and County of San Francisco. San Francisco also leased to Pan American Airways, for a ten-year period, the building known as the Hall of Transportation, office space on the third floor of the Administration Building, and docking privileges in the lagoon for the clippers. Pan American will therefore take over more space in the Administration Building and will continue to operate its trans-Pacific flying service from Treasure Island, with sailings for China and (as soon as the CAA permission is granted) New Zealand.

    As to the rest of the island, everything will be razed excepting the Administration, Air Transportation, and Fine Arts building, the latter being ready for remodeling as a permanent airport maintenance structure. Plans for the conversion of the island into a close-in terminal airport, with departures by all major air lines for north, south, and east, are now being pushed by the Aviation Committee of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with city officials.

    Businessmen travelers queried on the future use of the island regard the terminal airport plan as a great improvement over the present connections. The Mills Field airport would not be less important, for its heavy investment in maintenance facilities will always be required, while its location, in conjunction with that of Oakland Airport, will conquer the fog hazard in fulfilling all-year departure schedules.

    Yes, we've had a great fair – great despite its wavering start, and greater still in its accomplishments in the face of comparisons with the New York fair, which was forced to curtail its staffs and reduce the scope of its objectives.

    The air transport industry reaps a fine benefit. No one has been the loser, for the impact of the modern ideas spread by the fair will more than replay the actual investments of those courageous businessmen underwriters who not only backed the project in the first place but "saw it through" at a time when less hardy individuals would have withdrawn support and been content with a mediocre fair instead of a roundly successful one.

    California–Magazine of the Pacific
    Published by the California State Chamber of Commerce
    November 1939

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