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The U.S. Navy seized Treasure Island from the City and County of San Francisco April 17, 1942, as negotiations continued over the government’s use of the island.

The sudden seizure was so controversial that Rear Admiral John Wills Greenslade, then-commandant of the 12th Naval District, was forced to issue a remarkable public statement that attempted to justify the Navy's unilateral action.

Treasure Isle Goes to Navy

City Upset Over Offer, May Dispute Price

The Navy formally served notice today that from now it is the owner of Treasure Island, where it has maintained a base under a lease from the city for more than a year.

The Navy offered the city $44,801 to pay for improvements made to the island. The city is expected to go to court and ask for a larger sum.

There will be no litigation, however, over possession of the island. The Navy spiked that possibility by filing a “declaration of taking and deposit,” instead of instituting condemnation proceedings. In other words, the Navy said: “The island is ours, and that’s final,” instead of: “We’d like to have Treasure Island.”

Shortly after the declaration was filed, Federal Judge St. Sure signed it, giving the Navy title to the island.

Several city officials indicated they did not consider $44,801 sufficient compensation for improvements—such as utilities, roadways and other items. Utilities Mgr. Cahill hinted he had hoped for as much as $500,000, to be used for airport improvements possibly for relocating the Bayshore Highway so as to provide for expansion of San Francisco Municipal Airport.

Considerable dispute appeared likely over the complicated matter of the city’s compensation. From the time it was dredged from the bottom of the Bay, for the Golden Gate International Exposition, until the Navy took over, the island cost $7,874,318.01, of which the city and county, largely though public subscription, invested $3,691,000 for permanent improvements. The city looked to the time when the island might be the site of a metropolitan airport.

Mr. Cahill and City Atty. O’Toole did not consider $44,801 enough—still, there are rumors the Navy might offer a check for $1.

In filing the Navy’s declaration of taking, M. Mitchell Bourquin, special assistant attorney general, explained the Navy needs the 300-acre island for “protection of navigation and commerce” and “for preparing and receiving and forwarding men to naval duty.”

Mr. Bourquin contended that the Bay area in which the island was constructed was navigable water long before California became a state and hence was primarily under Federal jurisdiction. He said purposes for which the city might want the island were secondary to the Navy’s needs.

It was emphasized by both Mr. Bourquin and city officials that the compensation offered by the Navy was merely for improvements to the island, and was far from representing the actual value of the island itself.

In a statement made public as the declaration was filed, Rear Adm. J. W. Greenslade, 12th Naval District commandant, declared Treasure Island “has become a vital necessity in meeting the Navy’s requirements.”

Admiral Greenslade said that “from the viewpoint of peacetime developments it is believed permanent acquisition of Treasure Island for the use of the Navy will increase and promote the efficiency of the Navy and the prosperity of the commercial activities of the Bay Area.”

“The Navy Department is doing everything in its power to intensify its efforts to achieve ultimate total victory at the earliest possible date,” said Admiral Greenslade. “It is the Navy’s responsibility to maintain the fleet and military forces abroad as well as at home. With the progress of the war in the Pacific, San Francisco Bay has assumed an importance far greater than ever before as a naval operating base in the theater of military and naval operations. Treasure Island, located in the heart of the Bay, has become a vital necessity in meeting the Navy’s requirements.

Presents the Facts

“While no other justification is or should be required in connection with the condemnation proceedings which have not be instituted to acquire Treasure Island, and my remarks are not so intended, certain facts with regard thereto may be of interest to the citizens of San Francisco who have always displayed a willingness to co-operate with the Navy.

“In accordance with settled policy, permanent improvements which the Navy requires on Treasure Island may not be erected so long as the island is in the category of leased property. Title to the island must first be acquired by the United States in order to obtain necessary appropriations for the permanent improvements. Accordingly, the secretary of the Navy has announced that title to the island must be acquired.

“Prior to the present condemnation proceedings, the city was advised that the Navy would prefer to acquire title to Treasure Island under the terms of an enabling act, and was requested to submit the minimum price which the city would demand as compensation.

“Many local groups in San Francisco have heartily indorsed the Navy’s program. Unfortunately, certain groups have not found it possible to accept the Navy’s viewpoint in the solution of this problem and have advised against any transfer of title to Treasure Island under the enabling act or otherwise.

No Alternatives

“This attitude was impressed upon and adopted by the city officials. Under the circumstances the Navy had no alternative other than the institution of condemnation proceedings.

“Recent editorials in some local newspapers have indicated that the 12th Naval District has an untoward interest in the acquisition of title to Treasure Island by the United States. It goes without saying that the commandant and his staff have considered the problem solely from the national point of view.”

The San Francisco News
April 17, 1942

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