Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Pacific Basin Fountain: Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know About the Glorious Terra Cotta Ruin that is Hidden Away Now on Treasure Island

Overhead view of fountain from somewhere on the ceiling of Pacific House. Unless this was a maquette (model) although I am not aware that one was made.

Image 1 Overhead view of fountain in Pacific House.


Pacific Basin Fountain apparently in process of being installed. Note Edgar Taylor stained glass map being installed behind scaffolding. Pacific House, 1939.

Image 2 Pacific Basin Fountain apparently in process of being installed. Note Edgar Taylor stained glass map being installed behind scaffolding. Pacific House, 1939.

Pacific Basin Fountain in main lobby of Pacific House, 1939--note spouting whales in center of fountain and Covarrubias miural at the top right of photo

image 3 Pacific Basin Fountain in main lobby of Pacific House, 1939–note spouting whales in center of fountain and Covarrubias mural at the top right of photo

Photo of Antonio Sotomayor painting caricatures (brush is on his wife, Grace)

Image 4 Photo of Antonio Sotomayor painting caricatures (brush is on his wife, Grace)

Antonio Sotomayor self-portrait (in hand-painted Pacific House booklet)

image 5 Antonio Sotomayor self-portrait (in hand-painted Pacific House booklet)

Miguel Covarrubias posing with

Image 6 Miguel Covarrubias posing with “Flora and Fauna of the Pacific”

Court of Pacifica, 1939 (Gabriel Moulin photo)

Image 7 Court of Pacifica, 1939 (Gabriel Moulin photo)

Navy Electronics School has its picture taken in the Court of Pacifica (1953)

Image 8 Navy Electronics School has its picture taken in the Court of Pacifica (1953)

Overhead image, Court of Pacifica, date unknown (post 1942)

Image 9 Overhead image, Court of Pacifica, date unknown (post 1942)

Sailor Bob Snyder and Helen Phillips sculpture, circa 1968

Image 10 Sailor Bob Snyder and Helen Phillips sculpture, circa 1968

Adaline Kent sculpture, Court of Pacifica, circa 1992

Image 11 Adaline Kent sculpture, Court of Pacifica, circa 1992

Sargent Johnson sculpture, Court of Pacifica, circa 1992

Image 12 Sargent Johnson sculpture, Court of Pacifica, circa 1992

Intact fountain circa 1991

Image 13 Intact fountain circa 1991

Detail of fountain

Image 14 Detail of fountain

Detail of fountain and sculptures in Court of Pacifica

Image 15 Detail of fountain and sculptures in Court of Pacifica. Note staircase–fountain is on a plaza that is below grade

Detail of fountain

Image 16 Detail of fountain

Blue-sky plan for sculpture garden on Treasure Island featuring Sotomayor fountain and Court of Pacifica sculptures

Image 17 Blue-sky plan for sculpture garden on Treasure Island featuring Sotomayor fountain and Court of Pacifica sculptures



Image 18. Photograph of fountain taken shortly before it was dismantled.

The fountain being (crudely) dismantled

Image 19 The fountain being dismantled



The Pacific Basin Fountain
A History and Description
By Anne Schnoebelen

Pacific House, Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939-1940
Created in 1938 at Gladding McBean, Lincoln, California

Glazed terra cotta, 950 square feet, 361 sections
Width at equator: 43’2”
Center meridian; 27’2’
Perimeter wall: 114 linear feet
Weight: 30 tons (estimated)
Colors: Shades of blue, brown, yellow, green, white, aqua

The relief map of the Pacific Basin was designed by San Francisco artist Antonio Sotomayor and architect Philip Newell Youtz, and executed in 1938 and 1939 by Sotomayor and assistants at Gladding McBean and Company (GMcB) in Lincoln, California. It is oval in shape and approximately the size of a backyard swimming pool. When installed in Pacific House at the Golden Gate International Exposition, it was filled with water and served as a fountain. [Image 1]

The relief map represents the islands, continents and waters of the Pacific, hand modeled in great detail. The highest mountain peak is approximately 16 inches higher than the lowest ocean trench. Lines of latitude and longitude are represented by the joints between the map’s 361 individual sections. Four three-dimensional ceramic whales, approximately 25 inches in length and covered with a teal glaze, spouted at the center of the fountain just north of Hawaii. The map itself is surrounded by a perimeter wall, approximately two feet in height and eight inches wide, finished with an aqua glaze. Compass points are marked with a compass rose and the letters N, S, E and W on the top surface of the wall. On the vertical exterior surface of the wall at each compass point is an animal figure in low relief.

A Fountain of the Pacific for the Pageant of the Pacific

The map was displayed in Pacific House, the “theme building” of the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939 and 1940—“The Pageant of the Pacific.” The man-made island itself was initially conceived as the site of an airport which would serve Pan American Airways trans-Pacific “Clipper” flying boats, the first commercial, regularly-scheduled air transport between the United States and Asia. The fair’s theme, “Pacific Unity,” celebrated peaceful interdependence among the countries of the area that we now call the Pacific Rim. Pacific House, designed by architect William Merchant, was the central building of the fair’s “Pacific Area” where most of the Pacific countries participating in the fair had their pavilions. The inauguration of air travel to Asia helped spark the fair’s theme.

But it was the influence of the local chapter of a non-governmental organization that provided the deeper stimulus for the Pacific theme. The Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) was established in 1925 to provide a forum for discussion of problems and relations between nations of the Pacific Rim. Headquartered in Honolulu, the IPR had chapters throughout the Pacific, and its San Francisco members included many influential citizens, including former Secretary of the Interior and Stanford President Ray Lyman Wilbur, who was the president of Pacific House. Other IPR members headed some of the powerful boards that governed the GGIE during its planning years. As president of Pacific House, Wilbur was the leader of a distinguished board which included scholars and professors from universities around the Bay Area, explorers, anthropologists, and business leaders. Pacific House offered daily, ongoing programming designed to educate the public about Pacific affairs, including lectures, readings, exhibits, and concerts. Its library housed a fine collection of printed materials on Pacific themes, and Pacific House published a series of bibliographies and educational guides.

The Pacific House board of directors chose the map of the Pacific as the symbolic theme of Pacific House as a matter of policy. In its publicity materials, Pacific House claimed that all world map projections prior to 1939 had presented the Pacific broken up at the perimeters of the map. While this is something of an exaggeration, it is true that world maps, then and now, usually feature the Atlantic Ocean at the center, with the Pacific at the margins. The goal of Pacific House was to present the possibilities of a united Pacific, and maps were a graphically dramatic illustration of this. [The map shown on the right, which uses the Aitoff projection, is a more typical representation with the Pacific literally “marginalized.” Sorry–map not included here yet.] The Pacific Basin fountain used the same projection, but rotated horizontally so that the Atlantic appears on the margins.

Pacific House director Philip Youtz was an architect and the former director of the Brooklyn Museum. San Francisco artist Antonio Sotomayor, a native of Bolivia, was known locally as an author, illustrator, caricaturist and painter of murals at the Palace Hotel and Grace Cathedral. He was chosen for the Pacific Basin Fountain project through his affiliation with Pacific House board member Carl Sauer, an eminent geographer and anthropologist from the University of California, Berkeley, who provided the map projection.  [Images 4 and 5]

The fountain was located on the floor of the airy, three-story atrium of Pacific House. Natural light poured in from floor to ceiling windows on four sides, and the room was filled with tropical foliage. Guests could view the fountain from the main floor as well as from a second-story balcony. Six large, colorful mural maps by Sotomayor’s friend, Miguel Covarrubias, representing themes from Pacific cultures, covered the adjacent walls. A large backlit stained glass map of Pacific trade routes by artist Edgar Dorsey Taylor was featured high on the back wall of Pacific House’s main display area, and two decorative maps of Pacific countries by artist Hilaire Hiler were displayed on the balcony. [Images 2, 3, 6]

Making the Fountain

Information and stories about the fountain are hidden away in a vault at GMcB, where the company has been storing its records for more than a century. The records for Job 2873, “The Relief Map of the Pacific,” reveal a complex and difficult project, plagued with delays and errors, but managed with diplomacy and good humor.

According to a GMcB memo, Youtz and Sotomayor had great difficulties with the first stage of the project—a full-scale clay model of the map. Originally, the plan was to do as much work as possible in San Francisco. This proved so difficult that GMcB offered to send professional modelers to San Francisco to help. Sotomayor and Youtz estimated that they would need his services for two months. A GMcB supervisor wrote back, “Sixty days? Good heavens, what are you going to do with him for that long? Only thought you would need him for a week or so, he has a family.” Eventually the entire project was transported to GMcB, and Sotomayor lived in Lincoln for almost six months.

Fashioning the enormous relief map took nearly twice as long as anyone had originally projected. There were innumerable delays because, “As you know, artists are apt to underestimate the time it will take them to do the work.” (Everyone who knew Sotomayor agreed that he was not very practical.) And there were errors. On February 9, 1939, less than ten days from the scheduled opening of the fair, the tile setter installing the fountain in Pacific House noticed a glaring design error. “Has there been anything said about letter “S” on south side in center when you stand in front of it. It is turned upside down. Mr. Youtz and Mr. Newhall know about it, but I think they will let it go.” But a GMcB memo dated February 13 reads: “We are re-making the piece with the letter “S”.” Mr. Sotomayor must have modeled this letter upside down.”

Sotomayor designed an animal mascot to represent each region located at the fountain’s compass points. For the South Pole, he fashioned a penguin and for the North Pole, a polar bear; in the west, near the Indian subcontinent at the equator, was a water buffalo and in the east, near the equator in Brazil, a llama. Sotomayor also designed the four whales that spouted at the center of the fountain. His wife, Grace, described them: “Everyone knows that whales are mammals and they have horizontal flippers. But Soto’s whales have fins, like fish!” Sotomayor’s whales look like flukes, but they are oriented vertically. “He never looked at models of the things he drew—he just made what he saw in his imagination,” according to Grace. The whales, with their fierce grins and disoriented tails, were “the real Soto.”

As the project neared completion, Philip Youtz wrote in a letter to Atholl McBean, president of GMcB, “I feel confident that this terra cotta fountain will be one of the most beautiful and educational features of the entire exposition. As far as I know, this is the first time that terra cotta has been used for such a piece of sculpture, and the successful completion of this project will therefore make art history.”

After the Fair is Over

The Pacific Basin Fountain, made of terra cotta and weighing thirty tons, was not a piece of world’s fair ephemera; it was made to last for a very long time with reasonable care. It was also designed in individual sections that could be transported from Lincoln to Treasure Island in relatively manageable loads. This modular design would also make it possible to move the fountain after the fair ended for display elsewhere. It couldn’t stay in Pacific House forever, since Pacific House was a temporary building (as were most of the fair’s buildings).

During the fair, a number of potential permanent locations were considered. Those who ran Pacific House fully intended for the organization to continue with a new facility in San Francisco, perhaps to be joined with a new Museum of Pacific Cultures. The Pacific House maps, especially the fountain and the Covarrubias murals, would be the centerpieces of a Pacific cultural and educational center.

The fair closed in September of 1940 and the Navy began moving onto the island almost immediately. Within another fourteen months, the United States was at war with Japan. The Pacific House Board of Directors continued to meet and arranged to loan the six Covarrubias murals to the Natural History Museum in New York, where they remained on display for more than a decade.

In 1942, the Navy demolished Pacific House and moved the Pacific Basin Fountain to another former GGIE location dedicated to the Pacific theme: “The Court of Pacifica,” site of the colossal goddess Pacifica and the twenty Pacific Unity Sculptures. [Image 7] The goddess came down in 1942, but the sculptures remained. This site, at the current intersection of 9th Street and the central corridor through Treasure Island’s Job Corps campus, remained intact from 1942 until 1994. The Navy left the fountain and sculptures in the middle of 9th Street [see map], diverting east and westbound traffic around the site. Fifty years later, this detail would become important [sorry–the map referred to will be added later].

After the demolition of Pacific House, Edgar Dorsey Taylor’s illuminated stained glass map and Hilaire Hiler’s maps disappeared.

The area around the fountain and sculptures on 9th Street was made into an attractively landscaped garden, with a lawn and flowering gum trees. A wooden plaque explained the origin of the fountain and sculptures. This ad hoc world’s fair sculpture garden was used as a setting for many official and unofficial Navy photographs and was a source of pride on the base, but rarely seen by the public. [Images 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]

World War II came and went. Pacific House never did get a new site in San Francisco—its temporary headquarters in the Palace Hotel closed in 1945—although, curiously, the corporation it formed still exists in California corporate records. Five of the six Covarrubias murals came back to California and were exhibited in the remodeled Ferry Building from 1959 until 2001, when the Ferry Building was again remodeled and the murals removed. The fate of the missing mural, “Art Forms of the Pacific,” has plagued art detectives for more than five decades. The remaining five murals underwent restoration in Mexico and have been exhibited occasionally over the last decade. One of the murals, “Flora and Fauna of the Pacific,” has been on display at San Francisco’s De Young Museum since 2008.

Fate of the Fountain

According to witnesses who lived on Treasure Island, the world’s fair sculpture garden remained in good condition and well tended for almost three decades. Maintenance began to falter during the Vietnam War when the fountain and statues became targets for vandalism. Rocks, bottles, and automobile parts were hurled at the fountain, the area’s identifying plaque faded and was not repaired, dirt accumulated and weeds grew in the cracks between the sections of the fountain. By the late 1970s, all of the whales had disappeared*. The tiles featuring the decorative compass points had been stolen and only one of the compass point animals, the polar bear, remained. Dozens of retaining wall tiles disappeared, and virtually every tile sustained some degree of damage. [Images 13, 14, 16]

“Save the Fountain!”

Concurrent with the founding of the Treasure Island Museum in 1976, a campaign to “Save the Fountain” came to life through the efforts of Walter Morris and Bob Giesar, naval personnel stationed on the island. Their efforts evolved into a master plan to move the fountain and the sculptures to the front of the former Administration Building on Treasure Island (now Building One), the home of the Treasure Island Museum. The fountain and sculptures would become the focal points of a new garden commemorating the history of Treasure Island and the Golden Gate International Exposition. [Image 17]

In his ROHO interview in 1981, Antonio Sotomayor referred to the fountain as the most difficult, challenging project of his career. He was aware of the restoration plans and expressed the belief that the fountain was under restoration. When Sotomayor died in 1985, the San Francisco Chronicle named him “San Francisco’s Artist Laureate.”

The restoration project ultimately foundered for many reasons, including lack of funding, the difficulty of moving the fountain, and fears that the area in front of Building one was not strong enough to hold the thirty ton fountain. The “fountain problem” was magnified by the fact that it was now one massive object, not moveable in sections. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, when the fountain was originally installed in Pacific House, the sections of the map were not attached to each other, or to their retaining wall; they were simply placed, one at a time, in a waterproof basin. But in its new outdoor location on 9th Street, the sections of the fountain were cemented together, meaning that the thirty-ton mass would have to be moved all in one piece unless a method of separating the sections could be devised.

The plan to create a sculpture garden at the front of Building One was abandoned. But a new campaign, entitled “The 50th Anniversary Art Treasures Restoration Project,” spearheaded by the Treasure Island Museum and the Art Deco Society of California, was begun in 1989 and focused on restoration of the Pacific Unity Sculptures. Enough money was raised to move six of the sculptures to the front entry area of Building One and hire a professional restoration team. This was accomplished in 1991, and the sculptures can still be seen there today. The remaining ten sculptures were moved into storage on the island.

The fountain, meanwhile, continued to languish in the Court of Pacifica. After fifty years of diverting traffic around the fountain, the Navy decided that it was time to straighten out 9th street and build a parking lot in its place. But what to do with the fountain? The fountain posed such a problem that, according to Treasure Island Museum staff, the Navy had even proposed filling in the below-grade section of the court, thereby “preserving” the fountain under tons of sand. [Image 15–note stairs leading down to fountain]

One last photograph of the intact fountain was taken by award-winning Art Deco architecture photographer Randy Juster. (He wrote an amusing blog post about the experience here: Also please note, this photo was shot with a lens which distorts the shape; the fountain was an oval). [Image 18] The fountain was then cut up into its component parts so that it could be moved into storage. The intention was to cut precisely along the joints where cement bonded the terra cotta sections. A professional team using hydraulic jets and circular masonry saws performed the task, but the cuts were not made precisely and many of the cuts sliced through the terra cotta.  [Image 19] Once the cuts were made, the fountain pieces were moved into storage with the sculptures.

The fountain is now stored on pallets in an empty building on Treasure Island, along with the sculptures. Stored for close to twenty years in the former “Art Palace” of the exposition (Building Three), the sculptures and pieces of the fountain were recently moved to another building on the island, which happens to be the site where Pacific House once stood.

Can the fountain be restored? Yes, it can. However, the damage to the fountain is significant, and restoration will be expensive. Those who know and love the fountain, however, are hopeful that efforts will be made to ensure that the fountain will not be forgotten when public art is chosen for the redeveloped Treasure Island.


*At the time of the production of the fountain, enough copies of the whales were made to provide one to individuals involved in the project. Mrs. Sotomayor thinks eight were made in addition to the four displayed on the fountain. Mrs. Sotomayor kindly gave hers to me.

References and sources:

Mrs. Antonio Sotomayor
Lamar Schuler, Chief Draftsman, Gladding McBean
Bill Wyatt, Company Historian, Gladding McBean
Visit to Gladding McBean in May of 1990 by Anne Schnoebelen, Michael Gray and Mrs. Antonio Sotomayor
Archives of American Art, Papers of Philip Youtz
Regional Oral History Office, Interview with Antonio Sotomayor
Bancroft Library, Papers of Pacific House Participants
Green Library, Stanford University, Papers of Pacific House Participants
UCLA Library, Special Collections
The Masthead, Publication of Naval Station Treasure Island
San Francisco Art Institute, Archives
San Francisco Examiner, Photo Archives
The Treasure Island Museum, Archives


1989: Loma Prieta v. Tower of the Sun



In 1989, just before the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate International Exposition, the Loma Prieta Earthquake (6.9) struck the San Francisco Bay Area, hitting areas of landfill particularly hard. In fact, one of the areas that sustained the most serious damage was San Francisco’s Marina district—-created, like Treasure Island, for a world’s fair—-the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The Marina district is almost exclusively residential housing with a high population density, all built on landfill. Treasure Island, too, was constructed completely from landfill, and it did sustain some damage, but nothing comparable to the devastation that struck the Marina District.

In fact, something rather miraculous happened on Treasure Island. As a consequence of liquefaction, parts of buildings appeared on the island that had not been seen in approximately 48 years. What is liquefaction?

A process by which water-saturated sediment temporarily loses strength and acts as a fluid, like when you wiggle your toes in the wet sand near the water at the beach. This effect can be caused by earthquake shaking. []

On Treasure Island, liquefaction caused the foundations of long-since demolished GGIE buildings to appear to pop up through the surface. What really happened, though, is that the surface of the island sank as soft underlayers of landfill were compressed by the shaking. The most dramatic—-and exciting—-instance of this, for GGIE aficionados, was the “rising” of the Tower of the Sun, the 410-foot Gothic-style monolith, designed by Arthur Brown. As the asphalt covering the area around the former tower sank, the tower’s “roots” were exposed. Large cracks in the asphalt outlined its octagonal shape, and the nipped-off tops of a few i-beams were also revealed.

This phenomenon enabled Treasure Island watchers definitively to identify the location of the Tower, which was removed by the Navy shortly after it took possession of the island in 1940.

The surface settled approximately six inches around the buried foundation, near the intersection of Fourth Street and Avenue C. Navy engineers immediately surrounded the area with caution signs and sawhorses and painted white lines around the elevated and cracked areas. Within a few weeks, the elevated areas had been flattened and the paint removed.

Even now, however, the outline of the tower is visible, as the Navy’s patch of cracked asphalt is easily visible from the air, as in the Google map shown in the gallery above.

They paved paradise, the Ur post, part One . . .


What mysterious force dragged me to Treasure Island that foggy day in [add month here], [198__ . . . I really don’t remember and probably will not fill in the blanks ever]? All I know is, I was curious about Treasure Island because I saw it every day on my commute across the Bay Bridge, Berkeley to San Francisco, and wondered what in the world. . . I knew it was a Navy base and hence inaccessible to me (I thought). I saw three pale, flat, interesting looking quasi-Deco or Moderne buildings along the southern perimeter, the side of the island that faces the bridge. One of them looked like a wedding cake; the other two looked like middle Eastern fortresses. Both were painted a pale yellowish-white. What caused those three unusual buildings to exist on the flat, otherwise dull-looking island? This was pre-internet, at least pre-internet for me, so anything I learned about it was from the library, the telephone, or gossip.

So one Sunday I saw an “Events” notice in the Datebook section of the Sunday Chronicle: “Walking tour of Treasure Island. Sponsored by Art Deco Society of California.” The walk was on the following Saturday and I decided to go. First I had to get there, driving on the westbound Bay Bridge. I had never paid any attention to the signs on the bridge and assumed that the exit to Treasure Island would be on the north side of the bridge, since that is where the island is. But no–then, as now, the exit was on the south (left) side of the bridge. Ditto for the exit on the westbound bridge–all exits to Treasure Island come off of the left lane. Remember that when you drive to the island.

Anyway, on my first trip to the island, I missed the exit. I got off the bridge at the first SF exit, turned around, and came back. I only missed a few minutes of the tour, which began with an introductory talk in the Treasure Island Museum by Douglas S. Brookes, then curator of the museum. A very cordial, articulate and soft-spoken man, Doug gave us a brief tour of the museum itself, which at the time occupied the entire lobby of the first floor of Building One on Treasure Island–the hollow, streamlined wedding cake. Among the most impressive items on exhibit that day was a ’30s era AAA tow truck, painted gleaming yellow and blue, such as might have been used on the bridge during its early years.

Then we walked down a flight of stairs to a screening room, where Doug showed us a slide presentation featuring color images from the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) of 1939-1940. The presentation and Doug’s narrative gave us a brief history of the island from its creation in 1937-38, the fair, the (planned) airport, the Naval occupation beginning in 1940, through to the present time. Although at that time the Navy had occupied the island for 48 years, it was obvious to me that by far the island’s most interesting–certainly the most beautiful–years occurred during its time as the site of the GGIE, California’s last world’s fair. Given my own personal history since that day, I guess I can say that few events in my life have had the impact of Doug’s presentation, or of our subsequent walk up to the location of the former Court of Pacifica.

We left Building One–called the “Administration Building” during the years of the GGIE–via the back door, and began walking north along a corridor of buildings that cut through the middle of the island. I remember that it was cool and a little blustery, and other than the old GGIE buildings and some landscaping, Naval Station Treasure Island struck me as grim and unkempt, unsuited to such an evocative and romantic name. I wasn’t sure what our destination would be.

Reaching our destination was like coming upon a recently unearthed ruin in the midst of some kind of urban holocaust, as if something had erupted from underground after an earthquake. In the middle of a paved street, surrounded by ugly squat buildings and a few grim-looking, forlorn trees, was a wide plaza sunk about eight feet below grade. At the center of the plaza was a huge, brilliantly colored terra cotta thing (I really couldn’t tell what it was), oval, about three feet high, its horizontal dimensions approximately 20 x 35 feet, glazed in many shades of blue, green, yellow and white. The complex, three-dimensional surface of the oval formed a grid composed of individual tiles, no two of which were alike. The big oval was enclosed in a retaining wall of solid blocks of aqua tiles, one of which was decorated with a white polar bear in high relief. This oval was surrounded by a lawn on which were eight large gray sculptures, representing people in active poses–kneeling, crouching, playing musical instruments, reclining. These sculptures were about two times life size. Four symmetrically-placed cement sets of stairs, about eight feet wide, led from grade down to the plaza. At the top of and flanking each set of stairs was a pair of monumental sculptures–perhaps three times life size. One set represented men astride seated llamas couchant, another showed a man and woman reclining on large stylized vines.

What in the world were these things doing here? In the middle of Naval Station Treasure Island?

The big terra cotta thing, Doug told us, was a map of the Pacific Basin–a map in the form of a fountain, which in better years had had four spouting whales at its center. Now the whales were gone–stolen, probably–represented only by four rectangles filled with dirt. The map was in pretty terrible condition, with some of the large outer aqua tiles missing, some of them broken, many of the surface tiles chipped, with weeds growing in the dirt between the tiles. The statues too were in bad condition, some of the damage done by exposure to salt air, wind and water, some due to vandalism.

The map of the Pacific was from a building at the GGIE called “Pacific House.” The sculptures, plaza and stair were from the GGIE’s Court of Pacifica, which was located exactly where we were standing.

To be continued . . .

They paved paradise, part two

(Click on a photo to enlarge and to see a slideshow) Yesterday I posted some photos of the Court of Pacifica, viewed from a northern perspective looking south, as well as photos of the same view today–pretty depressing, really. Without getting too pretentious (after all I have a masters degree in English lit and studied a lot of Latin in college), I can’t help but be reminded of a line from Ovid’s Heroides–“Iam seges est ubi Troia fuit”–“there are fields where Troy once stood.” In other words–look what happened to our beautiful magic city–felled by a Navy!

Today’s photos show the northward view, looking towards the fountain that stood at the center of the Court of Pacifica–the Fountain of Western Waters; the “Pacific Unity” sculptures that surrounded the fountain, and the eighty-foot statue of Pacifica, goddess of Pacific Unity, that stood at the head of the court. The 2014 photos attempt to use the same angles and distances in the 1989 photos.

Behind Pacifica was a curtain of stars that moved from left to right, powered by a motor, making high followed by low sounds. The “Prayer Curtain” in this Court of Pacifica was to help carry fairgoers’ prayers for peace up to heaven. The wall behind Pacifica, at least thirty feet higher than the 100-foot wall that that enclosed the western perimeter of the fairgrounds as well as the Court of Pacifica, formed a kind of altarpiece behind the goddess.

Like all of the thematic architecture at the GGIE, the Court of Pacifica was brilliantly lit with concealed, indirect light; the walls and other surfaces were designed so that lights could be hidden in recesses or below the eye level of visitors so that buildings appeared to glow from within. The wall–altarpiece–behind Pacifica changed colors (as you can see), and the fountain also changed colors. In the words of Juliet James, author of The Meaning of the Courts of the Golden Gate International Exposition,

Don’t fail to see this fountain at night with the water slipping over emerald green. Atop, an ever-changing riot of color–mostly lambent blue and fire red–fire consuming its own beauty–lavender pink with gold and silver–again all blue with a tumultuous bubbling of changing lights–sometimes singing with soprano voice, often with contralto notes, with the voice of the curtain dominating. This is a symphonic musical poem–a theme with variations. When you see the prayer curtain a fall of burning red sparkle–of deep sapphire blue–of gold–of gold, silver and lavender–of blue consumed by sparkling fire–of royal purple . . . [have you had enough of Juliet? there’s just a bit more]–as the chief subject of your theme, the secondary subject being played in color by the top of the fountain, the bass notes of emerald green sustained by your color organ, you have heard a rarely magnificent Color-Music Composition.

Later I have some video I can post of the changing colors in the court.

To be continued: next–a look at the court of Pacifica in 1989.





They paved Paradise, part 1 . . . The Court of Pacifica Then and Now

I first came to Treasure Island in . . . 1988 or 1989? Wish I could recapture the exact date but it seems to be long gone. It was a walking tour sponsored by the Art Deco Society of California. To make a long story short (I will tell the long version later), we met with the curator of the Treasure Island Museum, Douglas Brookes, who walked with us up a long north-west outdoor corridor which I now know to be Avenue C. I call it a “corridor” rather than a street because it was narrow and lined with buildings. All of the buildings were flat and square, yellowish or dun in color, fairly flat and dull. The place wasn’t sparkling and efficient looking, which is how I had always imagined Navy bases. It looked dull and depressing.

At the end of the long, narrow corridor was an amazing sight–a still-splendid (but somewhat dilapidated) terra cotta pool made of large tiles, representing a colorful, amazingly detailed, three dimensional oval map of the Pacific Basin. It was fairly recognizable for what it was, but we really needed Douglas to explain it to us. This map was contained by a wall of glazed tiles the color of a swimming pool. Very pretty! The pool was on a sunken plaza, about eight feet below grade, surrounded by a weedy lawn. Surrounding the pool were eight sculptures, about twice life-size, of people engaged in various activities–playing musical instruments, lounging on a beach, grinding corn, ice-fishing. In four symmetrical locations around the plaza were sets of stairs, about eight stairs each, eight feet wide. At the top of the stairs and flanking each set of stairs at grade level were four pairs sculptures. These sculptures were larger and represented people in more static poses–sitting on a llama, kneeling, reclining. Douglas explained to us that these figures, which were made of cast stone, an arty euphemism for cement, represented peoples of the Pacific Basin, and that the fountain was the Fountain of the Pacific by an artist named Antonio Sotomayor. These amazing pieces were the remains of the Court of Pacifica at the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940.

Douglas also explained that these pieces were in jeopardy, as they occupied part of a street
that the Navy wanted to pave. The street curved around the fountain. The Navy wanted to straighten out the street. On the map (last image in the gallery) find 9th Street and Avenue C, and you’ll see a circular design in the middle of 9th Street. That is what the Navy wanted to pave.

I will show pictures of the fountain and statues in a later post. Right now I just want to show you some images of what the Court of Pacifica looked like in 1939-1940, and what it looks like now. I have three sets of “then and now” images. The “now” images could be better and I will replace them soon. But I think you will get the idea. Currently, the Court of Pacifica is a parking lot, part of 9th Street, and a bit of a couple of residences.

I have two images of the Court of Pacifica looking south–showing the original fountain from the court, which was called the Fountain of Western Waters (it was removed by the Navy and replaced by the Pacific Basin Fountain–more on that later). The original fountain was four round/scalloped graduated tiers, with water flowing from the top tier to the bottom. Four sculptures were located on the top tier of the fountain, and eight were located on the bottom tier. Both images show the Tower of the Sun. At the location of the Tower of the Sun now is a small shack at the southern entrance to the Job Corps, quite sad really (as what part of this story isn’t–but somehow the shack just gets me). The shack is where the guard sits to keep people from trespassing on the Job Corps property. But we can’t see the shack because so much foliage has grown up along the corridor (which is nice really), and anyway, it is only about ten feet high . . . whereas the Tower of the Sun was 410 feet.

How do we know exactly where the Tower of the Sun was? It is one of few unmovable markers by which we can measure where things were at the fair. Treasure Island liquifacted to varying depths during the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and the foundations of the Tower of the Sun materialized for the first time since it was torn down. I was able to get over there before the Navy removed the foundations and took enough pictures to be able to locate it in the future. There are also a couple of spots on the asphalt where you can see an angle of the Tower’s octagon. So we do know precisely where the Tower of the Sun was.

Also in the gallery is a photo looking west in the Court of Pacifica. During the years of the fair, the western wall of the Court was also the northwest entrance/exit of the fair, called “The Northwest Passage.” Guests entered the fair right under the wonderful “Peacemakers” mural by the Bruton sisters–Esther, Margaret and Helen. Now, if you look west from the formelocation of the court of Pacifica, you see alight standards, the Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

To be continued . . .

Anne Schnoebelen’s Treasure Island Gallery

Treasure Island, Then and Now–

Thanks for reading this blog! I am setting it up in order to begin recording my research, presentations, and photography relating to Treasure Island and the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940 (GGIE). I’ve chosen the “then and now” title because for years I have been taking photos of contemporary Treasure Island and matching them with collected photos from the years of the exposition, and using those photos during walking tours and slide lectures. Fortunately a few beautiful buildings still remain from the years of the fair, although all of the spectacular “Expo Deco” buildings are gone. Please check back here for updates! (I’m just getting started putting years of research online) and thanks for your interest!

Photo credit: Bud Stewart