Treasure Island: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

We look at so many historical images here—more than 21,000 on the site to date—that we almost start believing our ancestors lived in a desaturated world of gray and sepia. So when we hit a run of color slides we can’t help feeling like Dorothy stepping into Oz after the twister. Look how the little girl’s yellow dress pops in this view of the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) on Treasure Island.

Tower of the Sun from the Court of the Seven Seas on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940.Tower of the Sun from the Court of the Seven Seas on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940. (wnp25.2906, 35mm color slide, courtesy of a private collector.)

Here’s an achingly vibrant shot from the expo of flowerbeds and a woman in red hat and gloves:

Flower bed on California Avenue on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940.Flower bed on California Avenue on Treasure Island, July 4, 1940. (wnp25.2907, 35mm color slide, courtesy of a private collector.)

Newcomers, and a lot of longtime locals, may be unaware that Treasure Island was created in the 1930s specifically for the Golden Gate International Exposition world’s fair. The pancake-flat 400 acres of dumped rock, sand, and topsoil was intended to serve as San Francisco’s airport when the exposition closed. (This plan was not, as the buzzword goes today, scalable. Can you imagine a 747 touching down there today?)

With a theme of “Pageant of the Pacific,” the fair celebrated the opening of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, and had its own mythology. An eighty-foot-high goddess of the ocean and a “Tower of the Sun” stood over a strange landscape of ziggurats, Sinophilic villages, English gardens, and carnival sideshows.

In black and white, with the names of explorers and conquistadors emblazoned on high walls around her, the goddess “Pacifica” is a guardian to some great tomb.

The Court of Pacifica, with the eighty-foot-high ocean goddess statue at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.The Court of Pacifica, with the eighty-foot-high ocean goddess statue at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, 1939. (wnp14.4379, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

But the colossal walls and columns lose their chill and gain some hoke when you see them splashed in mauve and butterscotch. The sign for “Vacationland” in the background of the photo below puts one in mind of Walt Disney’s amusement park offerings to come:

Golden Gate International Exposition, Fountain at the Court of Pacifica, Ford Building beyond.Fountain at the Court of Pacifica, Ford Building beyond. (wnp25.1781, 35mm color slide courtesy of a private collector.)

In 1939, the fair had fine art from Europe. In 1940, an “Art in Action” exhibition had cutting edge bohemian sculptors and painters such as Diego Rivera working onsite. But counter-balancing all the high culture were low-brow entertainments belying the grandeur: Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch (women in cowboy hats and skin-colored tights), monkeys racing tiny automobiles, and Guess-Your-Weight side-show stands on the “Gayway.”

As with almost all world’s fairs, Treasure Island lost lots of money. The approach and arrival of World War II cast a pall on the celebratory spirit that purple walls and golden fountains couldn’t lift. The Navy took over the island for decades.

Now San Francisco is making a riskier bet than the GGIE. As sea levels rise with climate change, the city wants to build 8,000 residences and 500 hotel rooms on a poker chip of made land reached by a single causeway and a bridge with a history of seismic resistance issues. Challenge the goddess Pacifica at your risk.

Oldsmobile on Yerba Buena Island, 1938. Treasure Island and GGIE under construction.Oldsmobile on Yerba Buena Island, 1938. Treasure Island and GGIE under construction. (wnp14.2403, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

Lindbergh in SF: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

On a rainy September 16, 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh flew in to San Francisco. By the time hundreds of thousands of people met him on Market Street, the sun had begun to shine and one reporter opined, “Apollo must have felt bound to add his homage to this fellow rider of the skies.”

Spirit of St. Louis at Mills Field.
Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis entering special hangar at the municipal airport at Mills Field, September 16, 1927. (wnp36.03528, Department of Public Works photo by Horace Chaffee, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

It’s difficult to conjure a modern day example that compares with the acclamation Lindbergh received for being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927. Today, in the United States, such hero worship with motorcade parades and thousands cheering themselves hoarse are reserved for championship football or baseball teams. Even then, an entire squad of victorious athletes shares the accolades over a series of vehicles, and in only one city for one day. Lindbergh’s life from May 1927 to April 1928 was a series of mad parades from New York City to Mexico City. He made 82 stops in 48 states flying the Spirit of St. Louis around North America and had the hero’s welcome wherever he went.

Banqueted, feted, pelted with ticker tape, deluged by fan letters, mobbed by hoards in hotel lobbies, Lindbergh also had to make speeches, wear tuxedos nightly, and deal with hundreds of reporters asking him about his love life.

It was the same in San Francisco. He had left Portland, Oregon, at 6:20 a.m., flew down the coast and buzzed San Francisco’s nascent skyscrapers at 1:45 in the afternoon, and then landed at Mills Field on the peninsula. The second the monoplane was in view of the field, some 5,000 people who awaited his arrival stormed the runway. Lindbergh had to circle repeatedly, gesturing he couldn’t land, until infantrymen were able to push back the receiving committee of thousands.

Lindbergh motorcade on Market Street.
Charles Lindbergh welcomed with ticker-tape parade on Market Street, September 16, 1927. (wnp27.4115, print courtesy of a private collector.)

After his parade into the city, the flyer fought through the Civic Center (“a pin cushion for people,” a reporter described it) to City Hall’s balcony to be introduced by the mayor and to give a short speech. A reporter wrote that the weary Lindbergh spoke “as though he was reciting a piece he had learned by heart and he appeared relived when the piece was finished and he could sit down again behind the friendly screen of the balustrade.” He was presented with proclamations, scrolls, and medals from an eleven-year-old boy (representing San Francisco’s children), the postmaster (who recommended to Lindy that he marry a California girl), and the Swedish Consul-General (Lindbergh’s father was Swedish).

Spirit of St. Louis at Mills Field.
Charles Lindbergh addresses the crowd from City Hall, September 16, 1927. (wnp36.03532, Department of Public Works photo Book 40 #A609, by Horace Chaffee, negative courtesy of a private collector.)

After a short rest at his hotel, where reporters asked for his opinion on the uncertain morality of modern youth, Lindbergh changed into dinner dress, and went to the Palace Hotel to dine with 1,800 of the city’s fine society. There he gave his much-practiced short pitch for the establishment and growth of commercial aviation—he proposed airports at all cities and predicted that passenger carrying planes would soon be widely used—before finally be allowed to retire for the evening.

The next morning, Lindbergh flew to Oakland, and did the same thing all over again.

Green Apple Books: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

Beloved bookstore Green Apple Books is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this weekend, September 9-10, 2017. (Get over there for discounts and free beverages.) The current owners, Kevin Ryan, Kevin Hunsanger, and Pete Mulvihill, also threw a nice party at the Great American Music Hall earlier this week, and many people fondly mentioned the old creaking floorboards of the rambling store at 506 Clement Street.

Different customers trod those same floorboards before Richard Savoy opened his Richmond District institution in 1967. In the late 1940s, the building’s storefront was shared by Ed’s Togs, dealing in men’s’ clothing, and Vincent Belmonte’s Coliseum Furs.

Clement Street at 6th Avenue, late 1940s.
Clement Street at 6th Avenue, late 1940s. 2-Clement streetcar #241 eastbound. Ed’s Togs and Coliseum Furs occupy what is today Green Apple Books. (wnp27.3994, negative courtesy of a private collector)

That the building is old should not be surprising to anyone who has climbed the wood staircases inside Green Apple, but what shocked me was how different the structure looked originally.

504 Clement Street, late 1890s. Courtesy of Jean Portello.

At the turn of the century, 504 Clement Street occupied the site, the home of Hippolyte Cuneo and his family. Cuneo was a foreman at the Joshua Hendy Machine Works in North Beach. He had moved with his wife, Julia, and their six children to the corner about 1895, and it’s possible the house was built about 1897.

One of Hippolyte’s granddaughters, Jean Portello, returned to Clement Street earlier this year with her granddaughter. Jean was able to find the bedroom she slept in during the 1930s (upstairs in in what I believe is now the Philosophy section of the store). I was lucky enough to be making my weekly trip to the store and met them. This week, Jean’s granddaughter forwarded to me the image above of the Cuneo Family home in the late 1890s. I believe Jean’s mother is one of the girls on the steps.

How can this peaked-roof Victorian match up with the familiar stucco-clad façade we all know so well today? If you look at an aerial view of the building now, the roof is flat all the way across. Those double-front windows are in place when Ed’s Togs dealt seersucker suits in the 1940s. Even earlier, as you’ll see in the postcard view from the 1910s below, the windows were the fronts of two bay windows before an Art Deco remodel flattened the front, but no Victorian home is seen.

Colorized postcard view of 6th Avenue and Clement, about 1910.

Ah, but you’ll note that Hippolyte Cuneo’s house was set back from the sidewalk. Perhaps less than ten years after the home’s construction, a storefront addition was put in the front. The Richmond District’s population boomed in the first years after the 1906 earthquake, when so many were dislocated from the burned neighborhoods on the east side. Sixth and Clement was a center of activity and a transfer point for streetcar lines, so a candy store and soda shop in front of the house made eminent economic sense. In this 1909 photo, we can see the peak of the old house is poking up above the Quality Inn candy store run by Miss L. B. O’Neil at 504 Clement Street:

Detail of a United Railroads photograph (#U02412) taken of 6th Avenue and Clement on October 20, 1909. Courtesy of SFMTA Photography Department and Archive.

Even neighborhood institutions that we know intimately, like Green Apple, can hide historical surprises. As the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Great thanks to Jean Portello and Jean Minton for being kind to a strange historian accosting them on the sidewalk.

Jean Portello and her granddaughter visiting the family home earlier this year.

Admission Day: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

This Saturday, 167 years ago, California was admitted as the thirty-first state of the United States of America. While September 9 is observed as a day off for some state employees, and you might find an office here or there closed, most everything, including the DMV, is open for business. And what one certainly won’t see on the streets of San Francisco this weekend is a parade such as the one shown below in 1910.

Admission Day Parade on Market Street, 1910.
Native Daughters of the Golden West (Orinda parlor) float in the Admission Day parade on Market Street near 6th Street, September 9, 1910. (wnp14.3450, negative courtesy of a private collector)

What happened to Admission Day? There are many who remember recognition of the day in school and the inculcation of state pride with the singing of the official state song, “I Love You, California.” (The lyrics are very “This Land is Your Land,” focused on grain, mountains, and rocky shores. It also rhyme “dear to me” with Yosemite.)

Labor Day’s rising as a popular national holiday during the same week certainly cut into Admission Day enthusiasm. State pride went down as disillusionment with government went up in the 1960s and 1970s (Vietnam War, Watergate, etc.). Plus, Admission Day could come off a little hokey, as illustrated by the photo below of Governor James Rolph cutting a giant cake while the Queen of Admission Day awaits with plate.

Governor James Rolph cutting Native of Sons of the Golden West cake for Admission Day.
Governor James Rolph cutting Native of Sons of the Golden West cake at the Civic Center for Admission Day, 1932. (wnp36.03913, Department of Public Works, book 46, image A3498, copy negative courtesy of a private collector)

San Francisco’s most enduring offering to state pride is the Admission Day monument at the intersection of Market and Montgomery Streets. A young miner waves a United States flag exuberantly, with a pick on shoulder, gun in holster, boots on feet. On the column above him a winged woman holds outstretched a tome with the date of admission. In 1897, the monument was installed where Turk and Mason Streets intersect Market, then was moved in 1948 to Golden Gate Park, and in 1977, the peregrinating edifice was hauled back downtown to its present home.

Admission Day Monument, 1912.
Admission Day Monument at Market and Mason Streets, November 11, 1912. (wnp36.00244, Department of Public Works, book 4, image 697, copy negative courtesy of a private collector)

Another name for the Douglas Tilden-Willis Polk creation is the Native Sons Monument, as it was dedicated to the Native Sons of the Golden West fraternal organization. Mayor James D. Phelan commissioned the work out of his own pocket.

The racist opinions of Phelan and many of the Native Sons at the time may also have eventually played a part of the decline of Admission Day. The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West (both organizations still exist today) were prime organizers of parades and events for Admission Day. Their leadership a hundred years ago mirrored the opinions of James Phelan: California was for white men and women. People of Japanese ancestry were particularly vilified.1 Like Columbus Day, whether plainly stated or not, Admission Day celebrations could be seen as honoring the conquest of European races over Native Americans and Mexicans.

Racist and nativist groups are back in the headlines once more. While California stands politically at odds with the current presidential administration, divisions in the state are acute enough that proposals keep cropping up to split us into two, three or even five separate states. So there’s little likelihood that a unified pride in being Californian and part of the United States of America will bring back Admission Day popularity.

But I’m proud of being a Californian and wish the anniversary could be reclaimed and reimagined. While September 9 marks the admission of California to the United States, it can also honor the idea of the California Dream. The state known for anti-immigrant movements over its history is also famous as a destination for new ideas and fresh starts. Admission Day could repudiate xenophobia and racism and offer to the seekers, the refugees, the tempest-tossed from around the country, and around the world, a message of welcome admission.


1. In dedicating the Native Sons building in 1911, Phelan gave one of his typical anti-Asiatic speeches: “It is a crime against free government and Caucasian civilization to allow unrestricted immigration.” (“Phelan Pleads for Exclusion,” San Francisco Call, February 23, 1911, page 2.) Founders of the Native Sons of the Golden West organized Anti-Chinese clubs and the San Francisco parlor had Anti-Japanese committees through the first half of the twentieth century. (“A Danger to California,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 13, 1905, page 9, and “Petitions for Anti-Japanese Laws Planned,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 1920, page 66, for just two of many examples.)