Hard Times, High Visions: Golden Gate International Exposition
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Held from February 18, 1939 to October 29, 1939, the Golden Gate International Exposition had a hard act to follow. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was said by many to be the quintessential exposition. The final realization of Golden Gate International Exposition would be hampered by the state and the country coming out of the most severe economic depression in their history.

But given these limits, this fair too created a distinctive environment, reflecting the dreams and aspirations of its time. Its theme, the "Pageant of the Pacific" allowed the exposition to look out beyond the continental United States to the Pacific Rim, not only accommodating these diverse cultures, but also making them the focus of the exhibition. This theme was developed in much of the programming, architectural design and realization of the fair. Architectural contributors included Arthur Brown, Jr., George Kelham, Lewis Hobart, William Merchant, Bernard Maybeck and Timothy L. Pflueger.

While the Panama-Pacific International Exposition reflected Beaux Arts esthetics and was a homage to European traditions, Golden Gate International Exposition demonstrated an eclectic blending of European, Eastern and Latin American architectural, landscape, and artistic styles. Evoking the exoticism of Pacific Rim cultures such as the Mayas, Incas, Malaysians, and Cambodians, many of the architectural structures reflected a nostalgic look at past civilizations. However, there were examples of a stream-lined, international style architecture, seemingly out of place with these other styles, but meant to reflect western nations along the Pacific Rim. Reinforcing this theme of modernism and technological innovation was the celebration of the earlier completion of the Golden Gate and San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridges.

The Golden Gate International Exposition also took advantage of the high-tech developments, especially noted in the lighting of the fair. Jesse Stanton played the role of Jules Guerin as master colorist; and dramatic, indirect lighting, under the control of A.F. Dickerson, was used once again. Women played a prominent role in this exhibition, not only in helping with organization, but being focused upon as contributors to art exhibitions and to the special events at the fair.

Although it did not garner the popular and financial success of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the fair at Treasure Island, as with all international expositions, attempted to bring together the diverse populations of the world in peace. Situated on either side by two major difficult times, the Depression and World War II, the Golden Gate International Exposition was the last fair of this scale hosted by California.

Almanac for Thirty-Niners: compiled by the Workers of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration in The City of San Francisco
Stanford: James Ladd Delkin for the Federal Writers' Project of Northern California, [1938]

The Golden Gate International Exposition could never have succeeded without the support of the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). That federal office supported the building of three monumental construction projects in the Bay Area, and the fair celebrated each structure: the Golden Gate and San Francisco/Oakland Bay bridges and the construction of the island, which was slated to serve as an airport at the conclusion of the fair. This book, another product of the WPA, is one of the first published descriptions of the fair.

254 Days that Made California Tourist History, A Report on the Tourist in this State During the 1939 Exposition
Offprint from The Bulletin of Californians Inc. December, 1939
[San Francisco, 1939]

Although this brochure touts 1939 as "California's greatest tourist season," the Golden Gate International Exposition proved to be a financial disaster, losing $4,166,000 in 1939. In order to recoup much-needed funds, the fair continued operations into 1940. This graphic illustrating the origins of tourists clearly shows the biggest draw was from the western states, which provided 60% of the tourism into the San Francisco area.

"Central Anchorage During Cable Spinning"
Silver gelatin photograph made in 1985 by Stackpole from original negatives taken 1934-1936
From When They Built the Bridge Photographs of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge 1934-1936
Sausalito: Ursula Gropper Associates, 1985

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was a publicly funded project connecting San Francisco and the East Bay. With an ever-growing population and the traffic congestion inherent in that reality, the Bay Bridge was promoted as a solution to these problems. As one would suspect, construction of this bridge was no easy feat. Charles H. Purcell, who specialized in bridge design and construction, presided over the project. Upon its completion in November 1936, the Bay Bridge had achieved many firsts as the longest, deepest, most complex construction in bridge engineering (employing three bridges and one tunnel), and the most costly. This Peter Stackpole image, with a view from the top of the central anchorage, records the ambitious undertaking of modern bridge construction.

[Pan American clippership flying over San Francisco Bay], n.d. [Pan American clippership flying over Treasure Island], n.d.

[Pan American clippership flying over San Francisco Bay], n.d.
[Pan American clippership flying over Treasure Island], n.d.
Silver gelatin photographs
From the Clyde Sunderland Photograph Collection

In typical California fashion, the state undertook two major bridge construction projects and a world's fair during the 1930s, in the face of a severe nationwide economic depression. These aerial photographs, including the famous Pan American clipper ship, provide views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and Treasure Island. Bridging the Golden Gate strait was a project that most engineers said could not be realized. Joseph B. Strauss, a designer and engineer, said such a bridge was not only possible to construct, but would prove less expensive than estimates suggested. Strauss submitted his preliminary sketches to Michael O'Shaughnessy, San Francisco's notable engineer, with a cost estimate of $27 million on June 28, 1921. Strauss then proceeded to dedicate his efforts to spearhead funding activities, and to manage the political and economic realities which delayed construction. He ultimately became Chief engineer for the project. When opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest single clear span in the world. The magnificent "Gateway to the Pacific" was completed and opened to pedestrian traffic on May 27, 1937. The following day the span was opened to vehicular traffic, and assumed a major role in celebration of the state's achievements during the Golden Gate International Exposition.

"Two Bridges That Bridged Two Hearts"
From Songs of San Francisco: Souvenir Song Book of 1939 World's Fair on San Francisco Bay
New York: Remick Music Corporation, n.d.

The two bridges noted in this songbook were points of pride for Californians, and these structures soon achieved a prominent role in the social and cultural life of the region.

"The Architectural Planning of the Exposition"
Architect and Engineer, February 1939, San Francisco

Arthur Brown, Jr. was one of the key members of The Board of Architects, heading the Architecture Committee after the death of George W. Kelham. Other members included the prestigious architects Lewis P. Hobart, William G. Merchant, Timothy L. Pflueger, Ernest E. Weihe, and W. P. Day, Director of Works. The Board was charged with designing the layout of the fair, given the set physical and financial constraints. Brown's article recounts how the Board conceptualized the layout of the fair, including the monumental axis leading from the main entrance and the Tower of the Sun, through the Courts of Reflections and Flowers to the Lagoon flanked by the Pacific Basin Group and opening up to the rest of the thematic buildings. J.H. Clark carried out the design for the Court of Seven Seas after Kelham's death. The February 1939 issue of Architect and Engineer is dedicated to a discussion of the fair including its courts, color scheme, landscaping, and special engineering design.

Tower of the Sun, Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1936

Tower of the Sun, Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1936
Gouache on paper
From the Arthur Brown, Jr. Papers

Arthur Brown, Jr., designer of San Francisco City Hall and the Court of Horticulture at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, was commissioned to execute The Tower of the Sun and the Court of Honor. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition's Tower of Jewels is here reborn at the Golden Gate International Exposition in Brown's Tower of the Sun. The slender central tower of the exposition grounds, rising 392 feet, is beautifully rendered in this nocturnal view. Brown, whose esthetics was grounded firmly in the Beaux Arts tradition, was a master of this idiom as this stately tower clearly illustrates.

Tower of the Sun with the Elephant Towers, Western Wall of Exposition
Pencil on paper
From the Arthur Brown, Jr. Papers

In this rendering of the Tower of the Sun, designed by Arthur Brown, Jr., the tower is flanked by the Elephant Towers designed by Donald Macky. These buildings represent two of the most distinctive components of architectural design found in the Golden Gate Exposition, the former evoking Italian renaissance architecture, the latter suggesting an eclectic mixing of Oriental and Mesoamerican design.

[Western Gateway with detail of one of the Elephant Towers, Golden Gate International Exposition,] n.d.
Colored pencil on paper
From the Arthur Brown, Jr. Papers

Ernest E. Weihe designed the "Portals of the Pacific" to draw visitors into the fair. Twenty-six year old Donald Macky designed the sculptural "Elephant Towers." The blending of Oriental design to suggest the elephants and their howdahs is juxtaposed with Mayan architecture, as seen in the stepped pyramidal forms, creating one of the most memorable features of the fair. Whether one felt these features appeared as a jumble of cubistic forms, or as a successful interpretation of the fairs' Pacific theme, the structures generated ample discussion from critics and visitors alike.

[Image of the Phoenix to be placed atop the Tower to the Sun], 1939
Silver gelatin photograph
From a [Collection of Images of Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, California]

The Phoenix that sat on top of the Tower of the Sun attempted to remind Treasure Island visitors of the 1906 earthquake and fire. This dramatic icon also pointed to the hard times of the current Depression. Once again California would defy any limitations, be they economic, political, or physical, and host an extravaganza that would entertain and edify millions of visitors.

[Polynesian Woman in the Court of the Pacific], 1939
Silver gelatin photograph
From a [Collection of images of Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, California]

Visitors to the Fair encountered monumental stylized sculpture, suggestive of the peoples and cultures of the Pacific Rim.

Golden Gate International Exposition, n.d.

Golden Gate International Exposition, n.d.
Photomechanical reproduction after photograph by Mike Roberts
[Views of the Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939-1940]
From the Collection of the Estate of Harold A. Small

This dramatic approach to the "Magical City" cap-tures the monumental scale and variety of style that would be further amplified as one entered the fair walls. Brown's Tower of the Sun and Macky's Elephant Towers demonstrate the very different ways architects and sculptors incorporated elements of past architecture to create imaginative contemporary interpretations.

Photomechanical reproduction after photograph by Mike Roberts
[Views of the Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939-1940]
From the Collection of the Estate of Harold A. Small

Timothy Pfleuger and his firm were responsible for the Court of the Pacific and the Federal Building. Here we see Ralph Stackpole's heroic Pacifica, a peaceful, contemplative, almost prayer-like female figure that symbolized the theme of the fair. President Roosevelt would emphatically state this hope for peace in his announcement of the fairs in both New York and San Francisco, "The year 1939 would go down in history not only as the year of the two greatest American fairs, but would be a year of world wide rejoicing if it could also mark definite steps toward permanent world peace."

Temple of Religion and Tower of Peace at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition
San Francisco: Temple of Religion and Tower of Peace, Inc., 1940

Representation of various world religions certainly occurred at earlier expositions. What is notable about the Golden Gate International Exposition's presentation of religion is the theme of religious unity. Along with more typical Christian groups, the Fair included representations of Buddhists, Bahai'is, Christian Scientists, Jews, Mormons, Protestants, and others. This is particularly interesting in light of the impending World War that would embroil nations in a struggle that emphasized disunity and differences. Rabbi Rudolph I. Coffee states, "Unitedly we embarked on this spiritual adventure, and in working together, we learned to know one another and love one another."

Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay; Golden Gate International Exposition, February 18 to December 2, 1939
[s.l.: Southern Pacific Company, 1939]

In a fashion typical of railroad promotional brochures from earlier in the century, this text promotes the exotic aspects of the distant cultures of the Far East and Central and South America.

Pacific Cultures
San Francisco, Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939

This exhibition allowed Treasure Island visitors to enjoy the traditional arts of countries along the Pacific Rim, focusing on the early works produced in China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and the Islands of the Pacific, and by the indigenous peoples of North, Middle, and South America. The variety of art, historical, and ethnological materials in this exhibition presented a rich range of the creativity found in this vast area.

Diego Rivera: The Story of His Mural at the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition
[San Francisco: 1940]

Diego Rivera, internationally recognized artist, known for his grand scale murals and philosophically aligned with Communist principles, received a major commission at the fair as part of the "Art in Action Project" in the Palace of Fine Arts. Rivera's murals thematically related to the cultures of the Pacific, emphasizing the need to incorporate the art of indigenous peoples to make a true "American" art. He states, "My mural which I am painting now -- it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent, that is all. I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo, with this kind of urge which makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life, which is also an artistic urge, the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression."

Pageant of the Pacific
[San Francisco, Pacific House, c. 1940]

Miguel Covarrubias, the young Mexican artist known internationally for his stylized views of people and places, created six large decorative and illustrated maps for Pacific House. They depicted countries of the Americas and lands eastward from the Pacific Coast. The themes included the peoples, flora and fauna, economy, art and culture, dwellings, and transportation of these regions. His light touch formed modern tapestry that was characterized by precise and sharp conception. Through the joyful panorama of color the artist educates and entertains the public. Five of the original murals survive and are displayed at the World Trade Center in the San Francisco Ferry Building.

"Women's Role in Pacific Pageant"
Think, February 1939
New York

As with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the role of women at the Golden Gate International Exposition was to assist with hospitality and social events. They also helped with the special concerns and interests of women visit-ing the fair. Women also served as members of a number of the committees of the fair, helping shape the programs and events offered. Women's creativity was also a focus, with many individuals participating in the design and creation of the architectural embellishment of the fair including its interior design, sculpture, gardens, and general landscape. The Exposition recognized women's contributions to international society through special days set aside to honor scientists, novelists, architects, and musicians.

A Pageant of Photography
San Francisco: Crocker-Union for the San Francisco Exposition Co., 1940

Ansel Adams, served as the Director for this work and wrote the introduction. This volume served to promote the 1940 photographic show at the Palace of Fine Arts on Treasure Island. What is notable about this survey of photography is the number of women included in the exhibition. Dorothea Lange, provided the text of the section, "Documentary Photography. The publication also included a sec-tion on California women photographers, highlighting the work of these accomplished artists.

[Finale in Action,] 1939
From a [Collection of images of Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, California]
Silver gelatin photograph

The grand finale of Billy Rose's Aquacade, a talent show that flowed in and out of the water, was a Yankee Doodle scene. Writing in Treasure Island, Richard Reinhardt describes the spectacle as follows, "Billy Rose put it at the end to send the customers away whistling. It stayed in your head, all right -- a swirl of red, white and blue flags and chesty swimmers with their chins up... ." This image suggests the energy and scale of the production.

Cover: Billy Rose's Aquacade, [San Francisco, 1940] [Esther Williams, Aquabelle, Billy Rose's Aquacade, [San Francisco, 1940]

Billy Rose's Aquacade
[San Francisco, 1940]

One of the most memorable happenings on Treasure Island, was Billy Rose's fabulous aquacade. Synchronized human bodies formed spectacular patterns and arrangements while others performed breath-taking feats as they soared from on high, down to the water below. These tour de force water displays featured the young Esther Williams. Promoted as "Aquabelle Number One," Williams was the symbol of the ideal American woman - healthy, alert, vibrant, cultured and intelligent. Williams later went on to a successful Hollywood career.

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