Today it's hard to imagine San Francisco Bay without Treasure Island sitting almost in the middle of it. Before the island was constructed, the spot had been a sandy shoal off Yerba Buena Island from two to 26 feet below sea level, a pesky nuisance and danger to shipping.
In 1933 the two bridges that would span the bay and the Golden Gate were under construction, and people wanted to celebrate their completion.
The San Francisco News published a story suggesting that a world's fair would be the best way to call attention to the bridges and the potential of the wondrous Bay Area.
The committee that was appointed first had to decide where to put a fair. Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Candlestick Point, China Basin and Lake Merced were all considered along with the Yerba Buena Shoals.
It took the world's fair committee a year and a half to decide on the shoals, and one of the most important reasons it was picked was because of its potential as an airport.
In 1931 the Aeronautics Committee of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce had recommended the shoals be reclaimed for an airport for the city. San Francisco officials went to the state Legislature to get a bill transferring the tidelands and the submerged shallows to the city. The governor signed the bill in June 1933.
While the fair committee approved the site, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors did not. The shoals became so controversial that the matter had to go to the voters. And the voters approved the plan on May 3, 1935.
A corporation was formed to get financing for the expensive project. Leland W. Cutler, former president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, became its president.
He went to Washington with well-known newspaperman and politician George Creel and got the enthusiastic backing of President Franklin Roosevelt. Grants from the Works Project Administration and the Public Works Administration totaling more than $5 million were obtained after the federal government was assured that the shoals would be turned into an airport once the fair was over.
Of course, this wasn't nearly enough money. Noninterest-bearing certificates were sold and donations made.
A rock sea wall surrounding the 400-acre site, which was to be 5, 520 feet long and 3,400 feet wide, was built and filled to bring it to 13 feet above mean low water. Sand used for the fill was dug up from the shoals from other parts of the bay, including Angel Island, Alcatraz and the Oakland pier. And this was just the beginning.
The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40 gave jobs to thousands during the Depression, and more than 17 million people visited during its two years. Treasure Island served as San Francisco's airport for a year when the Navy took over the island in 1942. When the naval base closed in 1997, the island belonged to San Francisco again.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.