Saturday, January 30, 2016

1939 Golden Gate International Exposition

The 1939 New York World's Fair is well-remembered by many fans of such things; however, there was another Fair in 1939 (and into 1940) - the Golden Gate International Exposition (or "GGIE"), held on San Francisco's Treasure Island. The theme of this Expo was "Pageant of the Pacific", and featured an 80 foot tall statue of "Pacifica", goddess of the Pacific. Here she is on the cover of the souvenir guidebook (scan found on the interwebs):

Here's a neat photo (possibly a still from color movie footage), from Wikipedia, with a nice shot of the statue.

I was excited to find some rare color slides taken at the GGIE, and wanted to share some of them here.

In this first photo, we can see what I believe is one of the Towers of the East; unfortunately I can't find much info about this particular structure, as impressive as it is. 

In this one we see the base of the "Tower of the Sun", a 400-foot (30 story) pointed tower that became the theme building for this Fair, appearing on many souvenirs. It contained a carillon with 44 bells that could be played with a keyboard. At the base was a set of sculptures representing the signs of the zodiac.

Showman Billy Rose became something of a "go to" guy when it came to large-scale spectaculars... particularly his "Aquacades" in New York and San Francisco. There was dancing! Singing! Diving! Synchronized swimming! What more could you want?

This scene clearly tries to capture a sort of very stylized (a lá MGM musicals) kind of Parisian grandeur.  Plus, pretty girls in bathing suits. Man, it can be cold in San Fran, even in the summer... I don't envy those ladies.

This next photo shows the 105-foot Triumphal Arch (the opening was 90 feet tall); in the distance is the Court of Flowers and beyond that, the Court of Reflections. I love this picture!

This next one shows the "Portals of the Pacific", a magnificent Art Deco edifice, also known as the "Elephant Tower". 

To give you a better look at what is going on, here's a photo of the original plaster maquette that shows the stylized trio of elephants (with step pyramids on their backs) at the upper level of this building.

Coincidentally, GDB reader "JG" sent me some photos of two artifacts that his parents saved from their honeymoon trip to the GGIE! Here's a beautiful gold-foil sticker... "Meet me at Treasure Island". Don't mind if I do! "California Welcomes You".

JG's folks even saved their parking voucher. 50 cents was the roughly the equivalent of $9.00 in today's moolah, so that was not cheap.

I hope that you have enjoyed your visit to the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition!


Nanook said...


Wonderful images, here. I think my fav is the Portals of the Pacific, with its Elephant Tower. Also the gold foil sticker from JG is also a beauty.

Thanks JG and The Major.

K. Martinez said...

My parents used to talk a lot about this exposition. They were born and grew up in nearby Oakland so it was close by for them to visit. They told me it was the most beautiful thing they saw as kids while they described the buildings, lighting, fountains and exhibit/shows. I think my two favorites here are the "Towers of the East" and the "Elephant Tower". Too bad stuff like this isn't still built today.

I've been to Treasure Island before while visiting a Navy Destroyer back in the 1960's. That was a blast! Also, that's some great artifacts JG has shared here. Love the gold-foil sticker. Thank you Major and JG.

TokyoMagic! said...

I really enjoyed these pics, Major! My grandmother told me that she and my grandfather went to this exposition, but the only thing she could really remember about it was that she didn't have a coat that was warm enough for the San Francisco weather, so she was too cold to really enjoy it. Unfortunately, I haven't come across any pics of their trip either. My great-grandmother went to New York that year and visited the fair there, but the only pics from that trip are of her at the base of the Statue of Liberty. They both had cameras, so you would think that they would have taken pics of something at either fair. :-(

Chuck said...

My grandparents also went to this fair, which was quite a trip from Ohio for them. I'm not aware of any surviving pictures, but we did for many years have some sort of souvenir ribbon. Unfortunately, I think we lost that a couple of years ago in a terrible storage unit disaster (moisture, mice, and something like 100 feet of termite trails through cardboard boxes in a 45-foot-deep unit).

Only time I went to Treasure Island was in 1976 when the same grandparents came out to visit us. All I remember was driving around a bunch of Navy family housing and my grandparents being unable to find much of anything that looked familiar. I'd totally forgotten that until Ken's comment above.

As always, thanks for sharing, Major, and a special thanks to JG!

Unknown said...

I was a big fan of World's Firs as a kid. It probably started after the New York World's Fair in 1964. Funny thing is that I'd never heard of this fair until this morning! Great images and great storytelling, all. Thanks, Jg and the Major.

Mark H. Besotted said...

Great stuff. Rupert Holmes (yes, the "Piña Colada Song" guy) has published two mystery novels. They're both twisty, smart, and hilarious. The first prominently features Disneyland, and the second is set in and around this Expo. It really whetted my appetite to learn more about this-- thanks for the pictures.

TokyoMagic! said...

I like piña coladas! AND getting caught in the rain!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I agree, that Elephant Tower is pretty cool. I need to add one on to my palatial mansion!

K. Martinez, it’s funny, I have heard relatively little about this Expo, in spite of my interest in Fairs and Expos for many years. I am particularly surprised that my grandparents didn’t go, but they had a small child… maybe it was not doable. I’ve seen night photos, and like other fairs, the colors are particularly dazzling when we are so used to a black and white pre-WWII world.

TokyoMagic!, oh that cold San Francisco! It’s a neat city, but it definitely has its own weird climate. It’s too bafd that you don’t have any family photos from that Expo… wouldn’t it be neat to see those amazing buildings behind people you knew and loved?

Chuck, I’m surprised that your grandparents didn’t opt to go to the 1939 New York World’s Fair… they were a lot closer to it. Maybe they just wanted to go to California? Hearing about your storage disaster… ugh, what a bummer. My brother had a storage unit, and it turned out that pigeons could get in somehow, and they crapped all over everything he had for years. Just imagine! I don’t think that much survives from the GGIE, as is usual for Fairs and Expos.

Patrick Devlin, I think I became aware of the San Francisco Expo because there were dual souvenirs… people were encouraged to try to visit both coasts… probably not many people were able to, as the Depression was still grinding on.

Mark H. Besotted, I had no idea Rupert Holmes was an author. You’ve made me curious to check out his books (even though I don’t care for the Piña Colada song!).

TokyoMagic!, it’s like reading your Playboy “likes”. In you “dislikes” do you include “phonies”?

outsidetheberm said...

Lucky for us, the fair's Administration Building is still there! If you want a quick peek without the journey to San Francisco, take a look at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It serves as Berlin Airport in the movie!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Major, what a comprehensive post. I have never seen color pics of the exhibition. I do have two shots of Mom and Dad on the concourse together, in B&W. I guess there was a roving photographer or something like that.

Thanks for publishing my parents little souvenirs, it's nice that my fellow commentors enjoy them too.

I wish there was a guidebook or some postcards, but this is the only GGIE stuff I have found so far. I hope I have courage to keep pawing through those boxes. I found a bunch of Disneyland-area motel postcards and matchbooks, if anyone is interested and if Major wants to publish them, I'll send him pics.


Chuck said...

I'd love to see those, JG!

Anonymous said...

@Chuck, I will dig them out scan them and send to the Major, a good chance to try my new scanner.