“Isn’t this the most beautiful backdrop?” the singer says. He points at San Francisco skyline, perfectly centered behind the stage – a city of tiny lights, across bay.
Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay is one of those things I see every day, but never really knew a lot about. The things right next to you are the biggest mysteries.
Only a ten-minute trip from downtown, the island is known for its annual music festival and as a place to stop on the drive between the East Bay and San Francisco. The views of SF are amazing.
But Jansport was doing this free concert there, so it was the perfect opportunity to visit this the place I see every day (I can see it right now). Free transport, free music, free food and drinks. And a bonfire, which is always a huge draw.
The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40 celebrated the modern industrial west, symbolized by the completion of the Golden Gate and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges. The fair was staged on the nearly 1-mile-square man-made Treasure Island, which was purpose-built from 25 million cubic feet of mud at the intersection of the two Bay Bridge spans. The two bridges and the island were each funded by the Works Progress Administration.
Treasure Island during the 1939 Exposition. (Image: Wikipedia)
(Yeah, which is funny since SF is now center of the modern technological world – at least in terms of internet technology. But hey, the first transcontinental phone call was made from here, so we’ve been doing communications tech since like forever.)
After the Expo, there were several different plans for it. It was going to be an airport. It was given to the Navy during World War Two. It was decommissioned in the 1990s and has been used for lots of random stuff – the most influential probably being that the Matrix’s bullet-time sequences were filmed there.
Treasure Island is at a strange point in its development, which makes it hard to figure out how to use. For me at least, but it’s hard to figure out where you can go and where is off-limits, I guess because it used to be a military base.
Much of San Francisco’s park infrastructure is built on two historical pillars: military infrastructure and space created for international expositions. It’s an interesting historical dynamic in one of America’s most progressive cities – so much leisure space built over nationalist desires. The Presidio, Fort Mason, Golden Gate Park and the Marina district are built around either military installations or international expositions.
As a historically significant place whose main industry is tourism, San Francisco is a well-marked city — there are at least 3 different historical markers on my block alone. It’s a city that wears its history well, and is very good at letting you know how to use it (all the signposts telling you how to follow the 49 Mile Drive, for example).
Treasure Island is different. It’s hard to tell how to use it, where you can go, where you can’t. What’s a neighborhood, what’s an empty building.
And that’s part of what makes it unique. It’s a space that still doesn’t know what it is, whose future use is not-yet-determined.
A deal that would have created new housing and retail on the island, and purportedly feature some of the tallest buildings in SF, fell apart in April. The future? Who knows. And for San Francisco that’s refreshing.
Even in redeveloping neighborhoods like Mission Bay and Potrero Hill, the future is already determined, it’s just a matter of infrastructure catching up with the needs of an increasingly wealthy populace.
But Treasure Island is sort of blank; it’s sort of illegible. I like it like that. Someday the city will figure out what to do with it, and I’m sure I’ll like it even more.