The man-made Treasure Island was originally conceived as the future home of a new San Francisco airport, including a hub for the trans-Pacific Clipper service from Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). Instead, the island’s first event was the Golden Gate International Exposition 1939-1940. The world's fair celebrated "A Pageant of the Pacific", as well as the completion of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.
Over the next 80 years, without a complete redo as planned, the island’s historic buildings might be flooded or even lost to San Francisco’s rising Bay. However, the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA), a government agency, has comprehensive plans for protecting the place and its historic buildings from sea level rise (SLR).
In the first phase of reconstruction, now in progress, the perimeter of the island around the historic buildings is being elevated to withstand 16” of sea level rise relative to the 2000 level. Plans are in place for higher levels of SLR as well. For example, at 30 inches of SLR, an adaptive management plan for 36 inches will be triggered to allow time to build more improvements.
Ironically, only one year after a fair celebrating Pacific Unity closed, came Pearl Harbor. In this act of war, the Empire of Japan attacked the American base by air and sea. Japan's goal was to annihilate the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet, docked at the base on Oahu, Hawaii. The day after, on December 8 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his "Day of Infamy" speech and the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan, in effect entering World War II on all fronts.
During a WWII naval parade on Treasure Island, members of the WAVES, the women's naval auxiliary, stand at attention in front of the mural on the Federal Building.
Capt. Eugene Rideout's original letter from 1920 to the U.S. Navy suggested that an airport be built on Yerba Buena Shoals.
Treasure Island was built in the 1930s on Yerba Buena Shoals. It was constructed at the same time as what was then known as the "new" and first Bay Bridge. The sandy fill was approximately 20 to 50 feet thick, depending on location.
Yerba Buena is in the background as Treasure Island is built. The boulders that created its original perimeter came from the making of the Bay Bridge Tunnel, blasted through the hill on Yerba Buena.
In 1937, surface completed, the island was still called "Yerba Buena Shoals Fill.
The tale of the making of both the old and the new island is a tale of geotechnical trailblazing.
Historic Building One, to be preserved, is seen behind the excavator. The geotechnical improvements are in progress now during phase 1 of the rebuild. Fortifications begin at the seabed and continue up, to create higher, drier, more solid ground on which to make all new open space, parks, infrastructure, and buildings.
Yerba Buena is the natural landform of the future Treasure Island development. It was occupied for thousands of years by visiting bands of indigenous Chochenyo speaking Ohlone people before being colonized by the Spanish and deeded in the early 18th Century to the Isidro de Castros. The Castro's descendants became one of the largest Californio families--Californians of Spanish descent. (It was several hundred years before its neighbor-island was built and peopled.)
The U.S. Coast Guard will remain indefinitely on the portion of the island south and west of the freeway. In the redevelopment, the largest, most desirable units will be on Yerba Buena Island. One condo building is scheduled for completion in 2022. The Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) plans parks, walkways, trails and bike paths -- all favored over the roads -- to connect the two islands.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt initially visited the island in 1938. She described it in her newspaper column, "Days such as yesterday are really very hectic. Neither Miss Chaney, Mrs. Scheider nor I, had enough time to eat lunch. We had a glass of milk and graham crackers and then sallied forth at 1:45....to Treasure Island, where I was to assist in the ceremonies incidental to the breaking of ground for the Federal Building."
The fair's walled Chinese Village, designed by Mark Daniels, was run by a group of merchants from San Francisco's Chinatown. Among the attractions were acrobats from Northern China, Cantonese food and a seven-story pagoda.
The longest lived -- though constantly changing -- community was the U.S. Navy, which occupied Treasure Island for more than 50 years. Subsequent to the closure of Naval Station Treasure Island a community of some 2,000 residents residing in the former Naval housing has developed pending the redevelopment. The redeveloped Island will provide 8,000 housing units of which 2,173 are designated as affordable.
In the last and most intense year of World War II, U.S. Navy personnel, including sailors, totaled almost 3.5 million. The U.S. population was 140 million in 1945, which means that 1 in every 40 men, women and children served the American war on the high seas. 1 in every 20 Americans served that year in the U.S. Army.
The new Treasure Island will be comprised of more than 50 percent green space. When combined with its sister island, Yerba Buena, the entire redevelopment will be 75 percent, publicly accesible, open space.
Rideout lived to see his island idea realized and visited in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But the commercial airport was not to be. Instead, the Golden Gate International Exposition inaugurated the island. The fantastical architecture of the fair was surrounded by lush lawns, gardens and bubbling fountains and pools.
Sailors and WAVES* populated Treasure Island during World War II and the Navy stayed until 1997.
*Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service
The new Treasure Island development will represent the largest expansion of public open space in San Francisco since the creation of Golden Gate Park in 1870.
Yerba Buena Island, naturally occuring, has always been green. The Yerba Buena Management Plan calls for the restoration of native plans and the culling over time of non-native species.
In a 1930s artist's rendering of the proposed Treasure Island airport, Building One would become the main passenger terminal. It plus the hangars known as buildings Two and Three, also on Treasure Island, are significant examples of 1930s Art Moderne architecture.
Building One would house the administration for the Golden Gate International Exposition, parts of the naval administration, and, later, the Navy-Marine Corps and Coast Guard Museum.
Its later tenants, The Treasure Island Museum and One Treasure Island, the social services agency, will also reside in the preserved edifice in the new development.
Building One, restored and with a redesigned interior, will greet all visitors to the new Treasure Island. Arrivals will exit the ferry terminal and the multimodal transportation hub at the refurbished plaza, the entryway to the new development.
Building One served as part of the base's naval headquarters throughout the 20th Century.
For the six decades the U.S. Navy ran Treasure Island, it was the site of numerous naval training courses. Many buildings had classrooms.
In the redevelopment, the ferry terminal, Building One and some of the new construction around it is called the Island Center.
Built to serve first as the Hall of Transportation during the Golden Gate International Exposition, it hosted exhibits on new technologies from companies such as Ford, General Motors and Pan Am.
In 1939, General Motors displayed new model cars in The Hall of Transportation. The country was still in the Great Depression and very few people owned autos, perhaps inspiring the popular fair activity of posing for photos sitting on the hoods of the shiny cars or standing beside them.
Because of the war, Buildings Two and Three became part of the naval station. Since decommissioning in 1997 both buildings have been used as set shops and sound stages for film and television.
Buildings Two and Three were built to become identical twin airport hangars.
During the Golden Gate International Exposition, Building Three was named The Palace of Fine and Decorative Arts. It was broken up inside into small gallery spaces to house 20 million dollars worth of art, which would be almost 382 million dollars today.
In 1939 the Golden Gate International Exposition brought in only half as many people as anticipated, 10 million rather than 20. In debt, the organizers almost decided that a second season was not viable.
To rescue the box office one of the organizers had a Eureka! moment: "Art in Action". Why not invite some of the big names in the world of fine arts to create pieces during the summer season? The artists and their processes would become part of the entertainment, not just the finished pieces.
The Depression was the era of the great American and Mexican muralists. Diego Rivera was practically a household name, due to his skirmish with robber barron John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller refused to hang the mural he had paid Rivera to create, because it exhibited the artist's communist beliefs. It had been meant for Rockefeller's massive new commercial development in the center of New York City.
The mural titled "The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on This Continent" measures 22 by 74 feet. Painted on 10 steel-framed concrete panels, it weighs 60 thousand pounds.
In the early 21st century, artists returned to Treasure Island. Several sculptors from Burning Man, the yearly participatory art festival in northwestern Nevada, had large studios in Building Three and nearby structures. One of the sculptors, Marco Cochrane, exhibited his monumental "Bliss Dance" on the island's Great Lawn until he sold it to a Las Vegas casino.
On Yerba Buena Island, the former U.S. Navy's Quarters 1, now renamed The Nimitz House, is tucked under the Bay Bridge. This residence is part of the Senior Officers' Quarters Historic District (SOQHD). The district includes six houses, garages and gardens.
The Nimitz House was named after Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, World War II, Commander in Chief of Pacific Ocean Areas. Nimitz led all allied forces -- air, land and sea -- in the war against Japan.
The war ended after the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. A few days later, the Japanese surrendered, on August 14,1945. The world war had lasted six years. Between 70 and 85 million people were killed, mostly civilians, and many more were injured, sickened and displaced.
Among the dead were six million European Jews, systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany and its allies. Millions of other Europeans deemed subhuman by the Nazis were also murdered. This group included Slavs, ethnic Poles, Roma, gay men, and political and religous opponents of the regime.
Before there was a Treasure Island, the U.S. miltary trained on Yerba Buena Island, from 1898-1923. It was the first modern, American naval station on the West Coast.
Neighboring Yerba Buena Island, also part of the redevelopment, is a naturally occurring island on relatively high ground, so none of its buildings are currently threatened by SLR.
The building remains almost completely the same as when in use, from 1891-1960. The original windows endure, though without their glass, and so do the interior railroad tracks.
The new Bay Bridge Tower before the eastern span of the old bridge was demolished The new eastern section is the widest bridge in the world, with both east and west bound traffic on the same level. It provides ten lanes plus a bikeway and a pedestrian path.
Yerba Buena's distinctive octagonal lighthouse is the oldest building on either island. It was completed in 1875 and built for the U.S. Army’s first mid-Bay installation.
In the later 1800s the octagonal lighthouse and its other two builidings became a depot, the home port for an inspector who would sail up and down the coast in a small boat called a tender. He checked other lighthouses and delivered mail and pay to the keepers.
The cliff below the lighthouse was painted white for visibility. Originally passing ships were signaled by a hand-operated fog bell and the brilliant beam was illuminated with lard oil.
Captain Marie B. Byrd is Sector Commander San Francisco of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The lighthouse was automated by the Coast Guard in 1958 and is still in service, despite the bright lights of the bridge above. In the background are parts of both the old, now demolished, and the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
Treasure Island, like other parts of the west coast, the U.S. and world, is threatened by earthquakes as well as SLR. To address both challenges, in 2016 the developers embarked upon a large geotechnical reengineering of the island.
The process seeks two outcomes – one, to fortify the land in case of a large seismic and/or flood event and two, to minimize long-term settlement of land above and below sea level to protect new buildings and infrastructure.
To mitigate these geotechnical risks, subterranean soil is being strengthened using four ground-improvement techniques. Wick drains are installed to accelerate the compression of the wet Bay mud beneath the fill.
The white tapes are the tops of the wick drains, which look like huge flexible drinking straws before installation. They are inserted below the island surface, down to the muddy seabed, to allow excess water to drain out and up into the sand and shoal strata just below the island surface.
Because the causeway between Treasure and Yerba Buena Islands is built almost entirely of rocks, they must be removed before the second phase of soil densification -- the vibro compaction.
For soil densification, the second geotechnical process, the arrays of massive vibrocompactors each use four probes to shake up and densify the sand and shoal on which the the island sits.
The vibro compaction process densifies the sandy fill and prevents it from liquefying during earthquakes and floods.
After vibro compaction comes the third process. Loose, uneven land surfaces are smoothed and compacted by huge orange tampers, also suspended from tall cranes.
Fourth, after the topsoil is prepared by the tamper, a large, temporary fill, referred to as a surcharge, is placed on the surface. Surcharges, sometimes in excess of 20 feet high, are heavier than planned buildings and any other future load (soil, plants, pavement and so on) planned for the site. The purpose of the surcharge is to squeeze the compressible Bay mud, so that its excess water will seep up through the wick drains and be dispersed through the sand and shoal strata.
This process allows future buildings and soil to be placed on the surface without significant sinking, also known as settlement. Typically, when the surcharge is removed, about one-third of it is left in place to reach the required finish elevation of the ground. Raised surfaces are another built adaptation to address sea level rise.
On parts of the coast of the island, after tamping, comes a process called deep soil mixing. It strenghthens the shoreline by mixing a cement slurry deep down into the earth, in areas where future facilities will be constructed close to or on the perimeter. These facilities include the ferry terminal, the marina, the causeway, and lifeline utilities.
Like many sites across the country and around the world, parts of the island’s soil were contaminated due to military-industrial practices from 1941 -1997, when the Naval base was decommissioned. Since the detection of toxins, including radiation in the soil, the Navy has been working to decontaminate the island. 75 percent of Treasure Island has been cleaned and certified safe by the State of California for current and planned future uses. The U.S. Navy’s search for, identification, and mitigation of toxins continues.
In the 1960s sailors learned to decontaminate trash resulting from ABC warfare. ABC stands for atomic, biological and chemical weapons. When training was over, some of this trash was left in dumps or buried underground.
In the 1980s, Damage Controlmen on Treasure Island learned to prevent and fight fires and defend against what was now called CBR (Chemical, Biological, Radiological) warfare.
The Golden Gate International Exposition opened in 1939 on the brand new island resting at sea level.
Almost all new buildings will be on top of re-engineered, higher land and a building pad, elevated to safeguard against SLR.
A rendering of how the completed redevelopment of Treasure and Yerba Buena Islands might look from the air shows the San Francisco mainland, to the southwest, in the background.
Some of the outstanding questions: will it be possible to integrate a high-low income community, where the middle is largely missing? The rich majority is likely to mirror the tech sector, Asian and White. Will White and Asian young adults mix with Black and Brown parents and their young children? There will be a new public school system on the island, so that every local child can have a place from pre-k through high school.
Will the wealthy send their children to school with the poor? Will low and high-income earners collaborate on community-wide activities, such as growing food together in the Urban Agricultural Park? Will they intermingle in the plazas and the parks? These types of queries will not be answered until near mid-century. By 2050, new homes, businesses and services are scheduled to have been in full operation for more than ten years.
Art will be everywhere outdoors in the new Treasure Island. As much as 50 million dollars for the redevelopment will be generated by the state's "1 % for Art in Private Development" fund.
Residents of Treasure Island have been making art all along. In 2018 locals worked with Precita Eyes Muralists on a community painting project. First they designed and planned the piece.
Today the Treasure Island community is 2000 strong. The number of residents in 2035 at full buildout is expected to reach 24,000, more than twelve times the current size. More than 70 percent of incoming residents will be mid-to-high income, with the majority in the higher brackets. Currently, mid-to-low income people make up the mix.
Although the population is small, the island is now home to a higher percentage of residents who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) than the greater San Francisco metro area, including much larger but quite diverse communities, Vallejo and Oakland.
The current residents in today’s low-income rentals and subsidized homes will be offered comparable units in the new development. The other half of the current housing stock was upgraded and billed as “market-rate”, although viewed by some renters as sub-standard. These renters will be offered replacement housing on island through a lottery. TIDA and One TI are also providing a program for new homeowners.
The Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) is part of the City and County of San Francisco. TIDA is requiring that 27% of new housing be subsidized, affordable or below market-rate. This obligation is imposed on both non-profit and commercial developers. The redevelopment will continue to provide new homes for the previously incarcerated, formerly homeless and veterans.
In its own Treasure Island-sized way, these provisions try to address the problem of displacement through gentrification that has troubled San Francisco’s mainland over the last 25 years.
Affordable and subsidized housing will be included in mid-rise market-rate buildings in the redevelopment. TIDA's aim is to mix people of different income levels in all aspects of daily life.
Scientists say the Bay Area needs to greatly expand its wetlands in order to combat sea level rise (SLR). The increase targeted is at least 54,000 additional acres, an area twice the size of the city of San Francisco. Treasure Island is using this science in blueprints for the redevelopment.
The greening of Treasure Island, including the smaller public parks and plazas with built features, will create new habitats for resident and migratory species, some of which have gone and might very well return. (ecoatlas/ TIDA 2017)
The redevelopment's rainwater treatment systems are sized to capture and treat 90 percent of annual rainfall volume projected in 2035. (TIDA, TICD, 2017)
Water is already being collected and treated in the first phase of the redo of Treasure Island.
Treasure Island has historically been an insubstantial proposition. Its future, though, if all goes as planned, is solid.
SLR continues to rise, at an accelerating pace in many places. Higher baseline sea level when combined with more intense storms and bigger waves creates higher risk of flooding in all coastal areas.
Clipper Cove is along the island's relatively protected southeast shore and marina. These diagrams chart the current mean high water level (MHWL) of 5.6 feet and predict a future mark of 8.6 feet.
The streets, with their sidewalks and bike trails, will be laid out in a way which, as well as sheltering people from the wind, will maximize sun exposure for warmth. Street design for the new development favors pedestrian and bike traffic over automobiles.
From TIDA's 2011 design document for the redevelopment, "The design will create a place specific landscape and recognize the island's unique human-made conditions by amplifying the constructed edge, engaging the natural forces of the Bay, and creating landscape that responds to these conditions."
During the Golden Gate International Exposition, one of the island's nicknames was 'The Magic City', but WWII shortly put an end to the idyll and its gorgeous lawns and gardens. Treasure Island was a concrete town for the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st.
On the redeveloped island's north and east, called The Wilds, wetlands and green space are designed to absorb both rainwater and ocean waves if they breach the perimeter. In turn both types of water will nourish the landscape.
The new parks system, like the full redevelopment, reaches across both islands. The enhancement of green space on Yerba Buena Island will follow existing contours of the land.
A state-of-the-art rainwater management system will rid the islands of ponding stormwater and recycle it.
Some of the rainwater will be biotreated and released into the Bay. All drinking water will be piped from the mainland.
Recognition for sustainability represented in TIDA's 2011 Design for Development for Treasure Island:
--LEED-ND Platinum certification, the highest designation for a green, sustainable development
--Designated by the Clinton Climate Initiative (now C40 Cities) as one of only 18 Climate Positive Projects worldwide
--Honored by the American Institute of Architects as a “new urban ecology with innovative sustainable strategies"