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Island History

Throughout its eight decades, Treasure Island has hosted and celebrated a spectrum of inspiring human achievements in art, architecture, engineering and visionary national and civic endeavors, the first of which was the construction of the island itself. Explore the history detailed in the online exhibit, You Are Here: The Story of Treasure Island.


The 400 acre artificial island was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1936-37 on the shoals of neighboring Yerba Buena Island. Constructed of mud dredged from the Bay, it may have been named for the gold its soil might contain. The federal government paid for its construction and for three permanent buildings which would serve a potential future airport.

The original purpose of Treasure Island was to host the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition. The GGIE was a glowing Art Deco “Magic City” of towers, gardens, goddesses, and dazzling lighting effects created to celebrate the ascendency of California and San Francisco as economic, political, and cultural forces in the Pacific region.


The fair also celebrated the local engineering achievements of the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bridges and the birth of transpacific air passenger service with the advent of the Pan American Airways Clippers.  The fair billed itself optimistically as “A Pageant of the Pacific.”  


The beautiful 1938 Art Moderne “Building 1” was the administrative center for the World’s Fair and the terminal building for the Pan Am Clippers, which were to remain on the island after the fair.


But in 1941, the U.S. Navy moved onto Treasure Island as America prepared for World War II. The island became a major training and education center, with 4.5 million personnel shipped overseas from Treasure Island.  By the time the war ended in 1945, aviation had changed dramatically.  The Pan Am Clippers were no longer in regular service, and the island was never developed as an airport. The Navy stayed on.

During the cold war years, the island was a major training, supply and embarkation station for American military efforts throughout the Pacific and Asia. Personnel trained on and shipped from Treasure Island supported American military activity in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.


The Treasure Island Museum was founded in 1975 to tell the island’s story as the site of a world’s fair, a historic aviation site, and a hub for American military activity in the Pacific.


Naval Station Treasure Island was closed in 1997 and leased to the City of San Francisco. Shortly afterwards, the enormous hangar buildings were   converted to sound stages for feature films such as The Matrix, Parent Trap, and television shows such as Nash Bridges and Discovery Channel’s Prototype This! 


Today the island is open to the public and is home to over 2,000 residents, commercial tenants, restaurants, schools, arts and athletic organizations and community organizations, and a Job Corps campus.

Treasure and Yerba Buena Islands are now in the beginning stages of a sustainably designed redevelopment project which will create up to 8,000 residences, open space across three-fourths of TI and much of YBI, and a compact mixed-use commercial center serving island residents.


Treasure Island will become a destination for Bay Area residents and tourists from around the world.  Waterfront promenades will display public art and offer spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay.  Frequent ferry service will bring visitors from San Francisco’s Ferry Building.


The Clinton Climate Initiative (now C40) designated the redevelopment plan as one of only 19 model Climate Positive Projects worldwide. It was awarded LEED-ND Platinum certification, becoming only the 17th in the world to receive the highest designation possible for a green, sustainable development. The American Institute of Architects honored it as a “new urban ecology with innovative sustainable strategies.”

The Treasure Island Museum is planned to return to full operation in Building One as part of the redevelopment project.


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