"Little Island - Big Ideas" Lecture Series



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April 24th, 2021


Music Filled the Air:

Symphony, Swing and Popular Song on Treasure Island


Music filled the air on Treasure Island during 1939 and 1940, the years of the Golden Gate International Exposition. WPA ensembles found a welcome reception, the San Francisco Symphony featured famous artists, a giant carillon sounded 

several times a day, organists shared sacred music, and the greatest popular bands and singers played to enormous, enthusiastic crowds, to give just a few examples.


This lecture will present an overview of the fair’s musical offerings and highlight two unique events. An outstanding African American chorus from Oakland presented the Swing Mikado, a revision of Gilbert and Sullivan’s iconic operetta, relocated to a South Seas Island and embellished with swing versions of several numbers.


Then, in what W.C. Handy described as "a program that was never before nor can ever again be duplicated,” a galaxy of star composers and performers of the popular music world appeared in the fair’s nationally-broadcast concluding concert for an audience that overflowed the 9,000-seat auditorium. The lecture will feature an extensive collection of photos as well as unusual audio examples.


Speaker: Leta Miller is a Professor of Music (Emerita) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of the book Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War.

You must register here to receive a link to the April 24 Zoom lecture.

Until further notice, lectures will be held online. You must register to receive a Zoom login link.

These ongoing talks on the past, present and future of Treasure Island cover topics including Treasure and Yerba Buena Island history, San Francisco world’s fairs, naval history, current island activities and redevelopment, island sustainability, the Golden Gate International Exposition, and art and architecture on Treasure Island.

Construction Notice:  As redevelopment progresses, street and transit access and parking will be in flux. Here are current directions, but they will change from time to time.

Driving, as you approach Building One, after the stop sign, turn right into the parking lot. The Muni 25 stop has been reinstated on Avenue of the Palms between California and 3rd Street near Building One (inbound) and across from the inbound stop on Avenue of the Palms between California and 3rd Street (outbound to San Francisco).

See the Directions page for maps and directions to the safer new westbound Bay Bridge on-ramp.

The “Little Island, Big Ideas” lecture series is presented with support from the Treasure Island Development Authority and funding from the Historic Preservation Fund of the City and County of San Francisco, Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Coming Lectures

May 29th.            Pacific Mystery
10:30 am             The Voyage of the Sea Dragon

When famed adventurer and travel writer Richard Halliburton began planning his voyage from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate International Exposition, he had just published his two Books of Marvels, The Occident and The Orient. What better location for the world-famous author to greet his public than on Treasure Island, site of the “Pageant of the Pacific”? His voyage across the Pacific in a customed-designed Chinese junk would be a symbolic expression of the Asian-American goodwill embodied by the exposition. He planned his next book, The Royal Road to Romance in the USA, to open with a chapter on the Pacific crossing.


From the start, Halliburton’s effort to build a suitable junk was plagued by setbacks. Halliburton’s homosexuality and his aesthetic design changes irked his captain, the proudly masculine John Wenlock Welch. The crew grew doubtful about the vessel’s seaworthiness, and tension mounted as Japanese armies swept across China. After several aborted departures, in early March 1939 Halliburton and a crew of fourteen set sail from Hong Kong aboard the Sea Dragon for the 9000 mile voyage across the Pacific to the fair.


Speaker: Gerry Max is the author of Horizon Chasers-The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney (McFarland, 2007) as well as Richard Halliburton and the Voyage of the Sea Dragon (University of Tennessee Press, 2020).  His articles on Halliburton and travel have appeared in numerous journals. Gerry conducts seminars on travel literature and other humanities courses at colleges and universities in the Northern Midwest. Now living in Madison, Wisconsin, he and his wife Carole formerly lived in San Francisco.

You must register here to receive a link to the May 29 Zoom lecture.

Click here for the archive of all lecture flyers from March 2013.

Click here for titles and abstracts of all lectures.

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