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Court of Reflections, San Francisco 1939 World's Fair

Golden Gate International Exposition

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Quick List Info

San Francisco 1940 Poster

Dates Open - 1939 Season - February 18 to October 29, 1939. Open 254 days. (Open Sundays)

1940 Season - May 25 to September 29, 1940. Open 128 days. (Open Sundays)

Attendance - 1939 - 10,496,203 paid (with small number of passes). This figure did not include employees and participants.

1940 - 5,135,897 paid; 6,575,416/6,572,778 total including paid, employees, and participants.

International Participants - 1939 - 23 Nations and 4 Colonies.

1940 - 22 Nations and 5 Colonies.

Total Cost - 1939 - Operating Expenses $6.704m + Amortized Capital Assets ($11.171m) + Post/Pre Period Expenses $3.368 + Permanent Improvements $7.907 = $29,150,000.

1940 - Operating Expenses $1.760m + Amortized Capital Assets ($11.171m) + Post/Pre Period Expenses ($1.564M) + Permanent Improvements $7.907 = $22,402,000.

Site Acreage - 400 acres on Treasure Island in the center of San Francisco Bay.

Sanction and Type - Unsanctioned by the Bureau of International Exhibitions. Would be considered a Universal style Registered event today like those on the 0 years of the decade. Was federally recognized. Designated by President Roosevelt and Congress as America's official World's Fair of the West in 1939 with invitations to all nations sent by the President.

Ticket Cost - 50 cents adult in 1939. In 1940, Adult Price still 50 cents, Season Book ws $7.50.

Photo top center: Court of Reflections, 1939-1940. Original Source Unknown, courtesy, Pinterest. Column Top: Poster from San Francisco 1940, likely source Exposition Authority. Courtesy Pinterest.

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History of the Event

Golden Gate International Exposition 1915

It was the unsanctioned cousin of the larger New York fair, but San Francisco's Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40 might have had one of the most spectacular settings in World's Fair history, the middle of San Francisco Bay. It celebrated the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, although the official theme was "Pacific Unity." Yes, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, that became an even more ironic theme than it ever intended to be. The site chosen, the Yerba Buena shoals, were initially rejected, but by 1936, the site had been chosen with the city/state leasing it to the Expo Authority, to turn it over to the city afterwards to be the municipal airport.

There were lots of public private initiatives going in in the 1930's as the Federal government tried to overcome the depression. The San Francisco Bay Exposition company got over four million dollars from the Works Progress Administration to reclaim and improve the shoals and nearly two million dollars from the W.P.A. to fund permanent and temporary improvement to the site. Sponsor's funds would cover the rest. Officially, the city and county became the sponsor of the exposition, but the Expo Authority underwrote the city responsibility.

Above photo. Poster for the Indian Court in the Federal Building, 1939, WPA, Louis B. Siegriest. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Map of the Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons via U.C. Berkeley Bancroft Library.

San Francisco 1939 Fairgrounds Map
The United States appropriated $1.5 million for a Federal Buildling, barracks for troops, and a Coast Guard Station. There were 234 commercial exhibitors and 333 concessionaires. The commercial exhibits were housed in exhibit palaces: Aviation, Homes and Gardens, Mines, Mining and Machinery, Electricity, Communications, and Transportation, Hall of Science, and Foods and Beverages. Principal private exhibits buildings, financed by exhibitors were Bank of America, Ford Motor Company, National Cash Register Company, Temple of Religion, and Christian Science Activities, plus a cadre of others. The main exhibits were placed in six blocks of buildings spaced by broad courts such as the Court of Honor where the Tower of Sun was, the Court of Seven Seas, Court of the Moon, and the Enchanted Gardens.

By the end of the first year, World War was roaring in Europe, but the public favored a reopening. After the 1940 season, the Navy took over the site, postponing the idea of a municipal airport, using for World War II purposes, which continued after the war as well. The airport was eventually built south of the city.

The Golden Gate International Exposition was not as successful as they would have liked. It didn't turn a profit and had problems starting on opening day. Although the attendance on February 18, 1939 was high, 128,697, the authority had predicted 200,000. There had been bad publicity with congestion on the Bay Bridge predicted, telling guests to come by ferry and that the facilities would be inadequate. Visitors were told to bring their own lunch. Attendance was low into June until tourist travel picked up and the weather got better. There was a deficit of $9,106,489.10, although, to be fair, how accounting accounted for the remaining structures and improvements to Yerba Buena probably mitigates that story a bit.

Historian's Perspective

Marvin Nathan - "National public reaction was limited, though Life Magazine did a couple of spreads. Word of mouth is hard to judge since the advertising campaign for this fair was very sophisticated, using demographics, Hollywood type hooplah and lots of celebration over the bridges. Local word of mouth seems pretty strong, however. There was a good deal of positive coverage in San Francisco and California papers, even some in national papers and magazines. On opening day major San Francisco papers ran large full page color illustrations and whole expo sections. I don't know of any concerted negativism, though by 1940 the papers talked a lot about the GGIE's financial problems. (Expo Authority) Very slick effort with exhibitors' brochures, chamber of commerce support, corporate participation, newspaper coverage. The big problems were the Depression and the New York fair. The consensus seems to be that people who attended the fair had a good time, despite the MGM lighting effects, cheap looking structural materials and honky-tonk tone of many of the Gayway amusements. The reaction of employment probably has a lot to do with the setting in the Bay, the release from both Depression and emerging war fears, and lots of freebies given out in the exhibition halls. Good publicity, though the papers began to bewail the financial losses and some complained about the Barbary Coast character of some of the amusements."

Unsanctioned Universal

San Francisco 1939-40

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

1939 Season - Argentine Republic, Australia, Brazil, Republic of Chile, (British Columbia) Canada, Columbia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, French Indo China, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Jahore, Mexico, Netherlands, Netherlands East Indies, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Sweden, United States.

1940 Season - Belgium, Brazil (official), British India (C), British West Indies, Columbia (official), Czechoslovakia. (official), Denmark (official), Ecuador (official), France, Frend Indo China, Great Britain, Holland, Hungary, Italy (official), Japan (official), Malaysia (official) (C), Mexico, Neth. East Indies (C), Norway (official), Persia, Peru (official), Philippines, Porgual (official), Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, USA.

In 1940, there were only eleven official national pavilions.

Expo Tidbits
Entertainment shows included the Cavalcade with five hundred performers. It made $750,560.85 and a net profit of $55,101. Attendance 1,075,607. The Fine Arts Palace made 1939 revenue of $294,482.10. The Folies Bergere and the Ziegfields Follies attracted many visitors with the Follies Bergere the more successful.

Billy Rose was contracted for the 1940 season to operate the "Treasure Island Water Follies" or Aquacade. It played an imporatant role in contributing to the general attendance in 1940.

Navy leased large portion of site on 2-3-1941 for maximum of 5 years.

Expenditures of $65 million were spent by tourists in the city of San Francisco due to the Golden Gate International Exposition. California did $367 million more business in the first six months of 1939 than the year before.

The Administration building, now headquarters of the Naval Station Treasure Island, home of the Navy-operated Treasure Island Museum, was also used to represent the Nazi air terminal in Georege Lucas' "Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade".

Sea Wall & Sand Fill, Roads and Bridges, Water Supply and Drainage, Building at Stockton & Bush Streets in San Francisco, Two Hangar Buildings, Airport Terminal Building, Service roads, sanitary sewer, High Pressure Water system, domestic water system, Yerba Buena water supply, top soil, fire hydrants, fountain equipment, South Gardens, Paving, and Electrical equipment.

Those in Charge

Article of incorporation and bylaws filed with California State on July 24, 1934, signed by R.F. Allen, Allen L. Chicering, Alfred J. Cleary, Colbert Coldwell, John F. Forbes, R.B. Hale, J.W. Mailliard, Jr., Atholl McBean, B.B Meek. Progress committee was formed on July 27, 1934 with members Alfred J. Cleary, Leland W. Cutler, John F. Forbes, J.W. Mailliard, Jr., Atholl McBean. President of fair in 1939 was Leland W. Cutler. Marshall Dill was President in 1940.

San Francisco 1939 International Exposition

Sources: Closing Report: San Francisco Bay Exposition - Sponsor for the Golden Gate International Exposition, H.C. Bottorff, 1942 ; The Anthropology of World's Fairs: Story of Exhibitions; All the World's a Fair; History of Centennials, Fairs and Expositions; New York Times; London Times; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; Fair News; Ephemeral Vistas; History of Centennials, Fairs and Expositions; Fair Representations, "Re-Presenting the Nation: The Golden Gate Internatinal Exhibition" by Lisa Rubens.

Photo column top: Entrance to the Hall of Transportation on Treasure Island, date unknown, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress. Bottom: Golden Gate International Exposition 1939 Issue Stamp, 1939, U.S Postal Service. Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

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To the 1930s

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