SF Bay Area

When Treasure Island Burned Down

Updated: May 14, 2021 09:45
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Treasure Island, Thursday, April 10 1947. (sf public library archive)

Treasure Island was built by dredging and then dumping imported debris into the shoals of the north side of Yerba Buena Island in 1939.  An island to help host and show off the Golden Gate International Exposition.  A lot of the buildings were made of wood or plaster, built quickly, and not necessarily made to last, after all it was literally made to host parties celebrating the constructions of SF’s two great bridges.

TI from above.

The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. SF’s expositions opened from February 18, 1939, through October 29, 1939, and from May 25, 1940, through September 29, 1940.   For the World’s Fair all kinds of other sculptures, buildings, exhibits and carnival attractions were built.   This awesome archival video advertises the fair and its achievements:

Now, back to the fires that nearly leveled the entire island. In 1940, it became clear that the man made island was susceptible to fire, when one of it’s grand exhibition buildings burnt down.

The island survived but after the fair was through, it didn’t have much use.  Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, and declaration of war with Japan.  The SF Bay was completely converted once again, from a palace of fairs for tourism, to a war machine for the US Navy.  Military ship building and US Marine training became the new reality all over the SF Bay.

On Treasure Island the ‘world’s largest mess hall’ was built to feed the thousands of young soldiers, and sailors streaming in to join the war in the Pacific.

Firetruck, Treasure Island, 1940.

And on April 1oth 1947 the island caught fire once again.  (you can read the Navy engineer’s full and official report here).

According the Naval report, forty-one men, including seven San Francisco firemen and 29 Navy and Marine personnel, as well civilian members of the Treasure Island Fire Department, suffered injuries, none of them serious.

April 10, 1947.

You could see the black smoke from across the SF Bay.

TI, April 10, 1947

The fire started from causes unknown in a huge L-shaped building, being approximately 1000 by 200 feet, and about 50 feet high, constructed of wood and stucco and reported to have six layers of tar paper on its roof.

The structure called ‘Building 137’, also known as ‘Barracks K’, which served as the Foods and Beverages Building during the fair, and was quickly converted to serve the Navy during the war.

Chief McKenna of T. I. Fire Department said a check showed 3½-million gallons of water were used in the first hour and forty-five minutes of the fire.

In addition to the T. I. Fire Department and other companies which responded to the fire which technically was within the city limits (District 6), San Francisco sent 52  pumpers, 8 hose tenders, 9 trucks and 1 fire boat. And a majority of the island’s unique mixture of converted military and touristic buildings survived.

Nowadays, Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island are being converted into neighborhoods with hundreds (266) of new condos for residences.

San Francisco’s Bay, keeps changing, growing, and evolving, in dynamic and incredible ways.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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