A Great Photo of the Treasure Island Map…Almost.

TI Night color card-60070

In the Bay between San Francisco and Oakland sits lovely, windy Treasure Island.  Originally the site of the San Francisco 1939 World’s Fair and later a Naval Base, this prime parcel is being turned to other uses, from residential to movie & TV production.

In the 1990s, T.I. was still occupied by the Navy but not much was going on. Limited areas were open to the public but sometimes the guard stations were unmanned and you could drive around the island which was practically deserted.

A surpassing amount remained from the fair. In front of the old Administration building there were statues in the style known as “Pacifica”.


Most of the statues you see here still exist.

TI Statue-lady 67-60070

Doesn’t she look great for her age? (Her leaves have been repaired).

And there was the terracotta fountain—a topographic map of the Pacific Basin, executed by Gladding-McBean. The map originally sat on the floor of the Japanese pavilion and people stood on a second floor rotunda looking down at an “aerial” view of the Pacific. The Navy decided to put the map in storage and to do this they had to cut it into little pieces. I got call from Anne Schnobelen who was working with the Treasure Island Museum. Could I take a picture looking straight down at the map?  Sure, but I’d have to rent scaffolding and build a platform over the thing.

I don’t remember who decided this was more effort than it was worth but in the end, we were assisted by the Treasure Island Fire Department.  The idea was to use a fire truck ladder at a near-horizontal angle to reach out over the map so I could look straight down.


That’s me, moving very slowly out the end of the ladder. If you’re not already impressed by what fire fighters do, try climbing a ladder like this on a hot day wearing a helmet and a fire retardant jacket.

It almost worked. I’m ok with ladders when both ends are resting on something.  But when one end of the ladder is out in space, bobbing around, that’s no fun at all. We wore full firefighting gear which included jackets, helmets and a belt with a Carabiner we hooked to the rungs. You’ll notice I said “we”. They had a guy behind me working the clamp as we moved along. Whenever either of us moved, the ladder would bounce. Like a tuning fork. The further we went, the bigger the bounce. With no free hand, I had my big Pentax 67 with the 55mm lens (about a 28mm on a 35mm camera) around my neck.

After a few minutes of “climbing” it was obvious I lacked the nerve to go out to the very last rung of the ladder. Having gotten that far, I took some shots of the fountain at an oblique angle.  From this viewpoint, the earth was more like an olive but with the magic of Photoshop I can now make things a bit rounder.  Since the ladder wasn’t exactly stable, I wanted a lot of photos to make sure some were sharp. But the Pentax 67 gave just 10 shots per roll. I managed to change rolls, but when closing the back I hit the release buttons for the camera’s removable prism. Down it went, coming to rest somewhere near American Samoa. The map sustained a tiny nick near Tahiti but the prism required burial at sea.


Couldn’t we just take a photo from this angle?


As far as I got, rotated so north is at the top. Not one of my greatest accomplishments but since the map is now in pieces less than a foot square, it’s nice to have a record of what it was like.



I love terra cotta but I also really like terra firma.







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2 Responses to A Great Photo of the Treasure Island Map…Almost.

  1. Carol Sheerin says:

    Hi Randy,

    My late husband took me to see this map when we were first married and moved to SF in 1963. He was originally from Millbrae.
    I had met him when he was a Naval Officer in Long Beach so he had access to TI Naval Base.
    I didn’t really know what I was seeing until I learned about the GGIE many years later.
    I wish I could remember more of what I actually saw. I do remember that parts of the map were broken.
    I also later got a photo album from my Mother and in it were a few small black and white photos of my parents visit to the 1939 Fair.

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