Our October program will focus on the 49 Mile Scenic Drive, which was created in anticipation of tourists visiting San Francisco for the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition. The fair was held to celebrate the opening of the city’s two new bridges. The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was dedicated on November 12, 1936; the Golden Gate Bridge was dedicated on May 27, 1937; and on August 26, 1937, dredging for man- made Treasure Island, the site of the fair, was complete. Treasure Island was designed to be the city’s airport, and it did briefly serve in that capacity throughout the run of the fair, and shortly thereafter, until the U.S. Navy took over Treasure Island as America prepared to enter World War Two.The only airplanes that consistently operated from Treasure Island were the Pan Am Clippers, which offered the first regular commercial passenger service from the United States to the Orient. Since the clippers were sea planes, the Port of the Tradewinds was constructed between man-made Treasure Island and the natural island of Yerba Buena to provide a watery landing strip.
Only diplomats and the ultra-rich were able to travel aboard the clippers. According to the Pacific Aviation Museum, a one-way trip from San Francisco to Hong Kong would set you back $1,368 – in 1939 money! The interiors were fashioned in the mode of passenger trains or ships, only far more luxurious. There were separate private quarters for sleeping, meals were served in an area that resembled a railroad dining car, and general rooms were provided for games and entertainment.
In short, San Francisco was celebrating its new-found accessibility. Prior to the construction of the bridges, travel by land was only feasible from the South Bay. Commuters from the North or East bays would board the ferry, and automobile owners had the option of having their cars transported by ferry as well. The Key System, which had formerly connected railroad passengers to the ferry, operated a two-way passenger railroad line on the lower deck of the newly constructed Bay Bridge. And those who could afford airline travel now had the option of flying to and from the City of San Francisco.
But plans for a permanent airport on Treasure Island were scuttled. The United States armed forces had been stationed on Yerba Buena Island for many years, and citizens were seriously worried about enemy submarine attacks in the early 1940s. Treasure Island afforded an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate, from whence enemy watercraft could be observed. Also, aviation technology had developed at an unforeseen pace, and it was determined that Treasure Island would not be large enough to serve as an airport. The existing airport down on the peninsula was expanded, and the U.S. Navy set up operations on Treasure Island. Can you imagine the traffic jams on the Bay Bridge if the airport had been located at Treasure Island?
Today, as San Francisco is rapidly expanding, commuters are necessarily reverting to public transportation, not only by bus and intercity trains, but by ferries traveling across the bay. Historic streetcars, which require far less maintenance than their modern computerized counterparts, rumble down Market Street just as they did 100 years ago. The automobile is perhaps the most cumbersome way of traversing the streets of the City by the Bay. All the old methods of transportation are new again. And now, authors Kristine Poggioli and Carolyn Eidson have cleverly described the joys of walking the 49 Mile Scenic Drive – a route that was initially developed in the mid-twentieth century age of the automobile.