Treasure Island the Second

Treasure Island was built in 1939 for the Golden Gate International Exposition. Dirt from the bay was dredged up, along with rocks, to create a 393 acre playground for the world’s fair in San Francisco. After the fair, the utterly flat island was going to be turned into an airfield, but the Navy worked out an exchange and took over the island as a base, which it ran until 1997.

The Navy totally reshaped the island, removing most of the world’s fair buildings and establishing a new layout. When the island was opened to limited public use, the apartments on the island were taken over by a leasing company, and are rented out to a variety of people. Much of the island, however, consists of abandoned and dangerous remains of the military occupation. These, of course, have been thoroughly explored by the residents, who form a community all their own within the environment of the city.

Many of the residents of the island are low income, and some belong to the job corps program, which attempts to get youth out of the inner city and into the active working world. Some people claim that the island is unsafe or scary because of this–I certainly didn’t get that sense there. Indeed, I felt a stronger sense of community and connection there than anywhere else in the Bay Area. Walking around the island, we said hello to everyone we ran into. Cars driving through waved at us and we waved back. I saw joggers and people walking dogs through the maze of decaying buildings.

It’s an amazing place, half occupied and half abandoned.

bay bridge from treasure island

From the island, you can clearly see the work being done on the new span of the Bay Bridge. I’m hoping they will fix the entries and exits to and from the island as well, because they are rather hairy (especially the east-bound entrance onto the island, where one goes from a 65 mile an hour freeway into a sharp u-turn). The new span of the bridge will be a single pier suspension, which should be quite incredible to see.

abandoned building on treasure island

I was captivated by the building above, which the fire department uses for burn practice. I can’t imagine what the original use for it might have been.


There is quite a sizeable depot of assorted items, including old military vehicles, computer parts, and piles of twisted metal. It’s an immensely large warehouse–this image only gives you an idea of what’s in there.

giant drill bit

This is a rather impressive drill bit, and another shot of the storage area.

abandoned bowling alley

This is the abandoned bowling alley–there’s a massive movie theatre next door. When it was a military base, Treasure Island must have been a fun posting. There are all sorts of buildings there that were obviously once interesting places to go. A self-contained entertainment centre, in a way.

caution sign

Much of the island is badly contaminated, and these signs litter empty lots. Behind this sign is a group of apartments identical to those being leased by island residents. The friends I was visiting tell me the apartments are in mint condition, behind the fences and the big caution signs.

chair on treasure island

Looking back towards Berkeley, with a convenient place to sit.

I’m sad to read of the proposal for a development on Treasure Island which would reshape the island yet again. The plan is to essentially turn the island into another outpost of suburbia, rather than a unique community. Especially given the toxic state of the island, I’m unclear on how exactly the company intends to turn it into a “green utopia.” It will also be a great tragedy to lose all the low income housing, the wide variety of residents from young professionals to punk squatters. Treasure Island is a magical place by its very nature, and I think it should be left that way, personally.

Tomorrow: pictures of the more industrial parts of the island.

[Treasure Island]