Seventy-five years ago Berkeleyans were enjoying the first week of the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. The GGIE opened with extensive ceremonies and hoopla on Feb. 18 and 19, 1939.
On the eve of the exposition opening the Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a special section lauding the GGIE and giving information for attending. "Treasure Island, 'magic city' risen from the waters of San Francisco Bay as a new and lustrous gem in Northern California's diadem, glistened in the sunlight today in anticipation of its world-heralded premier," the coverage began.
Once admitted to the grounds, "you can wander gratis from wonder to shining wonder in exhibit palaces, or stroll free down avenues, or along courts and gardens of such surpassing beauty they might have been transported from a Persian Shah's domain." Visitors would be greeted by "scores of beautiful girls ... ready to swing into action as hostesses and cashiers."
Berkeley's Municipal Legion Band, sponsored by Berkeley Post # of the American Legion was on hand at the east ferry entrance on Treasure Island to serenade visitors during the opening. The band, with its 25 professional musicians, had been selected as an "official receptionist musical organization" of the GGIE.
It cost 10 cents each way to ride the ferry to and from Oakland and connect to Key System trains. Trains designated "X" for Exposition also ran over the Bay Bridge to the island. Drivers paid 50 cents round trip to cross the Bay Bridge and another 50 cents to park in the 12,000-space lot on Treasure Island.
Berkeley had a connection to the expo opening through the work of W.R. Burke, a Berkeley jeweler at 2199 Shattuck Ave. who "designed and assisted in the fabrication of" the symbolic "key" that opened the festivities. The key, 10 inches long and weighing half a pound, was made of gold, jewels, and enamel contributed by jewelers throughout the United States. Topped with a Golden Gate Bridge in carved gold in front of a sunset of "sparkling diamonds," it was valued at $35,000.
On Friday, Feb. 17, 1939, Berkeley High School students and staff echoed the Wild West theme of the opening by wearing costumes to school and gathering on the athletic field in the afternoon for prizes, a parade, and dancing. Faculty dressed up for class, including Latin language teacher Miss Margaret Webb, who wore a green wool dress, "an authentic costume of the covered wagon era." Miss Mabel Fairchild, art teacher, wore a green taffeta wedding gown from 1849, with an 85-year-old shawl embroidered by her grandmother.
"Thousands jam isle as gates swing open for massive show", the Gazette headlined Feb. 18. Cars had started lining up at 2 a.m. to enter Treasure Island. Visitors had been encouraged to bring their own lunches since the 100 restaurants and eateries on Treasure Island weren't expected to be able to handle the overflow opening crowds.
Another Berkeley component of the expo was a "modern, livable and beautiful" new home to be built on Grizzly Peak Boulevard between Muir Way and Shasta Avenue, with "an unobstructed view of the Exposition and Golden Gate." Designed by Paul Hammarburg and built by J.M. Walker, it was sponsored by the Berkeley Realty Board. It would be one of 35 new homes around the Bay Area included in tours, starting in May 1939 as part of the "Exposition Model Homes Tour."
The murder trial of Rodney Greig of Berkeley, who was charged with stabbing Leona Vlught of Oakland to death on a date, began Feb. 20, 1939. Greig had changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.