In his mind's eye, William Chamberlain sees the statue Pacifica, all 80 feet of her, presiding over Treasure Island as she did during the Golden Gate International Expositions in 1939 and '40. He imagines her once again hailed as the Statue of Liberty of the West, an instantly identifiable icon beckoning to all who enter San Francisco Bay.
In her first life, Pacifica bore witness to wonders that seemed to pop up like dandelions in the Bay Area: the Golden Gate and Bay bridges; Treasure Island, a 440-acre man-made marvel; the China Clipper, a luxurious "flying boat" that could transport commercial passengers across vast expanses of ocean from San Francisco to the Far East.¿
Chamberlain, 70, is a Southern California native who earned a degree in electronic and civil engineering, then forged a career of "doing pretty much anything that's been done with a computer." In 2008, 32 years after moving to Oakland, he learned of Pacifica from an acquaintance. He became enthralled with the statue's history and is convinced it would be the perfect complement to a redeveloped Treasure Island, telling the story of its fascinating past while helping write its future. "The two together fit perfectly," he said of the statue and the island. "They need each other."
A couple of things will have to be addressed to bring Chamberlain's dream to life, starting with money. The original Pacifica statue, conceived by artist Ralph Stackpole as a female composite of varied Pacific Rim ethnicities, was demolished by the Navy in its haste to transform Treasure Island into a military installation at the dawn of World War II. Chamberlain estimates it could take as much as $2 million to replicate the statue. He hopes to fund the project with private money and estimates $200,000 has been raised to date. He is preparing a campaign on Kickstarter, an online fundraising portal for creative projects.
"I'm not worried about the dollar figure," he said. "I'm just worried about getting the information out there."
Another issue: location. Chamberlain would love to see Pacifica placed in front of Building 1 -- the curved, two-story structure that was part of the original construction on the island. "If it was put up in front of Building 1, you could see it from the Ferry Building," he said. "It would be beautiful."
Treasure Island has a temporary public arts policy, but long-term development plans could dictate where any potential statuary might go.
"It allows for us to put art pieces on the great lawn," said Mirian Saez, director of island operations. "We love art. If he had the Pacifica statue ready to roll out a door we would make every effort to get her temporarily installed on the great lawn. The (long-range) planning is that a ferry terminal would be in front of Building 1. Those are things that Treasure Island developers would need to consider."
Kheay Loke is a project manager at Wilson Meany, the master developer of Treasure Island. Loke says the sweeping development plan, an eco-friendly mix of neighborhoods, retail businesses and open space, has passed the environmental impact review, but financing has yet to be finalized.
"We're encouraged," he said. "In terms of timing, we expect to break ground late next year." But an art policy, Loke said, is a consideration for another day.
No one disputes Pacifica's enduring, timeless connection to the past. Treasure Island was built, at a cost of nearly $4 million, specifically to host the Golden Gate International Exposition. Newsreels reveal a wonderland of lush landscaping, lagoons, fountains, a "gayway" of arcade-style attractions (including Sally Rand's Nude Ranch), a ski jump and a 400-foot-tall Tower of the Sun on the east end of the island. The Pacifica statue was in the Court of the Seven Seas to the west.
A 1 million-gallon pool hosted Billy Rose's Aquacade, which featured future movie star Esther Williams, Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller and a young performer named Sal DeGuarda who became enamored with Pacifica.
Half a century later, DeGuarda still carried a torch for the statue. Inspired by 50th anniversary observances of the Exposition, he decided it should be reconstructed and displayed on Treasure Island.
Chamberlain met DeGuarda at an art show in 2008. DeGuarda shared his memories of Pacifica and his desire to see the statue given a second life. Chamberlain was instantly hooked.
"I thought, 'Holy Moses, how could I have been here this long and missed this?'" he said.
Together, DeGuarda and Chamberlain commissioned two 8-foot replicas. One is on display in City Hall in Pacifica, the town that took the name of the statue. They spread the story of the Treasure Island exposition, brought back a second year after losing money the first; how the island was originally intended to be repurposed as San Francisco's international airport; how with the drumbeat of war as a backdrop, the Navy wiped the island almost clean, a process that included using chains to pull Pacifica into a free-falling face plant.
On March 5, 2012, DeGuarda died at 92. But Chamberlain has not given up.
Chamberlain said he has enlisted the support of engineers, electricians and contractors. The plan, Chamberlain said, is to build the new statue in sections that can be slipped over an anchored post, giving it portability.
"I wanted the statue up at first because I felt a connection," Chamberlain said. "I liked it. It was nondenominational. But then I began seeing how much it inspired Sal late in his life, and what it meant to him. He kept looking back on it. He kept realizing what he learned there. That was inspiring."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.
To donate to the quest to again raise Pacifica, go to http://pacificastatueproject.org/donate.