DANVILLE -- It was a different time when the entire family, decked out in their Sunday best, would hop into the car to make the trek to the world's fair on the newly created Treasure Island.
That's exactly how Alamo resident Claudia Nemir remembers the full year that the Golden Gate International Exposition graced the shores of that man-made island, from February 1939 to September 1940.
"We'd go to the fair often," Nemir, 79, recalled. "My grandmother would call Sunday morning after church and say, 'Let's go to the fair this afternoon.' And we'd go to the fair. We'd go for two or three hours and come home. There was lots of entertainment going on at the fair."
Nemir's recollections help bring to life the Museum of San Ramon Valley's Pageant of the Pacific exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Treasure Island World's Fair, as many called it. The museum also has a Totally Trains model train summer exhibit. Both exhibits will be open through Aug. 17.
The Treasure Island World's Fair "was a big deal in 1939 and 1940," exhibit coordinator Jerry Warren said. "People repeatedly went to it. It was the entertainment of the hour. This was the break between the Great Depression and the start of World War II for the United States. It was a break before the world exploded. People were ready to party. They needed a celebration."
The international exposition also turned the world's focus to the West Coast.
"We'd been oriented toward the East Coast as a culture, and suddenly San Francisco and the Bay Area were a cultural destination," Nemir said. "The impact of the fair on the Bay Area was huge. It was something the whole Bay Area was involved in. It was a picture of the progress of the United States."
The expansive and completely flat Treasure Island was built specifically to showcase the fair.
"Before the world's fair was conceived, there was no Treasure Island," Warren said. "All there was on the north side of Yerba Buena Island was some sandy shoals. They imported tons and tons of rock and soil to make a 400-square-acre island. It was the largest man-made island in the world at the time."
The spectacular buildings and breathtaking decorations, such as the 80-foot statue of Pacifica, goddess of the Pacific Ocean, were intended to be temporary.
After the fair, "everything was dismantled," Warren said. "The only thing that was left was the administrative building for the fair. That's the semicircle building you see when you go onto the island. Everything else was wood and stucco. It was all taken down. It just disappeared."
The long-term plan for the island was to turn it into an airport with the lone surviving building being the airport terminal, but America's involvement in World War II changed that. In 1941, the Navy took control of the island and turned it into a naval base, which remained active until 1997. While Treasure Island never hosted a full-fledged airport, Nemir clearly remembers watching seaplanes taking off and landing from San Francisco Bay.
"The Pan American planes landed in the lagoon behind Treasure Island," she said. "That was always something to go watch the planes take off and land. They were seaplanes, so they landed in the water and taxied right up to the wharf."
Nemir, who was not quite 5 when the fair opened, remembers fondly the many delicious foods, especially the worldly cuisine at the various international pavilions. One of her all-time favorite foods was Junket brand pudding.
"They would give out free samples of tapioca pudding," she recalled. "We'd wait in line to get that pudding. It was very good. I can remember that very vividly."
The museum's world's fair exhibit features programs, maps, pennants, belt buckles, coin banks, commemorative stamps and coins, postcards and more souvenirs from the fair. Some rare color film footage shot at the fair has been compiled into a brief film that's shown to visitors.
"It was a fascinating little interlude in Bay Area history," Warren said. "People were attracted to come to the Bay Area. It became a tourism magnet. People were coming from all over the West to see this fair. It was a big deal."
The museum's "Totally Trains" exhibit running simultaneously with the Treasure Island show, features six different O-gauge model trains, including a pink Lady Lionel train set. Trains vary from old-fashioned models to more modern models like Amtrak.
"The kids really cotton to the model trains," Warren said of the popular exhibit, which typically returns in some fashion each summer.
"The trains were all a part of our history," he said. "Everybody had the O trains under their Christmas trees. They're a part of our culture."
What: "Pageant of the Pacific" and "Totally Trains" exhibits
When: Through Aug. 17. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., Danville
Cost: Admission is $5 per family, $3 per adult and $1 per child (under 5 free). "Totally Trains" family pass $10 for unlimited visits.
Details: Visit museumsrv.org.