- Historic Sites
The Other Fair
New Yorkers recall 1939 as the year of the great World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow. But that’s just more Eastern provincialism. Take a look at what was going on in San Francisco.
May/June 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 4
In May, Treasure Island was with us again—repainted, replanted, and furnished with swing bands in person, artists in action, and a new “Cavalcade.” This time the opening coincided, more or less, with the German army’s major push through the valley of the Somme toward Paris. Billy Rose’s “Aquacade,” the most profitable attraction of the New York fair, came west, took over a barny auditorium on Treasure Island, and turned a few more millions. (Louella Parsons, the Hollywood columnist, reported: “Johnny Weissmuller, Esther Williams and Morton Downey are the biggest 40 cents worth of entertainment I ever saw.”) Bewitched by the water ballet of “Aquabelles” and “Aquabeaux” in fluorescent bathing caps, I took up windmill swimming and comic diving. The warring world receded.
As in New York, the second year’s run allowed the investors to recapture a little of their lost money and self-respect. It also permitted us Americans to continue our defiant whistling in the dark. When the time came to dim the lights at the end of the last evening, Marshall Dill, the president of the exposition, acknowledged that our escapade was over: “We have been joyously tending our garden while all around us the world has been bent on destruction. I like to think that all the peaceful legions that have trooped through this fair have had their spiritual wells deepened and are now prepared for whatever Fate may have in store. … ‘The feast is over and the lamps expire.’”