'Cult of Pacifica': a Look Back

Talk keys on the 1939 Exposition's effort for harmony on both sides of the Pacific
Cult of Pacifica
Temple Compound and Tower of the Sun (architects: Merchant
and Maybeck) from the 1939 Golden Gate International
Exposition.
(photo: Bud Stewart - courtesy Treasure Island Museum Association Collection)

Japan had already overrun Korea and portions of China, and America was preparing for a potential war in the Pacific. But on a newly created island in San Francisco Bay, celebrants were basking in the glow of the Goddess Pacifica, enjoying art and dance from Japan, China, the Philippines, and French Indochina.

On Saturday, November 9, Anne Schnoebelen, longtime member of the Treasure Island Museum Association, will discuss ‘The Cult of Pacifica: Treasure Island's Vision of Pacific Unity.' The free, 10:30 a.m. lecture will be in Building One on Treasure Island, a remaining structure from the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

The exposition's theme was "Pacific unity," Schnoebelen says. "Because World War II followed, clearly the irony of the concept was seen," she says. "But I believe there was a lot of sincerity in trying to follow thorough on that theme for the fair."

"The fair had really colorful, complicated architecture, and most of it has a Pacific theme," she says. The exposition also featured a superb exhibit of Asian art.

Schnoebelen will show images of the 80-foot-tall Goddess by sculptor Ralph Stackpole, the Tower of the Sun by architects William Merchant and Bernard Maybeck, the Court of Pacifica by architect Tim Pflueger, and Miguel Covarrubias's room-sized illustrated maps, among the first world maps, she says, "that showed the Pacific as its center."

For more on Schnoebelen's ‘The Cult of Pacifica' talk, click here. To whet your appetite, check out this newsreel from 1939.