Exotica Moderne

Historian keys in on Tim Pflueger’s modern designs for the GG International Exhibition
Exotica Moderne
Pflueger's Federal Building: Treasure Island's modern highlight.

Treasure Island, home to the Golden Gate International Exposition, was a 'magic city' when it was new in 1939, built beneath the gleaming new Bay Bridge. But was it modern?

Therese Poletti thinks so, at least in part, and will discuss one architect who helped make it so on Saturday morning, April 12, in Building One on Treasure Island. Poletti's illustrated talk is on Timothy Pflueger, better known for his Art Deco masterpieces, one of the architects who oversaw the fair.

Some critics lambasted the fair, 'A Pageant of the Pacific,' for focusing on exotica—the Elephant Tower, a statue of the goddess Pacifica—while a better received contemporaneous fair in New York produced 'the World of Tomorrow.'

But the public loved the Exposition at Treasure Island. And advanced architects including Pflueger, William Wurster, and Gardner Dailey produced some of the Bay Area's earliest exercises in modernist building.

"I would say that Pflueger's Federal Building and William Wurster's Yerba Buena Club were the two most modern structures designed by the [fair's] group of architects, with their sleek, unadorned profiles," says Poletti, author of Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger.

She also mentions a "'phantom house' built of transparent plate glass, a five-room model house of ultra modern design that was part of the General Electric exhibit."

"The fair was an oasis from the fears of war brewing in Europe and an encapsulation in time in the Bay Area, before its growth exploded in the post-World War II building boom," Poletti says. "I would have loved to have been there."

For more on Therese Poletti's 'Architect of Pacific Unity' talk, click here. For more on her book, click here.