San Francisco World’s Fair in Photos

Geotag Icon Show on map February 10th, 2011

By Jonathan H

Some of the most fervid of fans of Bearings may have wondered where the posts have been. I haven’t been entirely inactive, and the bulk of the time normally spent on Bearings has been spent gallivanting around in abandoned locations, figuring out a way to recover a hard drive, and applying for grad schools. But the one really exciting project I’ve undertaken lately is an in-depth look at Treasure Island – site of the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition.

The San Francisco World’s Fair of 1939 – known by aficionados as the “Pageant of the Pacific” – was held on what was at the time the largest manmade island in the world. The $50 million dollar Treasure Island became a symbol of hopeful optimism, Great Depression-era government largesse, and a fervent trust in science and engineering at a unique juncture in history. Treasure Island, Atlantis-like, arose in the middle of a metropolitan center increasingly aware of its influence in the Pacific Rim. And it foretold the impending war in ways that is often eerily prophetic. Famed sculptor, Ralph Stackpole centerpieced the island with a giant idol to Pacific culture known as Pacifica. Bearings favorite, Timothy Pflueger (who you may know through our post about exploring the Pac Bell Building) had a hand in multiple buildings on the island. Miguel Covarrubias painted gigantic murals measuring as much as 24 feet across depicting the Pacific Rim. It was there, on Treasure Island, that America hosted its first Michelangelo.

This post is the repository for an unprecedented collection of San Francisco World’s Fair images, memorabilia, artwork, architectural plans, and advertisements. It was a labor of love for a frenetic four months of my life last fall, and it is the product of days – nay, weeks – of aggregate time spent at the Bancroft, Richmond, Moffitt, and San Francisco City libraries. I thank the Bancroft Library for finally laxing their once-draconian requirement that nobody can take images of Bancroft materials. They now allow photography for a nominal fee.

I do not claim to own any of the copyrights on these images.  The truth is, many of them are nearing their copyright expiration; many are orphan works, whose artists remain anonymous yet have impacted my research in a big way. I’m simply here to bring these images to the light of day. In another post, soon (I hope) I’ll post the result of my research – a look at the corporate motivations in the propaganda and art of the fair, particularly in the remaking of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition as the harbinger of a new era of limitless consumption, leisure, and clandestine corporate imperialism in the Pacific Rim. We still live with that legacy today, but the exposition was simply a manifestation of its powerful crafters’ ideological ambition, so I don’t hazard to blame the exposition itself. Without further ado, I present to you the largest known collection of exposition material yet made available online.

The San Francisco Exposition Collection

Below are 500 images from the San Francisco World’s Fair. These images were collected over a two-month research project on the corporate motivations of the Golden Gate International Exposition. They contain images of Treasure Island, Pan Pacific Clippers, Advertisements, Art Work, Guidebooks, Collectibles, Brochures, Architecture, and more. Images also include the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. All images have been painstakingly tagged and captioned.
Click below to see the images.

Buy the Grossinger’s Book

December 15th, 2010

By Jonathan H

Grossinger Book by Jonathan Haeber

More than two years ago, I photographed Grossinger’s for the first time. The iconic Borscht Belt resort was the crown jewel of the Catskills, but it had fallen into deep decline by the 70s. In the early 80s, it closed forever, and all that remains is its world renowned golf course and a few collapsing buildings. Immediately, I knew I had found something special in Grossinger’s, but – at the time – I was completely unaware of its connection to 20th Century Jewish-American history. I’m here to announce, after 18 months of rigorously poring over archival materials, photos, oral histories, and more, that Grossinger’s: City of Refuge and Illusion is officially a book – marking my first book in what I hope will be many more to come. You can read more about it and purchase a copy here.

Grossinger’s has been home to boxing greats and baseball stars, comedians, divas, and great impresarios of their times. I can also make a strong case that it was – at least in part – an inspiration for the birth of Israel. Supermarket shelves are still filled with its trademark bread; Dirty Dancing is still revered by cine-aficionados; even my great grandmother says it was on the tip of everyone’s tongue in her era.

Things change so quickly in this world – as has Grossinger’s. This year, Eddie Fisher, the star who was ‘born’ at “The G”, passed away. Every time I return, a different artifact is missing. The laundry building seems closer to complete collapse. The greenhouse’s withering weeds seem more dessicated than my last trip out. New pebbles appear on the gravestones of the Grossinger dynasty’s denizens.

Grossinger Graves

Grossinger’s Resort has a deeper meaning to me, personally, which I hesitated to tell others as I interviewed them for the book. I am Jewish, but I am far removed from the orthodox lineage; and with each generation a bit of the genetic lineage leaves as well. The only reason I can call myself Jewish is because my heritage traveled down the female line, and I retain it based on the technicalities contained within the Torah. But I’ve always been deeply drawn to this aspect of my life, and I’ve endeavored to understand more about who I am (what little of it is in me) through research projects in the past. I can finally say (after 18 months of research and preparation for this book) that I’m not quite as ignorant about my ethnic heritage, and that is something I’m very proud to admit.

Most of my words of thanks are contained in the book’s acknowledgments, and I have many people to thank – not the least of whom are the readers of Bearings, who have helped me hone my prose, practice my narrative, and develop ideas for stories. You are truly part of this grand project that I have in my mind, and which I plan on continuing in graduate school. I would like to thank three people in particular here – though the list could go on.

Sputnik Light

When I first met John Iwanicki he had a pile of Grossinger materials splayed across his motel bed. It takes a special spirit to collect such ephemera, but it was invaluable to my research. John’s astute memory often shocked me. He was able to remember the tiniest details of the most minute features of the Grossinger property. John is a natural raconteur, and I’m eternally grateful for his contribution to the project.

Richard Grossinger met me at his front door, walked me upstairs to his deck, and told me about his times as a child at The G. He told me about Jennie and Milton Blackstone; he talked about the symbolic and transcendental connotations of Grossinger’s new state of haphazard, beautiful madness. He held in his hand a note signed by the Matron Saint of Grossinger’s, his grandmother Jennie Grossinger. It was a first-hand account of the G as nobody else could tell, and I devoured both of his books (New Moon and Out of Babylon), which I highly recommend.

Finally, I couldn’t have been encouraged to complete this without my significant other (and soon-to-be roommate), Carrie Whitsett (to whom I dedicate the book).

Richard and John brought Grossinger’s to life for me. It was paramount that I imagined myself there, and I wanted my prose to retell history in vivid detail. I hope I haven’t disappointed on that front. Now that it’s done, I’m looking forward to getting some exercise, eating better, and prepping for grad school. I have many stories yet to tell, and as time permits, I will try to keep this space updated with new stories. It’ll be great to get back out shooting in the moon again, and I’m also looking forward to showing some yet-to-be-released images of another high-profile site with challenging entry methods but a treasure trove of things to shoot. Although our photography at this particular embargoed location is over, I’ve amassed a collection of hundreds of images that need to be edited and posted. And, of course, it’d be nice to write about this new place, too. Expect another series! In the meantime, Buy the Book!

Why I Explore Abandoned Places and Why It’s Insane

October 14th, 2010

By Jonathan H

In a September, 2010 posting on The Psychiatric Times, Dr. Greg Eghigian, a historian of “madness, mental illness, and mental health in the western world,” writes in no uncertain terms about his perplexity at the modern explorer of urban ruins. I respectfully concede to Dr. Eghigian’s higher stature, both academically and institutionally. I’m not here to profess any sort of “urbex” elitism or to propose to offer a rebuttal to his argument. I will, however, help elucidate – simply as a means to better inform him (and any of his colleagues) of the motivations, value, and utility of my interests. Far be it from me to endow my hobby with any sort of higher meaning, but I feel it has it.

Over 100 years ago, before the Great Hetch Hetchy Valley was dammed to feed a water-hungry San Francisco, John Muir vociferously likened the place to a cathedral. To Muir, wilderness was his cathedral, his transformative oeuvre. Nature was his religion. Today, an entire national monument is named after him, and environmentalists around the world credit him for saving some of our most treasured national monuments.

Dr. Eghigian, as a well-trained and groomed intellectual, knows about Muir, but I’ll hazard to say he knows little or nothing about Richard Nickel. In fact, ask any American on the street today who Richard Nickel is, and I’m quite sure that you’ll get a blank stare (John Muir is another matter entirely!). Richard Nickel was an obsessive man, an idealist, who knew when to step over legal boundaries to salvage national treasures before their destruction. If Dr. Eghigian has a chance to visit Chicago sometime soon, I highly recommend that he walks inside of the Art Institute. Inside he’ll find the opus of Nickel, the one room that helped vindicate the risks that eventually took his life.

People like Nickel are rare. Urban explorers are rare. Despite the somewhat “cult” status that we’ve acquired over the last decade, there are only 36,791 members on the preeminent forum for Urban Explorers online. This means that there is approximately one of us for every 182,000 people on this planet! We are a minority — Some would even argue, an oppressed minority!

So how are we oppressed? I can count the ways. We face arrest, harassment, lawsuits, loss of job opportunities, loss of reputation, loss of credibility simply for what we love doing. We admit that what we do breaks the law, but to us “law” is a very malleable moral construct. Novelist Tom Robbins makes the outlaw his protagonist.

There were times in this country, of which I’m sure Dr. Eghigian is well aware, in which our own citizens (one of which was a gubernatorial candidate to be exact!) were arrested and jailed for reading the Constitution of the United States in public.

But I digress.

My point here was to explain to Dr. Eghigian what we do, and why we love what we do. I’m endeavoring here to speak for everyone else, but you all know this cannot be true. So I will speak for myself, in the hopes that it represents what others are feeling.

We love what we do because it offers us an alternative to the oppressive, institutionalized, corporatized, hum-drum world that modern society offers us.  This is not simply an American anomaly. Across the world, workers are being marginalized under fluorescent lamps, tipping and tapping away at keyboards to serve the interests of multinatonal corporations headed by multi-billion-dollar CEOs. We DON’T get angry-as-hell. We DON’T get subversive, like those dastardly “wobblies” of yore. We just escape from it, from time to time. It is our only form of dealing with the maddening demands that modern society places on us. If you want an example, ask Kevin Morrissey. Oh, wait, he’s DEAD.

Does that answer your question?

No, we are not voyeurs.
No, we are not vandals.
We’re just people with an innate love of discovery.

Discredit that, and you discredit Magellan, Sauer, Einstein, and Sir Edmund Hillary at the same time. Good luck with that!

To claim that we get “titillated” and “entertained” by this sort of experience demeans our purpose. Are you voyeuristically titillated and entertained while doing your archival research? I sure hope not! (though I admit that I often am)

Last but not least: I do not mean any malice towards you or the vaunted institution of the Pennsylvania State University. The fact is, I’m currently applying for graduate schools. Being an urban explorer, I’ll take any credibility I can get. I do apologize for desecrating the most respected and loved of American values – that of private property – but, then again, I see a Wal-Mart being built 15 miles from me via eminent domain with no protest, and an Indian gaming casino on city-owned property (even though the tribe it serves has never set foot on this territory). Are they not desecrating our current community by increasing crime and drugs? Are a few chuckling kids on a moonlight tour more of a cause-celebre to you than the paving over of our past and the usurpation of our common property for corporate interests? Say it isn’t so, Dr. Eghigian! I know it’s not the realm of psychology, but I have to admit: Wal-Mart and the egregious casino going up near my home (in place of gorgeous abandoned structures) is really unsettling my mind. Do you offer free psychiatric consultations?