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December 28, 2010 > History: Exposition Days

History: Exposition Days

The big news in Hayward in early 1939: the opening of the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) on Treasure Island! Residents in this area, like those in communities throughout the Bay Area, had been eagerly awaiting the fair's opening since 1935. The exposition, or world's fair, was to commemorate the completion of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, while also promoting the communities of the entire Bay Area. Even though San Francisco was to gain the most financially from the fair, other Bay communities, including Hayward, saw the potential benefits of tourist dollars coming into their cities from the millions of people projected to visit the exposition.

With funds supplied by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), fair officials built an island in the shoals north of Yerba Buena to house the exposition. Dredges worked for months pumping silt from the floor of the Bay to create the island. It was said that gold was in the silt that had been washed down from the Sierra foothills during the gold rush. Thus, the grounds housing the exposition became known as Treasure Island.

The main goal of world's fairs is to promote the history, culture, and, most importantly, the goods of a country, state, or city. A world's fair is like a county fair on steroids. GGIE was no exception. Thirty-two nations, plus Hawaii and Alaska (which were U.S. territories at this time) and British Columbia, participated in the exposition, as did individual states and counties of California.

Twenty-two foreign countries built their own pavilions to house their exhibits, while the others placed their exhibits in the International Pavilion. There were many other buildings too, such as a livestock pavilion, a hall of air transportation, an agricultural hall, a vacationland building, a hall of science, the electricity and communications building, and a mines and machinery building. Each of these buildings had small exhibits from businesses and organizations promoting their goods and services.

Among all the buildings were acres of flowers, statues, reflection pools, and shrubbery. For pure entertainment, there was the great Gayway, which housed the more carnival-like attractions. There was a stadium for sporting events, an auditorium for concerts, an area for a grand stage production called the Cavalcade of the Golden West, while another building housed performances of the Folies Bergere and one for Billy Rose's Aquacade, and a grand swimming production starring Johnny Weissmuller (who later played Tarzan on the big screen) and Esther Williams.

Hayward residents got jobs constructing the island and the many buildings. Students, business people, city officials, and everyone else in town participated in parades and other events to help promote the fair and show that Hayward was in full support of the exposition. Civic leaders spruced up the town and asked everyone to be cordial and friendly to anyone coming to the area for the exposition.

Just a few days before the exposition opened, Hayward held a Fair Rally Ball at the Veterans Building on Main Street. The highlight of the evening was the selection of a Miss Hayward Area. The winner, Dorothy Petersen, later competed with other girls from surrounding communities at another ball in Oakland for the title of Queen of the Golden Gate Exposition. Miss Hayward Area did not win the competition, but did serve as an attendant to the Queen for events during the exposition.

A major product provided by a Hayward business became an integral part of the exposition. Gillig Brothers, who primarily manufactured busses, designed and built small trams that were driven around the exposition grounds. The trams, called the Elephant Trains, carried visitors from the parking lots and ferry slips to points all around the grounds, ostensibly to save visitors' feet when trying to see everything in the 400 acres of the fair.

Area residents also provided exhibits for the Hayward portion of the Alameda and Contra Costa building and for other buildings. For three weeks during the run of the fair, Lillian Oldmixon, who lived near the corner of Mission Boulevard and Orchard Avenue, displayed her astounding collection of handkerchiefs in a hobby show. Several varieties of lilacs from the gardens of A.A. Oliver were displayed in the county building, as well as handicrafts from local Boy Scout troops. The A Capella choir from Hayward Union High School joined with choirs from other cities for performances, as did the bands from various schools.

Appropriately, considering the agricultural economy of Hayward, the Hayward Union High School Future Farmers of America club exhibited pigs, lambs, and steers in the livestock shows. Pigeons from King's Pigeon Lofts in the Hayward hills were on display at one point. Local legend Harry Rowell was named the exposition's Rodeo King and provided stock for the rodeo.

Different clubs, such as the Hayward Rotary, attended special "days" at the exposition where they got in for free and participated in special events like luncheons and musical performances. In fact, many Hayward residents attended the fair on special dedicated days. Just about every community in the Bay Area as well as organizations sponsored or were given a day at the exposition when people in their group got in for free and special activities were provided.

The Hayward area had its own day on May 18, 1939. For this special Monday, Hayward's Mayor Arthur E. Manter became the Mayor of Treasure Island and Miss Hayward Area, Dorothy Peterson, its queen. Forty-one busses and numerous private vehicles loaded with residents drove up to the fair, leaving Hayward a virtual ghost town. All these residents became the "leading citizens" of the exposition.

Throughout the fair were references to Hayward Area Day and local residents dominated displays and performances. Fair officials later reported that Hayward area residents made up one-quarter of the fair's attendance that day. Other special days attended by residents included Swedish Day, Rotary Day, and Alameda County Day.

In the end, GGIE lost money and did not bring in the millions of tourist organizers had predicted. The greatest attendance came from Bay Area residents who returned to the fair repeatedly until it closed in October. There was so much to see and so many varieties of activities and performances that people could visit many times and never see the same thing twice. With so many free days, free admission into many of the exhibits and entertainment, and packing a lunch so you would not have to buy food, going to the exposition was a pretty inexpensive way to spend some leisure time.

While the surrounding communities saw very little tourist dollars being spent in their communities, the fair was still one of the most exciting things to happen in Hayward that year.

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