By Judith Horstman (Photos by John Williamson)
The rains stopped, the fog lifted, the sun came out – and more than 40 BATW members and guests celebrated the beginning of 2023 at a private party Saturday, January 28, hosted by the historic Treasure Island Museum and the island’s food and beverage producers.
We sipped wine and spirits – all made right on this tiny man-made island in the middle of the bay—provided by the island’s four outstanding libation producers: Treasure Island Wines , Woods Beer & Wine, Gold Bar Whiskey and Treecraft Distillery ; and snacked on a delicious buffet of finger foods from the island’s own Mersea Restaurant.
A brief talk from the museum’s historian, Anne Schnoebelen, revealed some of the lesser-known history behind this 400-acre artificial island. And what history! Built by Army Corps of Engineers in 1936, it’s well known that the island was made to host the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition and showcase the engineering and architectural feats of the Bay Area. Some of the Art Deco artifacts from the “Magic City” exposition survive still, such as giant sculptures in front of the museum.
But it was also built with the idea it would become an airport for San Francisco, she said. In fact, the Impressive Art Moderne building where the museum is housed with its marble floors and soaring ceiling not only served as an administrative center for the exposition. It was also built as a terminal for Pan American Airlines famed amphibious Clippers and a base for trans-Pacific flights.
But further airport plans never came about. Plans changed with World War II, and the island became a naval base and major training center until that closed in 1997. The island and its sister, Yerba Buena, became a sleepy backwater with a population under 3,000, until now. Major redevelopment is updating the infrastructure, adding gardens, water features, retail opportunities and 8,000 homes, including multi-million-dollar condos already on the market.
Proximity to both the East Bay and San Francisco—and killer views of the San Francisco skyline – draws tour busses and camera-snapping tourists. Several guests arrived on the newly-restored ferry service from San Francisco, an 8-minute scenic ride that docks right in front of the museum. And the four thriving wine, brew and spirit tasting rooms and two restaurants– Mersea and Aracely – currently on the island are putting this hidden-in-plain-sight prime destination on the tourism map.
Treasure Island is already a community, according to the proprietors of the wineries and distilleries who spoke about their products and reasons for choosing Treasure Island. Residents and businesses help each other out, they say. That, plus the natural “air conditioning,” and generous rental space in the old Naval Commissary for production and a tasting area were some of the reasons winemaker Jim Mirowski founded Treasure Island Wines there back in 2007 – the first on the island, followed by the next three in 2015. Treecraft co-owner Gordon Rempel says visitors will find them at what was the island’s Naval Firehouse—after their at-home distilling hobby took over and became a business. Woods winemaker Kyle Jeffrey said his early morning walks around the island with his big white dog, Joe, were a highlight of his day. And Gold Bar President Elliot Gillespie and others commented on the camaraderie of the group and willingness to share advice and even equipment.
A drawing awarded lucky BATW members complimentary weekend tastings for two at each establishment (with bonus “pirate” motif wineglasses from TI Wines) and the museum donated two tickets for its February 18 Swing Dance fete–all reasons to return to the “Magic City.”
As if on cue, the sun set on a gorgeous “golden hour” winter afternoon with San Francisco a beautiful mirage across the bay as we departed, planning to return soon for another pleasant weekend afternoon close to home.
Many thanks to the proprietors of the wine, beer and spirts establishments for the cheer, to Mersea for the outstanding food, to the museum staff (especially Annamarie Morel), to Mike Hennehane, president of the TI museum Board of Directors, and to the BATW’s own Morton Beebe, also of the museum board, who all made the event possible.