A San Fran­cisco Bay is­land is about to of­fer top-notch pub­lic art, and a killer view.


Newsweek - - NEWS - BY ALEXAN­DER NAZARYAN @alex­nazaryan

AT FIRST, THERE was noth­ing but open wa­ter. Then silt, dredged from the Sacra­mento River, was dumped into San Fran­cisco Bay and flat­tened to cre­ate a 400-acre is­land for the 1939 Golden Gate In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion. Be­cause the Sacra­mento River, which flows into the Bay, be­gins in the heart of gold coun­try, some thought the new is­land might be made of gold. So they wish­fully called it Trea­sure Is­land.

Traces of harm­less radioactive ma­te­ri­als re­main from a brief chap­ter in the is­land’s his­tory—a naval sta­tion was erected in 1942 and used, in part, for nu­clear de­con­tam­i­na­tion train­ing—but oth­er­wise the is­land re­mained woe­fully un­der­used un­til 2009, when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment sold it to San Fran­cisco for $105 mil­lion. For a mo­ment, it looked as if it might be­come the pro­posed site for the Lu­cas Mu­seum of Nar­ra­tive Art, a some­what con­fus­ing con­cept from Star Wars cre­ator and Bay Area res­i­dent George Lu­cas. But Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti made a more per­sua­sive case for his city. Again, the prom­ise of gold was de­nied.

In an over­crowded city with the high­est me­dian res­i­den­tial rents in the coun­try—$3,490 for a one-bed­room, nearly $500 more than what one would pay in New York—it’s hard to fig­ure why it took so long to cap­i­tal­ize on the is­land’s true trea­sure. But fi­nally, thanks to a $5 bil­lion in­vest­ment, it will be­come a new San Fran­cisco neigh­bor­hood, with a ten­ta­tive com­ple­tion some­time around 2030. Per­haps even more sur­pris­ing: Rents for 2,000 of the 8,000 planned hous­ing units will be be­low mar­ket.

Jane Kim, one of the most pro­gres­sive mem­bers of the city’s plenty-pro­gres­sive Board of Su­per­vi­sors, says that plan “isn’t a goal; it’s an obli­ga­tion.” If the proper num­ber of af­ford­able-hous­ing units aren’t in­cluded, new “per­mits won’t get is­sued.”

Kevin Conger, the noted Bay Area land­scape de­signer who is work­ing on the project, says his goal is to make the is­land, sit­u­ated be­tween Oak­land and San Fran­cisco, a pub­lic des­ti­na­tion for ev­ery­one, to have it re­sem­ble (in feel, if not ap­pear­ance) the city’s Ital­ian sec­tor, North Beach. That neigh­bor­hood is a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion, but such a com­par­i­son lim­its the scope of Trea­sure Is­land. It’s hard to think of an­other project in the world that in­tends to cre­ate so much out of so lit­tle.

The clos­est ana­log may be the hy­per­tro­phied cities of the United Arab Emi­rates ris­ing out of the desert. First-tier Amer­i­can burgs like New York, Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco sim­ply don’t have empty space, which cre­ates in­evitable clashes be­tween old-timers and new­com­ers when de­vel­op­ers ar­rive. Trea­sure Is­land, though, is as close to true empti­ness as any­one could hope for. The won­drous build­ings of the Golden Gate ex­po­si­tion are long gone. The only struc­tures that re­main are three gi­ant art moderne hangars on the is­land’s south­ern flank, ves­tiges of a pro­posed Pan Am air­port.

“The op­por­tu­nity here is that we’re build­ing a whole new neigh­bor­hood,” says Kim. One that, in ad­di­tion to hous­ing, will in­clude three ho­tels, a prom­e­nade with shops and din­ing, pub­lic parks and a large col­lec­tion of pub­lic art. “It can’t just be about pri­vate de­vel­op­ment,” says Christopher


Meaney, one of the is­land’s de­vel­op­ers. “How do we give it cul­ture? How do we in­fuse it?”

By al­lo­cat­ing $50 mil­lion to pub­lic art. How the money is spent will be en­tirely de­ter­mined by the San Fran­cisco Arts Com­mis­sion, and that lack of re­stric­tion, in ad­di­tion to the siz­able sum, makes Trea­sure Is­land one of the largest mu­nic­i­pal in­vest­ments in fine arts in the coun­try. By com­par­i­son, Los An­ge­les re­cently strug­gled to fig­ure out how to free $7.5 mil­lion in pub­lic art funds that were tied up in city leg­is­la­tion.

The plan will fa­vor artists who “con­sider the is­land’s unique van­tage point in the bay, amidst the Bay Bridge, San Fran­cisco and the East Bay and the no­tion of art on the edge, where the land meets the sea,” says Jill Man­ton, the arts com­mis­sion’s di­rec­tor of pub­lic art trust and spe­cial ini­tia­tives, who has be­gun to ac­cept ap­pli­ca­tions. Com­mis­sions will come with grants of $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion, and there will be no geo­graphic re­stric­tions, so con­ceiv­ably you could find the work of su­per­stars like Ai Wei­wei or Christo.

The is­land sells it­self, re­ally; what artist wouldn’t want to cre­ate work for so as­ton­ish­ingly var­ied an ex­hi­bi­tion space? The Av­enue of the Palms looks out over the San Fran­cisco sky­line, of­fer­ing an en­tic­ing back­drop for art to play off the new sky­scrapers and an­cient hills that mark this ever-chang­ing city. Far­ther north, a point juts out to­ward the Golden Gate. Swept by gusts from the Pa­cific, it sug­gests the prow of a ship. Man­ton be­lieves such “unique ecol­ogy and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions—an is­land in the mid­dle of the bay” of­fer artists un­beat­able and in­spi­ra­tion.

My sug­ges­tion? A gi­ant statue of Stephen Curry, on the is­land’s point, hoist­ing a 3-pointer into the strato­sphere.

+ VIEW MASTER De­vel­op­ers of Trea­sure Is­land, which sits un­der the Oak­land Bay Bridge, are plan­ning to of­fer ferry ser­vice to and from San Fran­cisco and Oak­land.

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