Two Wonders of the World and a World’s Fair

In 1936 and 1937, San Francisco introduced two engineering triumphs to the world with the Bay Bridge (the world’s longest bridge at the time) and the Golden Gate Bridge (the longest single-span suspension bridge). The Red and Blue of November 6, 1936, ran an editorial drawing a parallel to the Bay Bridge, which would link San Francisco to the East Bay on November 12, to the educational bridge that existed between USF and SI. “Soon a great campus will connect the high school and university, binding them as a great historic sight [sic] in San Francisco… the future!” Little did the writer know that SI and USF would, in 1959, formally separate, becoming two distinct institutions.

To celebrate the construction of both bridges, San Francisco hosted the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in both 1939 and 1940, featuring such talents as Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams in Billy Rose’s Aquacade and Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch on the Gayway. Many SI students and families attended this great event, the twin to New York’s World Fair, including Leo Carew ’40, who went to the Folies Bergere with his cousin. He saw the catcher for the San Francisco Seals, Joe Sprinz (whose son later went to SI), try to catch a ball dropped from a hot air balloon. The ball fell so fast that it shattered Sprinz’ jaw and nearly killed him. Carew also saw the first television, invented in San Francisco, and a talking robot called the Voder.

Br. Louis Bueler, SJ, who worked at SI for 30 years, found a job as a gardener at the fair and helped to put out a fire in the California Building. Bob Fair ’36 recalls being a contestant in Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge. “I won $50 for answering all the questions right about the Big Band songs. I had a chance to chat with Harry Babbit, who sang with Kyser. Then in 1999, I met him again in San Jose and took part in another contest where I had to name the members of Guy Lombardo’s orchestra. I won that contest and, when I got on stage, told Harry that we had met before in 1939. ‘Don’t you remember me?’ I asked him. He thought it was a great coincidence for us to meet 60 years later.”

But on this idyllic island, built to celebrate civilizations from around the world, Carew, Bueler and Fair saw signs that all was not well across the ocean. One by one, they saw various countries pull out of the exposition, starting with Czechoslovakia, as Germany began its European conquests.