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San Francisco, California

Pacific Basin Fountain on Treasure Island

Masterful ceramic fountain and map of the Pacific Basin. 

Please note: the fountain is currently in storage on Treasure Island. You can visit the Treasure Island Museum at the address given in order to learn more.

The Pacific Basin Fountain was created for “Pacific House” at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939-1940. The exposition was called “A Pageant of the Pacific.” Pacific House was designed as a central location to exhibit the cultures and talents of the fair’s many participating countries from all around the Pacific. To create a rich environment for the activities that would take place in Pacific House, the building itself was adorned with very large representations of maps of the Pacific created in a variety of artistic media.

The Pacific Basin Fountain was hand-crafted of glazed terra cotta, and manufactured at Gladding-McBean Terra Cotta Studios in Lincoln, California, a place famous for the creation of architectural terra cotta, particularly the art deco cladding of many buildings in the western United States. The artist who designed the fountain was a native of Bolivia named Antonio Sotomayor. Sotomayor lived in San Francisco from approximately 1910-1985.

The relief map of the Pacific Basin is shades of blue, brown, yellow, green, white, aqua and oval in shape. It is 950 square feet and approximately the size of a backyard swimming pool. When installed in Pacific House at the Golden Gate International Exposition, it was filled with water and served as a fountain.

The relief map represents the islands, continents and waters of the Pacific, hand modeled in great detail. The highest mountain peak is approximately 16 inches higher than the lowest ocean trench. Lines of latitude and longitude are represented by the joints between the map’s 361 individual sections. Four three-dimensional ceramic whales, approximately 25 inches in length and covered with a teal glaze, spouted at the center of the fountain just north of Hawaii. The map itself is surrounded by a perimeter wall, approximately two feet in height and eight inches wide, finished with an aqua glaze. Compass points are marked with a compass rose and the letters N, S, E and W on the top surface of the wall. On the vertical exterior surface of the wall at each compass point is an animal figure in low relief.

When the fair ended in 1940, plans were made to turn Pacific House into a permanent “Museum of Pacific Cultures” in San Francisco, with the Sotomayor fountain and other decorative maps to serve as focal points of the building. Unfortunately, the fair’s theme of “Pacific Unity” was shattered by World War II, and the plans to save the fountain never materialized. The fountain remained on Treasure Island, however, from the end of the fair until 1994, when it was broken up into pieces and placed in storage where it remains today.

The future of the fountain is uncertain.

Know Before You Go

Visit the website of the Treasure Island Museum (www.treasureislandmuseum.org) for museum visiting hours. In general the museum is open Monday-Friday from 8:30-5:00, closed weekends.