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Tapping the Apocalypse

Exploring Treasure Island and its Abandoned Past

Story by Madeleine Forbes May 1st, 2014

abandoned military buildings

Treasure Island is a man-made area of land that reaches just across the Bay Bridge and right next to our beloved city of San Francisco: the joy and success of what it once used to be a part of, now only a place of history, emptiness, and hopelessness. It is the epitome of our apocalyptic future, with its vacant buildings, barren landscapes, and no motivation or determination to turn this town into the thriving city that it once was and the community that it once had.


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Treasure Island was a former military base and naval station, and it also housed the first San Francisco International Airport. In more recent times, the island has been used for film stages and film sets, it is currently occupied by Job Corps, it has a small urban farm, it hosts the Treasure Island Music Festival every fall, and has a population of less than 7,000 people with access to only a small amount of schools, grocery stores, day-time activities, and so on.

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BRoken and boarded

The question is: Why hasn’t Treasure Island revitalized itself over the past 5-10 years? With access to places like San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, one would assume that the opportunities for this island would be limitless. Maybe it’s the isolation, the abandonment, or the fear that it would take away from booming San Francisco and the hype for people to move to inner cities. And then again, who really knows the cause for Treasure Island’s current state of existence. All I know is, there’s a reason for everything. For a place once so full of life, there has to be an explanation for its decline in relevance and popularity.

I’ve been to the island a few times before, once with a class and once while attending a music festival, but the more often I visited it, the more that I noticed how broken it seemed. There wasn’t much sign of human life, except the cars driving to and from the island, the brand new, bright red playground that I happened upon accidentally, and the church that sits just below the first stop sign you come to when you arrive at the island.

This time around, I came to the island with the intention of shooting these apocalyptic landscapes and uninhabited, boarded up buildings for my class project, in which I wanted to show how lifeless this island seemed and why it ended up this way. I wanted to discover the story beneath it all because I knew this place didn’t just stand still in time, but that it mattered to the history of the Bay.

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Hope in the blue

So what’s in store for the future of Treasure Island? To be honest, I’m not really sure if I can answer that question. But what I do know is that even through the broken and boarded up windows, the paint peelings hanging off the walls, the worn down buildings, and the random objects of both trash and value that I stumbled upon, I noticed the color that still remained on the island.

The blue.

It still had some character. It was as if hope had never left.

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forgotten things

My final thought is this: that at the end of the day, no matter how broken something is, how rundown or empty it may be, it’s never completely forgotten. These ‘forgotten’ things, such as the vacant tennis courts, rusted fences, and directionless signs, and this ‘forgotten’ island, weren’t really that forgotten after all. Even though many of us tend to over look the importance of our land and the resources it gives us willingly everyday, nature never forgets its existence.

It was beautiful to see through all these empty lots and buildings, that nature made its way through things. Flowers sprouted up in the cracks of the cement, trees grew tall and mighty next to rundown buildings, the grass appeared greener than ever, and spiders were making homes in empty pipes. In the end, nature always wins, and maybe, just maybe, nature will be the one to restore this forgotten place and make it remembered once again.

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Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA, United States