The US military began establishing operations on Yerba Buena Island in the 1870s and in 1875 completed construction of the lighthouse that still stands today. Before the days of radio beacons and sirens, this lighthouse was considered one of the most important on the West Coast.
Officially, the island was called Yerba Buena Island until 1895, when the United States Board on Geographic Names changed it to Goat Island. During the gold rush, a large number of goats were pastured there, and the name Goat Island came into popular use. The name was changed back to Yerba Buena Island in 1931.
In the late 19th century, Yerba Buena Island became the United States' first naval training station on the West Coast. Quarters One was built in 1900 as the commandant’s residence and is among the eight surviving officers’ residences.
The construction of Treasure Island, a 400-acre artificial island using sand dredged from the bottom of San Francisco Bay, was formally authorized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and began in 1936. Constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and intended to eventually become a new airport for San Francisco, Treasure Island was considered a modern engineering marvel.
The Golden Gate International Exposition celebrated the modern industrial west, symbolized by the completion of the Golden Gate and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges. The exposition drew 10 million visitors to Treasure Island.
In the same year, Pan American Airways' Clippers began flying passengers from San Francisco to Hong Kong, departing from Treasure Island. The Clipper Ship “flying boats” turned the three-week trip on an ocean liner into a “short” six days of island hopping.
When the United States entered World War II, the U.S. Navy took possession of Treasure Island, which became a processing station for sailors assigned to fight in the Pacific Theater. During the war, as many as 12,000 sailors were processed each day. After the war, Treasure Island was the Navy's largest separation center and served primarily as a strategic location for numerous naval activities. Since 1941, several million service members have either served at or passed through Treasure Island.
Treasure Island's two aircraft hanger buildings (designated by the Navy as Buildings 2 and 3) were constructed in 1939 as two of only three permanent buildings built for the International Exposition. Beginning in the late 1980s, these buildings served as sound stages for film-making and TV such as The Matrix, Rent, and The Pursuit of Happiness. The buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
The naval operations on Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, as well as the Presidio of San Francisco, shown here, were decommissioned and transferred to civilian control. Yerba Buena Island’s historic buildings, including Quarters One and the other Senior Officers’ Quarters, are now publicly owned and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a new neighborhood development of 8,000 residences and over 300 acres of parks and open space to be built on both Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island. After several years of geotechnical work and infrastructure construction, the first residential building on Yerba Buena Island broke ground in 2019.