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The Creation of 49-Mile Scenic Drive

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Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

49-Mile Scenic Drive sign [Photo: thomanication]

Most folks are familiar with 49-Mile Scenic Drive, both locals and visitors alike. Marked by its ubiquitous blue and white seagull sign, the route criss-crosses the city for the ultimate driving tour and was first established in 1938.

San Francisco's Treasure Island was the site of the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition. The fair was occurring at the zenith of automobile mania in the country, when the world started focusing on the car as more than a means of transportation. The 49-Mile Drive route was established as a sideshow attraction of the fair, originally starting at City Hall and ending at the fairgrounds on Treasure Island. The intention was to highlight the area's natural beauty and potential for economic growth as a tourist and business destination.

Original 1938 version of 49-Mile Scenic Drive [Photo: Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco]

When the fair closed in 1940, Treasure Island was transferred to the Navy, causing the first of many reroutes to 49-Mile Drive. It was temporarily closed during WWII for security reasons along the waterfront and near the Presidio, and when it reopened in 1947, more portions of the eastern part of the city were included. It continued to be adjusted as highways and major roads changed.

The now-famous blue and white seagull signs were designed in 1955, when the city's Downtown Association held a competition to create a new sign for the route. Up to that point, the signs were marked by blue and gold triangles. Local artist Rex May won the contest with his seagull design.
· San Francisco's 49 Mile Scenic Drive - A Brief History [SF Travel]
· San Francisco's 49 Mile Scenic Drive: The Guidebook [Amazon]
· The Original 49-Mile Drive [Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco]
· Map to today's 49-Mile Scenic Drive [SF Travel]