The unbuilt proposals for the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair offer a cross section of designs put before the public in a formative moment just before modernism came to dominate architectural discourse and production. Projects by luminaries Bernard Maybeck and Richard Neutra joined projects by Joseph Strauss and Henry Killam Murphy. Here were architectural hopefuls at the nadir of the Great Depression attempting to draw their way into the commission of a lifetime. Thus, a Beaux-Arts bohemian competed with a sincere modernist, a self-promoting engineer, and America's leading practitioner in China. At the same time, the proposals were part of the larger economic and political landscape of San Francisco, as neighborhood associations and politicians used them to attract the fair to their part of the city. More than pie in the sky, these designs show in amplified form the way architecture is embedded in public discourse as a form of persuasion, a kind of politics by other means through which elites and other stakeholders argued for their preferred reality. As tools of intra-urban boosterism, these plans reveal the competing interests within San Francisco at a pivotal moment in its development, when its future lay in the formation of a regional metropolis that could compete with Los Angeles for commerce on the West Coast and beyond.

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