Treasure Island museum in witness protection program

It may sound strange, but both the president and vice president of the Treasure Island Museum are uncertain exactly where their museum is.

Claire Isaacs Wahrhaftig, the president, is pretty sure it's in Building No. 3, one of the island's hulking former airplane hangars. But veep Walt Bilofsky heard rumors it's over in Building No. 499. Either way, neither of them has seen hide nor hair of the museum since 1997, when the U.S. Navy shut it down and put the artifacts in storage in one of the aforementioned buildings (or perhaps even somewhere else). Yet both fear the Navy will relocate their currently nonexistent museum from an undisclosed storage room on Treasure Island to an undisclosed storage room in an unknown location, last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark–style.

"If this collection goes east and is stored there, it will never be seen again," Wahrhaftig says.

"There's always the possibility the Navy could back up a truck to Building No. 499," Bilofsky adds. "If anyone sees them doing that, please call us."

The Navy closed the museum 11 years ago when it officially ceased military operations on the island, and spent $250,000 to have the roughly 35,000 documents and ephemera inventoried, shrinkwrapped, and placed in a storeroom on the island. Then in 2002, the Navy proposed moving the collection back east with the rest of its memorabilia. The Treasure Island Development Authority lobbied to squelch that plan, but earlier this year, the Naval Historical Center once again asked what San Francisco officials plan on doing with the historic relics.

The short answer: Nothing soon. Jack Sylvan, a project manager in the city's Office of Joint Development, says it wouldn't make sense to move the museum back into the island's Building No. 1 before it's retrofitted around 2013.

Jack Green, the Naval Historical Center's public affairs officer, says the idea of uprooting the collection is "currently not being considered," but, he added, "At some point, we may decide to consolidate our collections and bring it to the East Coast" in D.C.

In the meantime, the Treasure Island Museum board remains optimistic. On its Web site, it notes that only three obstacles stand in the way of the museum's triumphant rebirth: "A location, rights to the collection, and an organization to run the museum."

Green, incidentally, seems to know what building the museum is in. But he isn't telling.

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