Presidio of San Francisco


A map of the Presidio

Location in San Francisco

Coordinates: 37°47′53″N 122°27′57″W / 37.79806°N 122.46583°W / 37.79806; -122.46583Coordinates: 37°47′53″N 122°27′57″W / 37.79806°N 122.46583°W / 37.79806; -122.46583
Country  United States
State  California
City-county San Francisco
Fortified September 17, 1776
  Type Board of Supervisors
  Total 2.347 sq mi (6.08 km2)
Population [1]
  Total 799
  Density 340/sq mi (130/km2)
Time zone Pacific (UTC−8)
  Summer (DST) PDT (UTC−7)
ZIP code 94129
Area codes 415/628
Presidio of San Francisco
Area 1,480 acres (6.0 km2)[2]
Built 1776
Architect Spanish/Mexico/United States Army
Architectural style Spanish Colonial, Spanish Revival, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival
Website Presidio of San Francisco
NRHP Reference # 66000232[3]
CHISL # 79
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966
Designated NHL June 13, 1962[4]
Designated CHISL 1933[5]

The Presidio of San Francisco (originally, El Presidio Real de San Francisco or The Royal Fortress of Saint Francis) is a park and former military fort on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula in San Francisco, California, and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Welcome sign

It had been a fortified location since September 17, 1776, when New Spain established it to gain a foothold on Alta California and the San Francisco Bay. It passed to Mexico, which in turn passed it to the United States in 1848.[6] As part of a 1989 military reduction program under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, Congress voted to end the Presidio's status as an active military installation of the U.S. Army. On October 1, 1994, it was transferred to the National Park Service, ending 219 years of military use and beginning its next phase of mixed commercial and public use.[7]

In 1996, the United States Congress created the Presidio Trust to oversee and manage the interior 80% of the park's lands, with the National Park Service managing the coastal 20%.[8] In a first-of-its-kind structure, Congress mandated that the Presidio Trust make the Presidio financially self-sufficient by 2013, which it achieved eight years ahead of the scheduled deadline.[9]

The park is characterized by many wooded areas, hills, and scenic vistas overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It was recognized as a California Historical Landmark in 1933 and as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.[4][5]

Presidio visitor centers

The visitor centers are operated by the National Park Service:

Crissy Field Center

Crissy Field Center (former Air Service/Air Corps/Army Air Forces airfield) is an urban environmental education center with programs for schools, public workshops, after-school programs, summer camps, and more. The Center is operated by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and overlooks a restored tidal marsh. The facilities include interactive environmental exhibits, a media lab, resource library, arts workshop, science lab, gathering room, teaching kitchen, café and bookstore.[11] The landscape of Crissy Field was designed by George Hargreaves. The project restored a naturally functioning and sustaining tidal wetland as a habitat for flora and fauna, which were previously not in evidence on the site. It also restored a historic grass airfield that functioned as a culturally significant military airfield between 1919 and 1936. The park at Crissy Field expanded and widened the recreational opportunities of the existing 1 12-mile (2.4 km) San Francisco shore to a broader number of Presidio residents and visitors.


The Presidio ca. 1850
A refugee camp at the Presidio after the San Francisco earthquake
Presidio of San Francisco from the air


Early history

California Historical Landmark marker for the Presidio
The Presidio in 1817

The Presidio was originally a Spanish Fort sited by Juan Bautista de Anza on March 28, 1776, built by a party led by José Joaquín Moraga later that year. In 1783, the Presidio's garrison numbered only 33 men.

Upon Mexican independence from Spain, it was briefly operated as a Mexican fortification.

The Presidio was seized by the U.S. Military in 1848, at the start of the Mexican-American war. It officially re-opened by the Americans in 1848, and became home to several Army headquarters and units, the last being the United States 6th Army. Several famous U.S. generals, such as William Sherman, George Henry Thomas, and John Pershing made their homes here.

During its long history, the Presidio was involved in most of America's military engagements in the Pacific. Importantly, it was the assembly point for Army forces that invaded the Philippines in the Spanish-American War, America's first major military engagement in the Asia/Pacific region.

The Presidio was the center for defense of the Western U.S. during World War II. The infamous order to intern Japanese-Americans, including citizens, during World War II was signed at the Presidio. Until its closure in 1995, the Presidio was the longest continuously operated military installation in the United States.

From the 1890s, the Presidio was home to the Letterman Army Medical Center (LAMC), named in 1911 for Jonathan Letterman, the medical director of the Civil War era Army of the Potomac. LAMC provided thousands of war-wounded with high quality medical care during every US foreign conflict of the 20th century.

One of the last two remaining cemeteries within the city's limits is the San Francisco National Cemetery. Among the military personnel interred are: General Federick Funston, hero of the Spanish–American War, Philippine–American War, commanding officer of the Presidio at the time of the 1906 earthquake; General Irvin McDowell, Union Army commander who was defeated by the Confederates in the first battle of Bull Run (or Manassas).

The Marine Hospital operated a cemetery for merchant seamen approximately 100–250 yards (91–229 m) from the hospital property. Based on city municipal records, historians estimate that the cemetery was in use from 1885 to 1912.[16] As part of the "Trails Forever" initiative, the Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the Presidio Trust partnered to build a walking trail along the south side of the site featuring interpretive signage about its history.[17]


After a hard-fought battle, the Presidio averted being sold at auction and came under the management of the Presidio Trust, a US Government Corporation established by an act of Congress in 1996.[9][18]

The Presidio Trust now manages most of the park in partnership with the National Park Service. The Trust has jurisdiction over the interior 80 percent of the Presidio, including nearly all of its historic structures. The National Park Service manages coastal areas. Primary law enforcement throughout the Presidio is the jurisdiction of the United States Park Police.

One of main objectives of Presidio Trust's program was achieving financial self-sufficiency by fiscal year 2013. Thanks to rents from residential and commercial tenants, this happened in 2006, well ahead of schedule. Immediately after its inception, the Trust began preparing rehabilitation plans for the park. Many areas had to be decontaminated before they could be prepared for public use.

The Presidio Trust Act calls for "preservation of the cultural and historic integrity of the Presidio for public use." The Act also requires that the Presidio Trust be financially self-sufficient by 2013. These imperatives have resulted in numerous conflicts between the need to maximize income by leasing historic buildings, and permitting public use despite most structures being rented privately. Further differences have arisen from the divergent needs of preserving the integrity of the National Historic Landmark District in the face of new construction, competing pressures for natural habitat restoration, and requirements for commercial purposes that impede public access. As of 2007, there was only a rudimentary visitors' center to orient visitors to the Presidio's history.

Crissy Field, a former airfield, has undergone extensive restoration and now serves as very popular recreational area. It borders on the San Francisco Marina in the East and on the Golden Gate Bridge in the West.

Elevation data of the historic Presidio Officers' Club, derived from a laser scan project conducted by nonprofit CyArk
The Old Coast Guard Station and Golden Gate Bridge

The park has a large inventory of approximately 800 buildings, many of them historical. By 2004, about 50% of the buildings on park grounds had been restored and (partially) remodeled. The Trust has contracted commercial real estate management companies to help attract and retain residential and commercial tenants. The total capacity is estimated at 5,000 residents when all buildings have been rehabilitated. Among the Presidio's residents is The Bay School of San Francisco, a private coeducational college preparatory school located in the central Main Post area. Others include The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Tides Foundation, the Arion Press, Sports Basement Presidio, and The Walt Disney Family Museum, a museum in the memory of Walt Disney.[19] Many various commercial enterprises also lease buildings on the Presidio, including Starbucks Coffee. The San Francisco Art Institute maintained a small student housing program in the Presidio's MacArthur neighborhood from 2002 to 2007.

Sections of the Letterman Army Hospital were preserved by the Thoreau Center for Sustainability.[20]

The Presidio of San Francisco is the only U.S. national recreation area with an extensive residential leasing program.

The Presidio has four creeks that are currently being restored by park stewards and volunteers to expand the former extents of their riparian habitats. The creeks are Lobos and Dragonfly creeks, El Polin Spring, and Coyote Gulch.

Recent developments

Presidio Parkway construction seen from Storey Avenue in October 2013.

The Trust entered a major agreement with Lucasfilm to build a new facility called the Letterman Digital Arts Center (LDAC), which is now Lucasfilm's corporate headquarters. The site replaced portions of what was the Letterman Hospital. George Lucas won the development rights for 15 acres (6.1 ha) of the Presidio, in June 1999, after beating out a number of rival plans including a leading proposal by the Shorenstein Company. LDAC replaced the former Lucasfilm headquarters in San Rafael. The $300 million development includes nearly 900,000 square feet (84,000 m2) of office space and a 150,000-square-foot (14,000 m2) underground parking garage with a capacity of 2,500 employees. Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic, Lucas Licensing, and Lucas Online divisions reside at the site. George Lucas's proposal included plans for a high-tech Presidio museum and a 7-acre (2.8 ha) "Great Lawn" that is now open to the public.

In 2007, Donald Fisher, founder of the Gap clothing stores and former Board member of the Presidio Trust, announced a plan to build a 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) museum tentatively named the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio, to house his art collection. Fisher's plan encountered widespread skepticism and even outright hostility amongst San Francisco preservationists, local residents, the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, and city officials who saw the Presidio site as 'hallowed ground.'[21] Due to such criticism, Fisher withdrew his plans to build the museum in the Presidio and instead donated the art to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art before his death in 2009.[22][23]

An aerial view of the Presidio

As the Doyle Drive viaduct was deemed seismically unsafe and obsolete, construction started on the demolition of Doyle Drive in 2008 to replace the structure with a flat, broad-lane highway with a tunnel through the bluffs above Crissy Field, called the Presidio Parkway. The project costs $1 billion and is scheduled to be completed by 2016.[24][25]

The Trust plans to create a promenade that will link the Lombard gate and the new Lucasfilm campus to the Main Post and ultimately to the Golden Gate Bridge. The promenade is part of a trails expansion plan that will add 24 miles (39 km) of new pathways and eight scenic overlooks throughout the park.

In October 2008, artist Andy Goldsworthy constructed a new sculpture "Spire" in the Presidio. It is 100 feet (30 m) tall and located near the Arguello Gate. It represents the tree replanting effort that has been underway at the Presidio.[26]

In 2010, a trampoline park called House of Air was built using an old Aircraft Hangar. The park was created as a result of the Presidio Trust.[27]

As the Presidio has reached a point of self-sufficiency, the final set of buildings is under renovation. Fort Scott will be home to the new National Center for Service and Innovative Leadership. In July 2013, the first youth program was piloted at the Center in partnership with the National Youth Leadership Council. The National Youth Leadership Training serves a diverse mix of high school aged students from across the country to develop leadership skills and learn about educational inequity in America.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Presidio (Crissy Field) neighborhood in San Francisco, California (CA), 94129 subdivision profile". Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  2. "Presidio of San Francisco" (PDF). National Park Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-25. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  3. National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  4. 1 2 NHL Summary.
  5. 1 2 "Presidio of San Francisco". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
  6. "Under Three Flags" (pdf). National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  7. "Presidio of San Francisco Post to Park transition". National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  8. "The Presidio Trust". Archived from the original on February 14, 2012.
  9. 1 2 Levy, Dan (June 19, 2005). "A Green Belt in The Black". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  10. Cabanatuan, Michael (May 8, 2012). "Golden Gate Bridge's 1st visitor center to open". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-05-13.
  11. "Crissy Field Center". Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  12. "K. T. Khlĕbnikov: A Look at a Half-Century of My Life". Syn otechestva: 311–312. 1836.
  13. "The Presidio Trust". Urban Ecosystems. 1 (3): 133. 1997. Retrieved 2012-08-05.(subscription required)
  14. "San Francisco's Proud Presidio". The Milwaukee Journal. December 17, 1946. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  15. "Privatizing the Presidio". PBS NewsHour. September 11, 1996. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  16. McCann, Jennifer (2006). "The Marine Hospital Cemetery, Presidio of San Francisco, California" (PDF). The Presidio Archaeology Center. Archived from the original (pdf) on March 9, 2012.
  17. "The Marine Hospital Cemetery". The Presidio Trust. Retrieved September 14, 2012.
  18. "Title unknown". The Wall Street Journal.
  19. "The Walt Disney Family Museum". Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  20. "Thoreau Center for Sustainability San Francisco". Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  21. King, John (March 18, 2008). "Architect waxes poetic with Presidio museum". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  22. King, John (July 2, 2009). "Fishers give up on plan for Presidio art museum". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  23. Baker, Kenneth (October 2, 2009). "SFMOMA gets Fisher art collection". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  24. Cabanatuan, Michael (January 12, 2010). "Closure of Doyle Drive off-ramp goes smoothly". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  25. "Presidio Parkway Construction Schedule". Retrieved September 13, 2014.
  26. ""Spire" by Andy Goldsworthy". Presidio Trust web site. Archived from the original on May 12, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  27. "Presidio House of Air brings flight to the flightless".
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