The Presidio of San Francisco (originally, El Presidio Real de San Francisco or Royal Presidio of San Francisco) is a park on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula in San Francisco, California, within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It has been a fortified location since 1776 when the Spanish made it the military center of their expansion in the area. It passed to Mexico which in turn passed it to the United States in 1847. In 1995, it was closed as a military base, ending 219 years of military use and beginning its next phase of mixed commercial and public use. It is required to be self supporting by 2013.
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 by Congress as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
The Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum, is located in the Palace of Fine Arts inside the Presidio.
Presidio Visitor Centers
- Presidio Visitor Center - offers changing exhibits about the Presidio, information about activities and sights in the park and books.
- Battery Chamberlin - seacoast defense museum and artillery display
- Fort Point - 1861 brick and granite fortification located under the Golden Gate Bridge. The visitor center, open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, offers a video orientations, guided tours, self-guiding materials, exhibits, and books for sale.
- Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center - This center offers hands-on marine life exhibits, and is located in a historic Coast Guard Station at the west end of Crissy Field. The building was used by the Coast Guard from 1890 to 1990.
The visitor centers are operated by the National Park Service.
Crissy Field Center
Crissy Field Center
is an urban environmental education
center with many programs for schools, public workshops, after school programs, summer camps, and more. The Center overlooks a restored tidal marsh
, and the facilities include interactive environmental exhibits, a media lab, resource library, arts workshop, science lab, gathering room, teaching kitchen, café and bookstore. Crissy Field Center
is operated by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
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. It was seized by the U.S. Military in 1846, officially opened 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 entanglement in the Asia/ Pacific region. It was the center for defense of the Western U.S. during World War II. The infamous order to intern Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and Italian-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 base in the United States.
From the 1890s, the Presidio was home to the Letterman Army Medical Center (LAMC) which was named, in 1911, for Jonathan Letterman, the medical director of the Army of the Potomac (Civil War). LAMC featured in every US foreign conflict during the 20th century by treating thousands of war wounded with high quality medical care.
Part of the Presidio is a cemetery. Among the military personnel interred is General Irvin McDowell who commanded the Union Army in the early days of the American Civil War and was defeated by the Confederates in the first major battle of Bull Run (or Manassas). After he retired, he moved to California and died in 1885 of a heart attack.
Chronology of Selected Historical Events
Presidio soldiers’ duties were to support Mission Dolores by controlling Indian workers in the Mission, and also farming, ranching, and hunting in order to supply themselves and their families. Support from Spanish authorities in Mexico was very limited.
- 1821 - Mexico became independent of Spain. The Presidio received even less support from Mexico. Residents of Alta California, which include the Presidio, debated separating entirely from Mexico.
- 1835 - The Presidio garrison, led by Mariano Vallejo, relocated to Sonoma. A small detachment remained at the Presidio, which was in decline.
- 1846 - American settlers and adventurers in Sonoma revolted against Mexican rule. Mariano Vallejo was imprisoned for a brief time. (Bear Flag Revolt) Lieutenant John C. Fremont, a U.S. Army officer, with a small detachment of soldiers and frontiersmen crossed the Golden Gate in a boat to “capture” the Presidio against no resistance. A cannon that was “spiked” by Fremont remains on the Presidio today.
- 1846-1848 - U.S. Army occupied the Presidio. The Presidio began a long era directing operations to control and protect Native Americans as headquarters for scattered Army units on the West Coast.
- 1853 - Work was begun on Fort Point, which became a fine example of coastal defenses of its time. Fort Point, located at the foot of the Golden Gate in the Presidio, was the keystone of an elaborate network of fortifications to defend San Francisco Bay. These fortifications now reflect 150 years of military concern for defense of the West Coast.
- 1861-1865 - The American Civil War involved the Presidio. Colonel Albert Sydney Johnston protected Union weapons from being taken by Southern sympathizers in San Francisco. Later, he resigned from the Union Army and become a general in the Confederate Army. He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh.
The Presidio organized regiments of volunteers for the Civil War and to control Indians in California and Oregon during the absence of federal troops.
- 1869-1870 - Major General George Henry Thomas, who was an American Civil War hero, led the Division of the Pacific. General Thomas died in 1870 and was buried in Troy, New York.
- 1872-1873 - Modoc Indian Campaign (Lava Beds War) involved some Presidio troops and command in this major battle, the last large scale U.S. Army operation against Native Americans in the Far West.
- 1890 - 1914 - Presidio soldiers became the nation’s first “park rangers” by patrolling the new Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
- 1898-1906 - The Presidio became the nation’s center for assembling, training, and shipping out forces to the Spanish American War in the Philippine Islands and the subsequent Philippine-American War (Philippine Insurrection). Letterman Army Hospital was modernized and expanded to care for the many wounded and seriously ill soldiers from these campaigns. The Philippine campaign was an early major U.S. military intervention in the Asia/Pacific region. The Presidio repeated this role as a launching point for forces or a receiving point for war wounded in later interventions and World War II in Asia as well as the Vietnam conflict and the Korean War.
- 1903 - President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Presidio. His honor guard was from the African American “Buffalo Soldier” 10th Cavalry Regiment, then at the Presidio. This regiment took a role in Roosevelt’s famous charge of San Juan Hill in Cuba.
- 1906 - The San Francisco Earthquake of April, 1906, led to an immediate Army response directed by General Frederick Funston, who had earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery in the Philippines. Army units provided security and fought fires at the direction of the city government. After the fire which resulted from the earthquake, Presidio soldiers gave aid, food, and shelter to refugees. Temporary camps for refugees were set up on the Presidio.
- 1912 - Fort Winfield Scott was established in the western part of the Presidio as a coast artillery post and the headquarters of the Artillery District of San Francisco.
- 1914-1916 - The Presidio Commander, General John J. Pershing commanded the Mexcian Punitive Expedition to eliminate the threat of Pancho Villa, a Mexican rebel and bandit, who conducted raids across the U.S. border. General Pershing’s family died in a tragic fire while he was away. As a result of the tragic 1915 fire in General Pershing's quarters, the Presidio Fire Department was established as the first fire station staffed 24 hours per day on a military post.
Pershing later commanded all U.S. ground forces in Europe during World War I and then became Chief of Staff of the Army.
- 1915 - Part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was located on the Presidio water front, which was expanded by landfill for the purpose. Soldiers supported the Exposition with parades, honor guards, and artillery demonstrations. The Exposition was to celebrate opening of the Panama Canal.
- 1917-1918 - The Presidio rapidly expanded with new cantonments and training areas for World War I. Recruiting, training, and deploying units again become the Presidio’s role. An officers training camp was located here. The waterfront area was covered by quickly assembled buildings and the railroad track into the Presidio was busy with wartime traffic.
The 30th Infantry Regiment, “San Francisco’s Own,” fought with distinction in World War I and earned the title “Rock of the Marne.” It frequently was based at the Presidio.
- 1918-1920 - The Presidio was the center for forming and training the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. This was a little-remembered force that moved into Siberia during the Russian Civil War. The mission of this force changed often. It encountered hostility from another part of the Expeditionary Force, Japan, while fighting bandits, and protecting Allied civilians.
- 1920-1932 - The Presidio became home to Crissy Field, the major pioneering military aviation field located on the West Coast. Trailbreaking transpacific and transcontinental flights occurred here.. At Crissy, future General “Hap” Arnold developed techniques for the new military aviation.. Arnold later commanded the Army Air Corps in World War II.
- 1941-1946 - World War II saw intense activity at the Presidio. It continued as a coordinating headquarters, deployment center, and training site, as it was for most of its existence. The Western Defense Command was responsible for the defense of the West Coast. For a time this included supervising combat in the Aleutian Islands.
The Presidio again was crowded with temporary barracks and training facilities. Letterman Army Hospital was filled with casualties. At one point, entire trains filled with war wounded arrived at the Presidio from the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
A Japanese Language School was set up to train Japanese-Americans to be interpreters in the war against Japan. Ironically, some of these soldiers had their families interred in camps for the rest of the war, while they performed bravely in the Pacific.
- 1941 - 1945 - The Commanding General of the Western Defense Command, General John L. DeWitt, responded to public hysteria directed against all Japanese on the West Coast. He recommended removing all Japanese, including citizens, from the Western Seaboard. The F.B.I. and some Western politicians also express alarm, although no incidents of sabotage occurred. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, to direct removal of ethnic Japanese residents to internment camps.
- 1946 - After World War II, the Presidio command was redesignated the Sixth U.S. Army. It was responsible, again, for Army forces in the Western U.S., training, supplies, and deployment. It also was the federal agency to coordinate disaster relief by the military.
A United Nations Committee visited the Presidio for the purpose of examining its suitability as the site of the future U.N. Headquarters.
- 1950-53 - The Korean War again tasked the Presidio’s headquarters and support functions. Again, Letterman Army Hospital was mobilized to care for casualties from the war.
- 1951 - The Presidio hosted ceremonies for signing the ANZUS Treaty, a security pact of Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. The Japan-US security treaty was signed at the Presidio, while the Japanese Peace Treaty was signed in downtown San Francisco. These events again showed the Presidio’s role in America’s growing involvement in Asia and the Pacific.
- 1961-1973 - The Presidio filled a supporting role in the Vietnam War. Antiwar demonstrations took place at the Presidio’s gates. A mutiny occurred at the Presidio stockade prison.
- 1968 - Michael Bunch shot, initiating the Presidio Mutiny.
- 1969-1974 - Letterman Army Hospital (LAMC) was modernized and Letterman Army Institute of Research (LAIR) was built.
- 1991 - The Presidio sent its few remaining units to war for the last time in Desert Storm, the First Gulf War. The role of Sixth Army was management of training and coordinating deployment of National Guard and Reserve units in the Western U.S. for Desert Storm.
- 1994 Sixth Army was inactivated. The Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service.
- 1996 Park becomes privatized through congressional action.
- 2001 Letterman Army Hospital was demolished. Later, the Letterman Digital Arts Center was constructed on the site.
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.
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 well ahead of schedule, in 2006. Immediately after its inception, the Trust began preparing rehabilation 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.
The park has a large network of buildings (~ 800), many of them historical. By 2004 about 50% of the buildings on park grounds have 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 Moore Foundation, Tides Foundation, Internet Archive, the Arion Press, and a soon to be established museum in the memory of Walt Disney Many various commercial enterprises also lease buildings on the Presidio, including, recently, 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
The Presidio of San Francisco is the only U.S. national recreation area with an extensive residential leasing program.
The Trust entered a major agreement with Lucasfilm to build a new facility called the Letterman Digital Arts Center (LDAC) which is now the headquarters of Industrial Light and Magic and LucasArts. The site replaced portions of what was the Letterman Hospital. George Lucas won the development rights for 15 acres (61,000 m²) of the Presidio, in June 1999, after beating out a number of rival plans including a leading proposal by the Shorenstein Company. A $300 million development with 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, LDAC replaced the former ILM and LucasArts headquarters in San Rafael. Lucas Learning Ltd., Lucas Online, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation also reside at the site. Lucas' proposal included plans for a high-tech Presidio museum and a seven acre (28,000 m²) "Great Lawn" that is now open to the public.
On August 8, 2007, Donald Fisher, founder of the Gap clothing stores and former Board member of the Presidio Trust, announced plans to build a 100,000 square foot museum tentatively named the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio, to house his art collection. The museum, if built, will have exhibit space larger than the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But Fisher's plan has engendered widespread skepticism and even outright hostility among some San Francisco preservationists, who see the Presidio site as 'hallowed ground.' Some architecture critics have also decried the proposed museum design as not in keeping with its setting.
The Trust plans to create a promenade that will link the Lombard gate, 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.
- Alley, Paul, et.al. Presidio of San Francisco National Historic Landmark District. National Regiser of Historic Places Registration Form. National Park Service, San Francisco (1993)
- "Cultural Landsapes Defined," Cultural Landscape Foundation
- Langelier, Joh P., El Presidio de San Francisco: A History under Spain and Mexico. August, 1992 The best study of the Hispanic period.
- Presidio History at presidio.gov. Several categories. Chapters by period.
- Thompson, Erwin N. Defender of the Gate: The Presidio of San Francisco, A History from 1846 to 1995. HIstoric Research Study, vols I and II. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service. July 1997. Authoritative with emphasis on locations.
- Presidio Trust Management Plan.
- Thoreau Center for Sustainability. Preserver of the Letterman