The Presidio of San Francisco, California, is a park on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula in the city and county of San Francisco. The presidio has undergone a long and colorful history that crosses international, ethnic, and cultural boundaries.
Spain ordered the colonization of the coast north of Nueva Espana (New Spain). In 1769, Juan Bautista de Anza led 193 colonists and soldiers, and some livestock, from Sonora, Mexico, to San Francisco Bay. They arrived on June 27, 1776, to establish a presidio (garrison).
Presidio de San Francisco became the northernmost bastion of a network of Spanish colonization. The presidio's role was to protect the frontier from foreign invaders. In 1792, two additional forts were ordered to be built. Castillo de San Joaquin (near Fort Point) and Bateria de Yerba Buena (at Fort Mason), were constructed in 1794, and armed with 17th-century bronze cannons cast in Lima, Peru. Six of these guns remain at the Presidio today.
The early 19th century saw growing discontent in New Spain's society. Revolts among the indigenous people of Mexico began in 1810 and extended through 1821, when a revolution led to formation of the Mexican Republic. For the next 13 years, Mexican soldiers served at the presidio.
In 1835, the facility was temporarily abandoned when General Mariano Vallejo transferred his military headquarters north to Sonoma. American forces landed in 1846, and occupied the presidio during the U.S. war with Mexico. In 1848, California was transferred by treaty from Mexico to the United States.
One year after United States forces first occupied the presidio in 1846, the New York Volunteers of the U.S. Army renovated it.
Upon the discovery of gold in California, the sudden growth and importance of San Francisco prompted the U.S. government to establish military reservations there. By executive order of President Fillmore, the United States reserved the presidio in November 1850, for military use. During the 1850s and 1860s, presidio soldiers fought Native Americans in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada.
To protect the bay entrance, the Army Corps of Engineers built Fort Point, a four-tiered brick-and-granite citadel, designed to hold 126 large cannon. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, emphasized the importance of a rich California and the military significance of San Francisco Bay to the Union. This led, in 1862, to the first major program of construction when the United States expanded the presidio.
The Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s, resulted in the presidio's additional growth. Soldiers stationed there saw action against the Modoc Indians in the lava beds of northern California and against the Apache Indians in the Southwest.
In the 1880s, a large-scale tree planting and post beautification program was begun. By the 1890s, the presidio was no longer a frontier outpost, but a major military installation and a base for American expansion into the Pacific.
The United States' war with Spain, in 1898, and the subsequent Philippine-American War, from 1899 to 1902, increased the presidio's role. Thousands of troops camped in tent cities while awaiting shipment to the Philippines, including the four African-American regiments known as the "Buffalo Soldiers." Returning sick and wounded soldiers were treated in the Army's first permanent general hospital, Presidio (later Letterman) Army General Hospital.
During and following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the U.S. Army at the Presidio assisted the civilian government by providing food, clothing, shelter, and protection.
The United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Presidio and U.S. soldiers of Japanese descent were trained to read and speak Japanese at the first Military Intelligence Service language school at adjacent Crissy Field.
In the 1950s, the presidio served as the headquarters for Nike missile defense located around the Golden Gate. The Presidio of San Francisco was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, even while continuing to serve as the U.S. Army's 6th Army Headquarters.
In 1972, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was created, and the presidio was designated to be part of the recreation area, in the event of base closure.
As part of a military base reduction program in 1989, Congress decided to close the post. The presidio was transferred to the National Park Service on October 1, 1994. At the time of its closure, the presidio was the oldest continuously operating military base in the country, containing a National Historic Landmark District of more than 500 buildings enjoying its priceless historic value.
Two years after the National Park Service took control of the Presidio, the U.S. Congress established the Presidio Trust to transform the post into a financially self-sufficient park by the year 2013, while at the same time preserving its natural, scenic, and historic resources.
That type of park management organization had never been tried before, but was deemed essential for generating sufficient revenue to pay for the costly upkeep of the historic structures.
On July 1, 1998, management of the non-coastal areas of the presidio was transferred to the trust, which will lease the property in a manner that supports the objectives of the General Management Plan. Thus, the Presidio enters the 21st century as a new kind of park; one dedicated not only to preserving the past, but also to shaping the future.
A major financial win for the trust was a controversial deal signed with Lucasfilm. The company has built a new headquarters of Industrial Light and Magic and LucasArts on the former Letterman hospital site. George Lucas won the development rights for 15 acres of the Presidio in June 1999, after beating out a number of rival plans.
A massive $300 million development with nearly 900,000 square feet of office space, and a 150,000 square-foot underground parking garage with a planned capacity of 2,500 employees, has replaced the former ILM and LucasArts headquarters in San Rafael.
Lucas Learning Ltd., Lucas Online, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, also will move to the site. Lucas's proposal includes plans for a high-tech presidio museum and a seven-acre "Great Lawn" that is now open to the public.