Temporary Closure of Waters Around Alcatraz Island
From 7/3 to 9/22 a 500’ marine buffer zone is in effect, closing the perimeter of Alcatraz Island to all private vessels to protect nesting seabirds during America's Cup racing. Tours to Alcatraz continue as usual during the races. More »
Muir Beach (but not nearby Muir Woods) closed July 8-November 2013, but local businesses are open
Though Muir Beach is closed from July 8-November 2013 due to construction, the PELICAN INN IS OPEN. Restrooms and parking are not available at Muir Beach. Pacific Way is closed except to residents. Check back for updates or call (415)561-3054. More »
CAUTION: Post Storm Damage to Coastal Trail
The Presidio Coastal Trail segment just north of the Pacific Overlook and adjacent to Lincoln Blvd remains CLOSED indefinitely. We have posted signage to alert bicyclists and hikers and with information for safe trail alternatives. More »
El Presidio de San Francisco, 1776-1846
In 1776 the Spanish formally took possession of the area presently know as the Golden Gate. Under the command of Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza, the Spanish moved quickly to fortify the area, and by the winter of 1776, a military camp located in a sheltered vale inland from the headlands was completed. The new outpost was named the Presidio of San Francisco (in honor of St. Francis of Assisi). Once completed, Spain sent a garrison of troops to protect the outpost and the surrounding area. The duties of the garrison included guarding the nearby Mission, which was later known as Mission Dolores; and "controlling" the Indians of the area. Its commandant also received instructions to regulate the coming and going of foreign ships, whether they were British, French, Russian, or American.1
The Presidio marked the northernmost advance of Spain's empire in North America at a time of intense international rivalry among western powers in the North Pacific. But the Presidio was more of a village than a fortification, although the buildings were arranged defensively. With only two cannons supplied to the garrison, the initial defenses of the Bay offered nothing more than a facade of strength. One cannon exploded in a training exercise, and the remaining cannon lacked adequate gunpowder to defend against a sustained attack. When Captain George Vancouver, of the British Frigate H.M.S. Discovery, entered the gate in 1792, he fired his cannon to salute the Spanish flag, but there was no response from the Spanish garrison at the Presidio. This breach of etiquette caused confusion among the crew of the Discovery, until a soldier from the Presidio rowed out to the ship and requested gun powder to return the salute. When Spanish officials heard of this show of weakness, artillery and new fortifications were quickly ordered for the area. Several bronze guns were sent to the Presidio, six of which remain at the Presidio today.2
The first sea coast fortification on the Pacific Coast began in 1793, when Governor Jose Joaquin Arrillaga ordered the construction of Castillo de San Joaquin, about a mile and a half from the Presidio. The specific location for construction was at the northernmost headland that had been named Punta del Cantil Blanco (White Cliff Point), which the Americans would later call Fort Point. The fort was completed on December 8, 1794, at a cost of more than 6,000 pesos. The importance of the San Francisco Bay to the Spanish is underscored by this new fortification, since the Spanish viceroy considered its cost quite a large sum. 1
In the years that followed, winter storms and earthquakes battered the Presidio and Castillo forts, which were constructed primarily from adobe. The small garrison force and Indian laborers made repairs when funds became available, but the outposts were severely neglected by the Spanish crown and the viceroy of New Spain, who had other problems in Europe and the Americas. The Presidio of San Francisco fell into severe disrepair after 1810, despite the expansion of the quadrangle around 1815; The east wing (the Mesa Room) and the west wing (the de Anza Room) of today's "Officers' Club" were probably constructed between 1812 and 1815. The quadrangle shares the distinction of being one of the two oldest adobe buildings in San Francisco, along with Mission Dolores.1 The foundation of the quadrangle has been partially excavated and can be seen in front of the Officers' Club at the Presidio today.1
With the collapse of Spain's colonial efforts in Mexico in 1821, officials in Alta California changed their allegiance to the new Mexican government. However, the new government paid as little attention to the welfare of the northern colonies as had the Spanish viceroy. Largely as a result of the derelict adobe structures at the Presidio, Comandante General Mariano Vallejo moved the garrison north to Sonoma in 1835, leaving only a small care-taking detachment at the Presidio.3
1. Thompson, Erwin N. Defenders of the Gate: A History from 1846 to 1995. California: National Park Service, 1997.
2. Barker, Blind, and Bernaal. El Presidio de San Francisco Archaeological Site Tour. California: National Park Service, 2001.
3. History of the Presidio Officers’ Club, Presidio Trust,2001. http://www.atthepresidio.org/spotlight/oclubhistory.asp
Did You Know?
The Fort Mason’s Officer Club was built in 1877 as the commanding officers’ residence and up through 1943, has been the home of virtually every significant general officer in the western states including Irvin McDowell, Nelson Miles, Arthur MacArthur, Frederick Funston and John Dewitt.