Fort Baker at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Fort Baker is situated on the shore of the Marin Headlands in San Francisco Bay. It is the siteof one of the nation’s earliest coastal defense artillery batteries, and is significant in the development of the coastal defense system. The period of significance is 1867 to 1946. Fort Baker, along with Forts Barry and Cronkhite, was included as a nationally-significant historic district in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, due to the site’s significance in coastal defense system.

"… the [guns] themselves must be colored to harmonize with their surroundings in summer and winter; in a word, dispersion and concealment, as contrasted with concentration and armor, is the latest [word]…" "Course of Lectures upon the Defense of the Sea-Coast of the United States" by Henry L. Abbot, 1888

view of bay from battery
Batteries were typically sited in a long line—such as Battery Duncan, Battery Cavallo, and Battery Yates, or on a defended point, such as Ridge Battery high on the north side of the Golden Gate.

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battery
Of all the batteries built for coastal defense, only two have been destroyed. There remain fifteen fortifications in good structural condition, now all disarmed.

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This land, strategically located in Marin County, commands views of the Bay entrance. In 1866 Forts Baker and Barry were acquired by purchase to be used for military defense. The fortifications proposed for construction on this land were to augment those at the Presidio of San Francisco, in order to prevent successful passage of hostile ships through the Golden Gate into the San Francisco Bay.
Two components of natural systems and features had a strong influence on the design and development of Fort Baker. The natural topography, a relatively flat valley floor surrounded by steep hills, provided an exceptional vantage point into the San Francisco Bay and made Fort Baker an excellent strategic position. Further, the small harbor, Horseshoe Cove, was well suited to accommodate ships and played a vital role in the development of the post. The topographic manipulations affected the physical character of the landscape and included: five batteries – each one involved significant earthworks; the development of the parade ground and the waterfront including considerable grading; cuts and fills involved with road construction (and especially the Golden Gate Bridge). 

parade ground
The valley just north of the cove was a natural setting for buildings and administrative functions as it buffered the cantonment from the harsh winds and fog. The buildings were constructed around the edge of the slopes that created the valley, leaving the flat center area for the parade ground.

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Several circulation systems remain from the historic period including the walkways and much of the road system. These connect the Batteries, the Parade Ground (and structures around Murray Circle), and the Quartermaster Warehouse. More than one hundred historic structures are located at Fort Baker, which as a group, display architectural styles based on standardized plans developed by the Army, and are good examples of military architecture widely used throughout the country in the early twentieth century. Throughout the site are many of the existing trees from the historic period. Among these are the even aged stand of Monterey cypress trees, planted as a windbreak, and eucalyptus trees. Turfgrass is by far the most pervasive historic vegetative feature.
Fort Baker retains historical integrity as a military landscape. The site displays the seven aspects that determine integrity as defined by the National Register of Historic Places: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The site retains the of the majority of the following landscape characteristics that contribute to its significance and integrity: natural systems and features, spatial organization, topography, circulation, cluster arrangement, vegetation, buildings and structures, views and vistas, and small scale features.

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Designed
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A,C

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