Fort Mason (page 2/2)

The 1906 Earthquake

On April 18, 1906, San Francisco was hit by a devastating earthquake and within hours, much of the city’s downtown was on fire. Turning to the army for help, the city government quickly designated Fort Mason as the city’s temporary City Hall and the post’s Brigadier General Frederick Funston established a command post at the Fort Mason Commanding Officers’ residence. An earthquake refugee camp was established at Fort Mason where soldiers provided food, water and temporary shelter to hundreds of homeless citizens.

large groups of people and tents in a large field
Fort Mason provided temporary shelter for thousands of earthquake vicitms. Notice the army hospital building just to the center in photograph; that building now functions as the park's headquarters. Photo circa 1906.



The San Francisco Port of Embarkation

In 1915, the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, which included three piers, their sheds, warehouses, and a railroad tunnel running under Fort Mason, was constructed at what is now known as Lower Fort Mason. With these new facilities, Fort Mason was transformed from a harbor defense post into a logistical and transport hub for American military operations in the Pacific. During World War II, Fort Mason served as the headquarters for the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, the nerve center of a vast network of shipping facilities that spread throughout the Bay Area.

large warehouse buildings situated closely near waterfront
This photo shows the San Francisco Port of Embakation in action: 4 large army transport ships are docked alongside the loading piers, ready to accept goods from the adjacent warehouses. Photo circa 1920s.


crowded cluster of large and small buildings on a hill
During World War II, the army built a maze of wood-frame, temporary buildings all over the Fort Mason post to support the workings of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation. The arrow indicates the location of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation headquarters; that building is now the park's headquarters. Photo circa 1940s.



Fort Mason Today: home of Golden Gate National Recreation Area

By the late 1960s, the Department of Defense identified Fort Mason, as well as several other Bay Area posts, as no longer necessary for military purposes. Congressman Phillip Burton championed the idea of creating a new urban national park that would provide recreational opportunities for all citizens. Over many years, the future of the Bay Area surplus military land was the focus of local and national debate. Through much public involvement and political workings, Golden Gate National Recreation Area was created in 1972. The headquarters for the new park was established in the post’s original army hospital. As part of the redevelopment effort for the park, many of the underutilized, temporary army buildings were removed to create Fort Mason’s Great Meadow, as open space for city’s residents and visitors alike.

colored front cover of walking tour showing historic aerial of Fort Mason

To learn more about Fort Mason, download the self-guided walking tour A Reflection of San Francisco Through Time; A 19th Century Army Post on a San Francisco Bluff (PDF file, 2.4 MB)

To learn more about the history of the Bay Area's seacoast defense system, visit the San Francisco Bay Seacoast Defenses 1776-1974 page.

For Additional National Park Service Documents:

Download the Fort Mason Cultural Landscape Report (2004) (PDF file, 45 mb) and
the Upper Fort Mason Cultural Landscape Report Vol II: Treatment Strategy

Download the San Francisco Port of Embarkation Historic Structure Report (1991) (PDF file, 24 MB)

Download the Fort Mason Officers' Club Historic Structure Report (2005) (PDF file, 133 MB)

To learn more about the park's other Civil War military posts, please visit the Civil War at Golden Gate page.


Last updated: September 29, 2021

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Building 201, Fort Mason

San Francisco, CA 94123-0022


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