Letterman General Hospital

View of the entrance to the Original hospital headquarters building.
Original hospital headquarters building, now Thoreau Center for Sustainability

Quick Facts

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits

The building now known as Letterman General Hospital began providing healthcare in different capacities in 1898. In World War II it was one of the largest hospitals in the country, and continued to function as a hospital into the 1980s. Now, nonprofit organizations reside in what remains of the original hospital building. A 1960s addition to the hospital complex wasn't up to modern earthquake code, and so it was replaced by new buildings that are home to George Lucas' LucasArts and Industrial Light and Magic divisions of Lucasfilm.

Letterman Origins

In 1898, the Old Post Hospital was short one too many bedpans for all the sick men, soldiers and volunteers at their facility. A request for a new Army General Hospital at the Presidio was made. Established in 1899, this later became known as the Letterman Hospital. Most of its patients were sick soldiers who were going to or on their way back from the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

From its infancy, the hospital was home to state-of-the-art technology, including an intercom telephone system as well as primitive X-Ray equipment. Further progress came in 1901, when the facility became the first army general hospital to employ women of the newly created Army Nurse Corps. Soon Letterman Hospital became world-renowned for its research on tropical diseases and was instrumental in many crucial developments in orthopedics. Although it was chartered to serve the Army, the hospital opened its doors to civilian casualties after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Letterman in WWII

During World War II, Letterman's location made it the most important hospital for the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers from the Pacific Theater. The statistics are staggering-in 1945 alone, Letterman General Hospital received more than 73,000 patients. Letterman and Walter Reed Hospital were the Army's largest hospitals during this period.

Renovation and Innovation

By the Vietnam era, the Army renovated the aging structure into a new ten-story, 550-bed facility in 1969. The new Letterman Army Medical Center trained a quarter of the Army's medical specialists and served soldiers wounded in Vietnam throughout the 1970s. The facility was on the cutting edge of the development of artificial blood, laser physics, and the treatment of trauma. Following the transfer of the Presidio to the National Park Service, both the hospital and the research institute were deactivated in 1995.

George Lucas' Letterman Digital Arts Center

The hospital was deactivated in 1995 following the transfer of the Presidio to the National Park Service. As part of an ongoing effort to make the Presidio a financially self-sufficient National Park, Lucasfilm was selected to redevelop the site. The new Letterman Digital Arts Center is home to several Lucasfilm divisions, including Industrial Light & Magic and LucasArt. The beautiful campus is host to many inspirational sculptures.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Presidio of San Francisco

Last updated: January 29, 2021