Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area


Lime Point, 1866-1869

Although a large fortification had been designated for Lime Point under the Plan of 1850, the military was unable to acquire the land until 1866, through a purchase that included all of the Marin Headlands. To excavate the land for the construction of the fort, the largest non-combat blasting operation in the United States, up to that at time, was used to level the terrain. Between 1868 and 1869, under the supervision of Major George Mendell, charges of 24,000 pounds of gunpowder were exploded in an effort to blast out a level site at the base of the 300-foot cliff.1 This rubble still exists, in part, under the northern approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge.2

The Lime Point fortification was originally intended to be a large defensive structure similar to the multi-tiered brick and mortar casemated design used at Fort Point. However, budgetary constraints halted work at Lime Point before it even began. Instead, the military opted for a more economic alternative by building several barbette batteries. Although these smaller fortifications largely reflected economic limitations, the coastal defenses at Lime Point demonstrated the changing nature of post-Civil War fortifications. "Never again would forts be built in the storybook style as single structures housing large numbers of cannon. From this time on, a fort was a piece of real estate occupied by a number of dispersed individual batteries."3

The Barbette batteries, as finally approved, were to consist of a water battery at Point Cavallo, Gravellly Beach, and a battery at an elevation of well over 400 feet on top of Lime Point bluff. The fortifications atop Lime Point would later be divided into two batteries: Cliff Battery at the end of the ridge, where Battery Spencer stands today; and Ridge Battery, located farther back along the ridge itself.2

1. Thompson, Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten to Secretary of War Floyd, 9 November 1859, Office of the Chief of Engineers, RG 77, National Archives Record Center, San Bruno.

2. Thompson, Erwin N. Historic Resource Study: Seacoast Fortifications, San Francisco Harbor. California: GGNRA, 1979.

3. Lewis, Emanuel R. Seacoast Fortifications of the United States: An Introductory History. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1990.

History & Culture

At Golden Gate National Recreation Area, history and culture span an extraordinary timeframe with a rich layering of themes and subject matter. There are five individual National Historic Landmarks and over 10 National Register properties in the park.

The park's cultural resources are tremendously varied. Dramatic view sheds of contrasting rural and urban environments lead to historic landscapes ranging from dairy ranches and seaside recreation sites, to maritime resources like lighthouses and shipwrecks. Golden Gate has been part of the homelands of Coastal Miwok and Ohlone people for thousands of years and still contains archeological sites and landscapes influenced by native land management. The park includes the largest and most complete collection of military installations and fortifications in the country, dating from Spanish settlement in 1776 though the Nike missiles of the Cold War. Golden Gate contains eleven former Army posts whose military architecture and historic landscapes comprise the heart of the park.


Many different types of people, including Dana Crissy, John Muir and the Ohlone and Coast Miwok, have shaped the history of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.


Golden Gate National Recreation Area is made up of a diverse collection of historic districts, historic buildings, cultural landscapes and archeological sites.


The park has many interesting stories to tell, including being home to the 1915 World's Fair and the development of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation at Lower Fort Mason.


The park is involved in many preservation projects, ranging from building rehabilitation to conservation of historic materials.


Many of the park's cultural resource studies, including historic resource studies and preservation plans, are available to the public.


Mines and Submarine Defenses

If the big guns failed to stop an enemy vessel far offshore, the next line of defense was three minefields containing over 600 underwater mines outside the Golden Gate. An antisubmarine net located inside the Gate would prevent any submarine that penetrated the minefield from entering the bay.

John Muir

"Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike" - John Muir, 1869

John Muir was one of the country's most famous naturalist and conservationist and Muir Woods, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is named in his honor. Muir is credited with both the creation of the National Park System and the establishment of the Sierra Club. He educated Americans about the value of the country's wilderness, inspiring generations of wilderness advocates.

John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland on April 28, 1838, as the oldest son in religious shopkeeper's family. From an early age, Muir was fascinated by nature and was eager to learn about his environment. His family immigrated to America in 1849 and settled into farm life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His family did not have enough money to send him to school, so after completing his daily farm chores, Muir spent his spare time teaching himself algebra and geometry. As a child, he designed many inventions that would ease the family's work.

As he grew older, Muir became increasingly excited about what plants and nature could teach him. At university, Muir focused his studies on chemistry, geology and botany. Restless to explore more of the country, he left school for what he would call "the University of the Wilderness". He came to the San Francisco area in 1868 and there he discovered the Sierra Mountains. Muir fell in love with the immense beauty of the mountain landscape. Armed with a plant-press and a blank notebook, Muir wandered for weeks at a time, through the mountains that would later be Yosemite National Park.

During his lengthy wanderings, Muir contemplated man's relationship to nature. He concluded that all life forms have inherent significance and the right to exist. Humans, Muir decided, are no greater or lesser than other forms of life. He also realized how fragile nature was; how people's impact on the land, through grazing, lumbering and commercial developments, was slowly destroying all the beauty in the wilderness. He wrote many magazine articles and books, inspiring other people to love nature and drawing attention to the need to protect the environment.

Muir became politically active to protect Yosemite from being threatened by commercial developments. After several legal battles, Congress established Yosemite National Park in 1890 in order to protect thousands of acres of forest land from further destruction. In 1892, Muir and other private citizens banded together and established the Sierra Club to increase awareness about the potential destruction of the country's wilderness.

President Teddy Roosevelt was profoundly influenced by Muir and the conservation movement. In 1903, Roosevelt spent four days in Yosemite with Muir, camping with him and learning about the value of the untamed land. His visit with the naturalist had a tremendous impact on his political actions. During the course of his political term, Roosevelt set aside 148 million acres of forest reserves, created 50 regions for the protection of wildlife, founded 16 national monuments and established 5 new national parks.

The most significant battle that Muir and the Sierra Club ever fought was over the damming of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley. For years, the conservationists, who wanted to protect the awesome valley in its natural setting, were pitted against the Californians who wanted to dam the valley to create a new and reliable drinking water reservoir. After the destructive 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the decision was made to dam the valley to provide the recovering city with clean water. In 1913, Congress passed a law that approved the construction of the dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley. Worn out from this devastating loss, Muir retreated from political life and spent his remaining years writing and spending time with his family.John Muir died in December, 1914.

For Further Readings:

John Muir; At Home in the Wild. Katherine S. Talmadge. Twenty-First Century Books, New York, New York. 1993.

John Muir in Yosemite. Shirley Sargent. Flying Spur Press, Yosemite, California. 1971.

John Muir, Naturalist: A Concise Biography of the Great Naturalist. John W. Winkley, M.A., D.D. The Pantheon Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1959.

John Muir, Wilderness Protector. Ginger Wadsworth. Lerner Publications Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1992.

American "Third System" Period, 1850-1884

[During the Third System] some of the most spectacular harbor defense structures to come out of any era of military architecture were to be found. Included by virtue of their role in the Civil War were certainly some of the most famous--Sumter, Pulaski, Monroe, Pickens, Morgan and Jackson. From the technical standpoint, this large group of massive, vertical-walled forts represented the general embodiment and the fullest development of features which had previously appeared in only a few and isolated instances, i.e., structural durability, a high concentration of armament, and enormous overall firepower.

-Emanuel Raymond Lewis, Sea Coast Fortifications

Pre-Civil War

In March of 1847, U.S. troops occupied the Presidio of San Francisco, and the government of the United States acquired all of the public lands formerly claimed by Mexico. In addition to the Presidio, the U.S. took possession of several islands including Angel and Alcatraz. During this period, the bulk of the current Presidio was acquired. In 1848, the discovery of gold in California gave a new importance to the harbor of San Francisco. Increased trade prompted the military to begin the construction of coastal defenses for the San Francisco Bay.1

In the fortification strategy commonly referred to as the Plan of 1850, cannons mounted at the north and south shores of the Golden Gate would use crossfire on enemy ships entering the bay. In addition, the Plan sought to establish an ancillary fortification inside the bay on Alcatraz Island. With all three of these fortifications in place, hostile ships attempting to penetrate the bay would become trapped in a deadly triangle of fire from all three forts. Construction of these coastal defenses began in 1853.1

Designed to be the equal of any fort in the country, the brick-and-mortar Fort Point, located at the south shore of the Golden Gate, boasted three casemated tiers and a top barbette tier. When construction was completed in 1861, the fort and its outworks had emplacements for 141 guns of various types, but only 55 cannons and 11 mortars were mounted at that time.1

Work went more quickly on the stone-and-brick batteries ringing Alcatraz Island. In 1855, the fortress at Alcatraz was armed with seven 8-inch and one 10-inch Rodman cannon, which were the first permanent American guns placed on the Pacific Coast. Work on fortifications at Lime Point did not begin until 1868 and was suspended soon after initial excavation began.1

Civil War Period

With the onset of the Civil War, budgetary purse-strings were loosened, resulting in increased armament on Alcatraz and the placement of fifty-nine cannons at Fort Point Rather than out of immediate concern for Confederate naval action, the increased military budget for the San Francisco Bay was a reaction to British reinforcement of Vancouver Island, which ignited fears that British forces might attempt to seize California while the United States was preoccupied with the Civil War in the east.1

The Civil War also prompted the construction of an inner-line of batteries first proposed in the Plan of 1850, which were to be located inside the Golden Gate. However, unlike Fort Point, these defenses were built as temporary wartime structures rather than permanent fortifications. On Angel Island, temporary batteries of wood and earth were constructed at points Stewart, Knox, and Blunt (cannons were mounted at the first two sites in 1864). At Point San Jose, which is currently known as Fort Mason, a temporary structure completed in 1864 was much larger. A breast-high wall of brick and mounts for six 10-inch Rodman cannons and six 42-pounder banded James rifles were built on the site. No traces of the temporary structures remain today. However, at Point San Jose, excavation in the early 1980s uncovered the well-preserved remains of the western-half of the temporary battery, and it has now been restored to its condition during the Civil War.1

During the Civil War, advances in weapon technology began to influence how coastal fortifications were constructed. The development of rifled guns, larger smooth bore cannon, and iron-clad warships made the expensive brick and masonry forts obsolete. The Army responded by building the smaller, cheaper earthwork batteries found at Angel Island, Alcatraz, Point San Jose, and Lime Point. The only remaining example of these temporary fortifications is located at Point San Jose (presently known as Fort Mason).1

Post-Civil War Period

The period following the Civil War was a time to incorporate the lessons learned on the battlefield, and to apply them to enhance the defense capabilities of coastal fortifications. The most obvious lessons were that only large rifles, and Rodman smoothbores of at least 15-inches, proved effective against armored vessels, that masonry works were also vulnerable to such weaponry, and that earthwork barbette batteries were not only the most resistant to such fire but were also the most cost-effective to build. These discoveries prompted major changes to the seacoast defenses immediately following the Civil War. Earthworks batteries like East and West batteries at the Presidio reflect the new engineering strategy for seacoast fortifications.1

In spite of the drive to improve the defenses around the Golden Gate, most efforts were never completed; funding was scant and rapid advances in military technology were rendering new fortifications obsolete before they could be built. It was during this period that construction began on Battery East, which exemplifies the smaller, more economical coastal fortifications built in the post-Civil War period. Although Battery East was completed in 1872, its cannon were not placed until nearly twenty years after its construction.1

1. Freeman, Haller, Hansen, Martini, and Weitz. Seacoast Fortifications Preservation Manual. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, July 1999.

Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, 1898-1902

On April 21, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. The causes of the conflict were many, but the immediate ones were America's support of Cuba's ongoing struggle against Spanish rule and the mysterious explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor. It would be the first overseas war fought by the United States, involving campaigns in both Cuba and the Philippine Islands.

The Spanish fleet guarding the Philippines was defeated by the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore George Dewey on May 1, 1898. Ignorant of Dewey's success, President McKinley authorized the assembling of troops in order to mount a campaign against the capital of Manila. The military base best suited as the staging point for troops bound for the Philippines was the Presidio of San Francisco. The majority of these soldiers were volunteers, originating from all over the United States, gathering and training at the Presidio before the long sea voyage to the Philippines and their part in, as Secretary of State John Hay put it, the "splendid little war."

The Presidio's Role

The Presidio was a natural staging point because of its proximity to the finest harbor on the west coast, and possessed enough land to house and train large numbers of troops for service in the Philippines. The first soldiers left the Presidio in May 1898, and consisted of the 1st California Infantry and the 2nd Oregon Infantry Regiments. Soon soldiers from Washington, Montana, Iowa, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee, and Utah would be stationed at the Presidio in addition to the regular garrison. From the beginning of the war to 1900, some 80,000 men passed through the post on their way to the Philippines. At the turn of the century, San Francisco offered many attractions, but army life at the Presidio was cramped, and sickness often flared up in the temporary tent camps. This situation prompted the military to improve troop facilities and helped change the face of the Presidio over the ensuing years.

Most Presidio troops got to the islands too late to fight the Spanish in the brief war. However Philippine rebels had been waging guerrilla warfare against Spanish colonialism long before the U.S. became involved. Their exiled leader, Emilio Aquinaldo, quickly made contact with the attacking force already on its way to the Philippines, in the belief that the United States would help the "Insurrectos" gain independence from Spain. But expansionists in the U.S. government had other plans. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris, on December 10, 1898, which ended the war against Spain, the United States opted to give Cuba its independence but keep the Philippines, to the dismay of the Philippine nationalists.

The Philippine Fight for Independence

The United States' drive to extend influence across the Pacific instigated a Philippine American War. Fighting broke out on Feb. 4, 1899, and eventually far exceeded that against Spain. At the outbreak, the U.S. had only a small amount of troops in the Philippines compared to Aquinaldo's 40,000 fighters. American troop strength increased until 1901 when it numbered 75,000. Nearly all of the troops sent to fight in the Philippines spent time at the Presidio.

The United States' Role in World Politics

The Spanish-American War and its aftermath delayed Philippine independence until after World War II, but established a relationship that fostered a substantial Filipino population within U.S. borders. The United States emerged as an influential world power with its new overseas possessions, and started on a path that would affect its role in international affairs for the future century.

Major Dana Crissy

Crissy Field, located in the Presidio of San Francisco, is named after Major Dana H. Crissy. In the early 1900s, Presidio coast artilleryman Dana H. Crissy was full of ambition and fascinated by the new invention of human flight. Imagine the sensation of being lifted into the air, just above the ground, and magically transported somewhere else. Air travel was a very new concept, it was cutting edge, and, as with many new technologies, it was seriously doubted. Many people were not willing to believe a person could fly in the air and safely return to the ground. Crissy's dream was to fly airplanes, thus convincing the world that the advancements in air travel made it an effective, reliable, and, most importantly, a safe mode of transportation.

By 1917, he was pursuing his dream when he transferred to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. He became a Major and the Commander of the Mather Air Field in Sacramento. This put him in an excellent position to participate in the Army's most important long-distance demonstration flight to date. Crissy wanted to be involved in a flight that would challenge the equipment, challenge the skills and endurance of the pilots, and challenge the uncertainty of the public.

In October 1919, a new fledgling Presidio airfield hosted the Army's First Transcontinental Reliability and Endurance Test across North America. Sixty-one aircraft participated; 46 flying westbound from Long Island, New York and 15 flying eastbound from the new airfield. The goal was to see who could land on the opposite coast first. The opportunity complimented Major Crissy's dream. He took on all the challenges of this test and became one of the 15 pilots racing towards the East.

After 24 grueling hours of flying-time in an open cockpit and being exposed to the chilly autumn air, the first plane arrived on the West Coast. But this was not enough to earn success. The tragedies outweighed the victories. Of the 61 aircraft participating, only nine men actually completed the transcontinental flight. Most planes dropped out somewhere along the route due to mechanical difficulties, poor flying conditions, or minor accidents. Major Dana H. Crissy was not so lucky. He and his observer, Sgt. 1st Class V. Thomas, were killed the first day out of San Francisco while trying to land their De Havilland DH-4 airplane near Salt Lake City, Utah. The loss of their lives for a demonstration flight was devastating.

Air officer and friend Colonel "Hap" Arnold was moved by the sacrifice Major Crissy made in pursuing his dream to promote air travel and honored him by naming the new West Coast airfield after him. Over 80 years later, the airplanes have been replaced by park visitors, joggers, and sailboarders, but the name Crissy Field remains. The next time you look up into the skies, you may catch a glimpse of where Major Crissy's dream has taken us…almost anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours.

Text written by Margaret Styles, National Park Service

The 1915 World's Fair

The 1915 World's Fair took place in San Francisco at what is today the Presidio and the Marina District. Officially called the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the fair celebrated the successful 1914 completion of the Panama Canal, which connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Locally, the 1915 World's Fair was San Francisco's opportunity to prove that the city, by then fully recovered from its devastating 1906 earthquake, was open for business.

For Further Reading:

The Last Great World's Fair; San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, 2004. (

San Francisco Invites the World; The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915; by Donna Ewald and Peter Clute; Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1991

San Francisco Bay Discovery Site: Portola Site Acquisition Monument

Located in the town of Pacifica, California, the site of the discovery of San Francisco Bay consists of the point at which the Portola Expedition, 1769, crossed over Sweeney Ridge, and for the first time, came to view one of the world's largest sheltered anchorages. From the top of Sweeney Ridge one can see not only inland to the Bay, but north along the ocean coast as far as Point Reyes. No structures are on the site nor are any in the immediate vicinity.

In late October of 1769, Captain Gaspar de Portola and his party of sixty men (with a caravan of 200 horses and mules for riding and the pack train) had come from San Diego in search of Monterey Bay, but from their overland approach, they had failed to recognize it. They had come north, climbed over San Pedro Mountain and had made camp in Pedro Valley, now in the city of Pacifica. Though already within today’s Bay Area, they were still unaware of the Bay’s existence.

On November 1, 1769, Sergeant Ortega with a squad of scouts began a three-day reconnoitering tour. Somewhere along the five mile stretch between Mussel Rock and the summit (Point Reyes), Ortega saw San Francisco Bay on his first day of scouting. When Ortega returned to camp on November 3, Portola’s next move was an attempt to go around this new found “estuary” to examine the vicinity of Point Reyes. From the camp on San Pedro Creek, Captain Portola and his men followed the beach to the north, then entered the hills and from the summit beheld the great estuary.

Three days of slow travel brought the expedition to the site of modern Palo Alto where a new base camp was made to await Ortega’s probing of the east side of the estuary. Ortega returned in four days with discouraging news. He encountered aggressively hostile Indians and observed great stretches of burned-over land leaving no pasture for the expedition’s livestock. A council was then called and the decision was made to return to San Diego.

The Portola Expedition ultimately accomplished its purpose of finding Monterey Bay. The San Francisco region was further explored by Lieutenant Pedro Pagas in 1772 and by Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776. The importance of the inland bay was further emphasized by the establishment of a presidio and two missions in the environs of the bay.

Today, the site of the "discovery" of San Francisco Bay consists essentially of two knolls from which the member of the expedition acquired the view. The total acreage of the site is approximately 18.15. There are two commemorative monuments that celebrate the Gaspar de Portola Expedition. No structures are there now nor have likely been ever there. The view of course has changed considerably with the growth of the Bay Area, now including broad industrial and residential building development. It is nevertheless a breath-taking sight to see the tremendous expanse of the Bay Area spread beneath one's feet in one sweep.

Portuguese Dairy Farmers

The Marin Headlands, with its ideal climate for raising dairy cows, was once covered with prosperous dairy farms. By the 1880s, Marin County was California's largest producer of fresh milk and butter. Much of this success was based on the hard-work of recent Portuguese immigrants, known as the Azoreans. Originally from the Azores, an archipelago of 8 rural islands west of Iberian Portugal, these men arrived in California on whaling ships. Once the vessels docked in the San Francisco area, the allure of the Gold Rush, along with the dissatisfaction of life on a ship, prompted many Azoreans to "jump ship". Those who did not find their fortune in gold were able to use their native dairy experience to get jobs in Marin's newly-established dairy ranches.

The Azorean men were originally hired as working farm hands, but as a result of their hard-work, determination and frugality, they eventually became land tenants and then ultimately, the farm owners themselves. Dairy farms were small operations in the 1850s and 1860s, limited to 10 or 15 cows; large farms by the 1870s and 1880s could have as many as 1,500 cows. As the men earned money, they would send some back home and encourage additional family members to join them in the dairy business. Soon, whole families were working together and were were invested in the common goal to survive, to profit and to pass property to the next generation. These practices sustained Azorean ranching in Marin into the 1950s.

Dairy farming was hard work and everyone, including the women and children, were involved in the daily chores required to keep the operation running smoothly. Until electricity came in the 1930s, the cows were milked by hand, twice a day, at 4 AM and 4 PM. Depending on the number of cows, each milking time could take up to 3 hours. In between milking, the men would sanitize and prepare the milk for transportation, clean the barns and equipment, mend the fences or work in the fields while the women would feed their family, clean and can food, and tend to the vegetable garden and livestock.

The chain of migrations from the Azores to the Sausalito was sustained by the intermarriage and strong social connections, largely based in the Roman Catholic Church. In particular, Sausalito's Saint Mary's Star of the Sea, founded in 1881, was where the Portuguese were most visible as a community. Every year, the Azorean community celebrated the Holy Ghost Festa, which involved a procession through town, with a musical band, a herd of brightly-decorated cows, and Portuguese cowboys dressed in their finest riding clothes. The celebration culminated in a religious mass and with the crowning of a young girl.

Battery Townsley

Battery Townsley was a casemated battery that mounted two 16-inch caliber guns, each capable of shooting a 2,100 pound, armor-piercing projectile 25 miles out to sea. The guns and their associated ammunition magazines, power rooms, and crew quarters were covered by dozens of feet of concrete and earth to protect them from air and naval attack. This battery, named in honor of Major General Clarence P. Townsley, a general officer in World War I, was considered the zenith of military technology and was the result of careful, long-term planning. As early as 1915, the army was eager to construct the 16-inch gun batteries at San Francisco, and by 1928, the decision had been made to install two batteries near the city, one on either side of the Golden Gate straits. Three years later, Battery Townsley was completed, and its two guns installed.

Battery Townsley was a high security operation; civilians living in San Francisco knew that there were batteries nearby but their exact locations were not revealed. A battery of this design had never been actually fired before, so the soldiers underwent several months of practice before firing the guns for the first time. The men were subjected to endless training, often under difficult situations: in the rain, in the pitch dark with all the electricity shut off, or with their commanding officer blocking the traditional route to the battery. The practice of dealing with any contingency ensured that the soldiers could operate their guns at a moment's notice (and almost in their sleep) if ever under enemy attack.

By summer of 1940, Battery Townsley was ready for testing with live ammunition. The army estimated that the projectile's farthest range would be 30 miles out to sea, about 5 miles beyond than the Farallon Islands. Waiting for a non-foggy day in July took some patience, but finally, the fog cleared and the test shot was fired. As the whole mountain shook with the power of this incredible machine, the projectile went even farther than anticipated. Battery Townsley, together with Battery Davis at Fort Funston on the Pacific shore south of the Golden Gate, became the prototypes for the army's future coastal defenses; the army planned to construct at least 25 additional 16-inch gun batteries along both the nation's eastern and western seaboards.


Army Life at Fort Cronkhite

Fort Cronkhite contained several mess halls, where the soldiers ate three meals a day. One cook was assigned to each grouping of three barracks, and soldiers on KP (Kitchen Patrol) duty, helped prepare the food. Army food was usually cheaply prepared and of inconsistent quality, but special menus were created for holidays. The 1941 Christmas Dinner menu for the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco included roast turkey with oyster dressing, candied sweet potatoes, spinach with hard-boiled eggs, mince and pumpkin pies, mixed nuts, coffee with fresh milk and cream (a refreshing break from powdered milk) and cigars and cigarettes for all.

The first soldiers stationed at Fort Cronkhite were assigned to the 6th and 5th Coast Artillery Regiments. A soldier's life at Fort Cronkhite, as anywhere in the army, meant that you did what you were told to do. A soldier's daily life on post was structured and regimented; they were required to drill and train, eat and clean their barracks, all at tightly scheduled times. The soldiers trained constantly, either up at Battery Wallace or on the post's main parade ground which was located in the large open space that is now a parking lot. Fort Cronkhite, like most World War II posts, provided the men with the bare necessities for military life. In addition to providing food and housing, the army also provided medical and dental care to the soldiers; there was even an on-post barber.

While off-duty, the men relaxed in the recreation building (called "day rooms"), where the army provided ping-pong tables, pool tables and popular reading material. The newly-constructed chapel at Fort Barry provided multi-denominational services and the chaplain also sponsored dances and stage shows for the men. To maintain morale among the troops and provide much-needed breaks from foggy Fort Cronkhite, leave passes were awarded and the soldiers who received them eagerly traveled to local bars in Sausalito or took buses into soldier-friendly San Francisco.


Fortifications on Alcatraz

Pre-Civil War

Due to the mounting threat of a war with Spain in 1855, appropriations for coastal fortifications were increased, and plans for the construction of a fortress on Alcatraz Island were expedited. The barbette batteries on Alcatraz were given priority, since they were less complex and time-consuming to build than the casemated batteries at Fort Point.

By 1860, construction on Alcatraz resulted in a fortress "completed in a very perfect manner, to the extent of 75 guns of the heaviest caliber, ringing the island in all directions, mounted in barbette batteries, with a stout brick defensive barracks overlooking the island from the hill at its center. Thus, all of Alcatraz Island became a fortification, and all of the works upon it took advantage of the island's hilly topography for tactical advantage."1 At the onset of the Civil War, the armaments on Alcatraz consisted primarily of 8-inch and 10-inch Columbiads, in addition to 24-pounder howitzers.2

Civil War, 1861-1865

During the Civil War, appropriations for fortifications were increased by congress, resulting in several new works being constructed on Alcatraz Island. Three new batteries were completed by the end of June 1863; two between West and North batteries and one between West and South batteries. There were now eight batteries ringing the island, which could mount a total of 101 guns and 19 flank howitzers.2

Postwar Modernization, 1866-1876

The work during this period consisted mostly of remodeling the existing barbette batteries rather than new construction. New funds were channeled into projects that increased the fortification of the Island: thicker parapets, new breast-high walls of brick, new brick and concrete magazines under earthen traverses, and new platforms for cannon. Even during the years without government appropriations, military prisoners were employed to excavate rock on the island and construction continued.2

Between November 1867 and April 1868, the following armaments were stationed at Alcatraz:2


5 15" Rodmans

12 10" Rodmans

3 8"Rodmans

6 10" Rodmans

40 8" columbiads

12 42-pdr guns

16 42-pounder. Howitzer

3 200-pdr. Parrots

6 100-pdr. Parrots

2 8" siege mortars


4 15"Rodmans

35 10" Rodmans

1 8" Rodmans

6 42-pdr. guns

3 42-pdr. guns

1 4-pdr. Bronze Mexican gun

In the years following the Civil War, the number of armaments on the island steadily increased. In November 1869 the Pacific board submitted its second plan for remodeling the already existing barbette batteries on Alcatraz. However, the military development on the island came to an abrupt end when, in 1874, Alcatraz was stripped almost bare of armament, as a result of most of the guns being too obsolete to defend the harbor. The only guns that remained on the Island were two 15-inch Rodmans in Battery 3 (where the model industries building now stands) and one in Battery 2.2

After 1875, with the exception of underwater mine warfare, modernization came to an abrupt halt due to a number of crucial political and technical considerations. As the initial exuberance at the end of the Civil War turned to a sober realization of the war's great cost, the country's political climate changed more and more to one of isolationism. As the Indian wars raged, the Army's energies became centered on its role as a frontier constabulary, rather than as a force to be pitted against other modern military establishments.3

Of the initial 13 batteries planned for the island only 8 were completed and only seven of 36 projected 15-inch platforms were left in place. Alcatraz Island was not the strongly fortified place as initially planned; yet, only behind Battery West at Fort Point, it was the most strongly fortified point in San Francisco Bay during this period.2

At its height as a fortification, the island mounted nearly 140 artillery pieces in a variety of casemates and behind a half-mile of masonry walls. Today, however, almost all traces of the fortress are buried beneath the prison buildings. Communication tunnels, scarp walls, and traverse magazines can still be found on the island, but the remains of all high-caliber gun batteries have been completely destroyed. The only remaining artillery emplacement on the island is a defensive howitzer located inside the Alcatraz Guardhouse, but it was not historically at that site.4

1. Lewis, Emanuel R. Seacoast Fortifications of the United States: An Introductory History. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1990.

2. Thompson, Erwin N. Historic Resource Study: Seacoast Fortifications, San Francisco Harbor. California: GGNRA, 1979.

3. Freeman, Haller, Hansen, Martini, and Weitze. Seacoast Fortifications Preservation Manual. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, July 1999.

4. Martini, John and Haller, Stephen. Ordnance Plan. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 1996


Adolf Sutro

Adolf Sutro was a German-born inventor, entrepreneur and real estate developer who helped shape the landscape of late 19th century San Francisco. Interested in providing inexpensive recreation for the general public, he changed San Francisco's sparse and undeveloped Point Lobos area into a flourishing recreational complex that during its heyday boasted the Cliff House, Sutro Baths and Sutro Heights.

Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro was born April 29, 1830 in Germany. Sutro arrived in California in 1850 and was well educated in the field of mining engineering and business. Sutro made his fortune in the late 1860s and 1870s at the Comstock Lode silver mines in Nevada where he designed and constructed a massive tunnel that drained and ventilated the flooded mines shafts. The construction of the Sutro Tunnel is recognized as having improved significantly the working conditions of the miners themselves, and diminished risks to their health and safety. This combination of ingenuity and benevolence characterized Sutro's later work in San Francisco.

After his work in the silver mines, Sutro moved back to San Francisco where he wanted his large real estate plans to help benefit others. In 1881, Sutro purchased 22 acres of undeveloped land at the edge of the city, which included a promontory overlooking the Cliff House and Seal Rocks, and provided breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Mount Tamalpais, and the Golden Gate. Sutro turned this property into Sutro Heights, an elaborate public garden that was open to all citizens. Sutro laid out the grounds to take advantage of the ocean views and filled the garden with forests, decorate flower beds, statues and vista points.

In 1883, Sutro purchased the Cliff House, a restaurant originally constructed in 1863 that had, over the years, become fairly run-down and shabby. Sutro wanted to re-establish the restaurant as a wholesome, family-friendly venue. After the first Cliff House was destroyed by a fire in 1894, Sutro spent $75,000 to rebuild and furnish the second Cliff House. The new Cliff House, designed in an ornate, Victorian style, stood eight stories tall and provided elegant dining rooms, art galleries and panoramic views from open-air verandas.

Sutro's interest in natural history and marine studies prompted him to develop the idea of creating an ocean pool, or aquarium, among the rocks north of the Cliff House. Sutro continued to expand his ocean front complex with the development of a massive public bath house, or swimming facility. Sutro Baths was created as a huge swimming and bathing facility, offering six saltwater swimming tanks of varying sizes, shapes and water temperatures that provided exercise and recreation to the San Francisco public.

When Sutro Heights opened to the public in 1885, it could be reached only by private carriage or by a costly railroad. In keeping with his desire to ensure that everyone, not just the rich, could his enjoy his park, Sutro supported development of a new steam rail line designed to bring people from downtown to the Cliff House for half the cost of a fare on the competing line. Sutro's political involvements and role as San Francisco's public benefactor led him to a two-year term of city mayor, from 1895 to 1897. Adolf Sutro died in San Francisco, August 8, 1898, leaving behind him a legacy of public recreational facilities for his fellow San Franciscans.

For Further Reading

Adolf Sutro; A Biography. Robert E. Stewart, Jr. and Mary Frances Stewart; Howell-North Books, Berkeley, CA, 1962.

Harbor Defenses of San Francisco, 1891-1945

Endicott Era, 1891-1928 (including the Taft Era and World War I)

As the United States completed its westward expansion and continued to industrialize in the late 1800’s, the government turned its attention to establishing the United States among the world’s great military powers. The Navy expanded to become a truly international force, and the Army assumed responsibility for the defense of the nation’s coasts and ports. President Cleveland established the Endicott Board in 1885 for the purpose of modernizing fortifications. Chaired by Secretary of War William Endicott, the board recommended new defenses at 22 U.S. seaports. The new reinforced-concrete gun batteries that resulted are known as Endicott batteries, and in fact the Endicott Era of coastal defenses lasted 50 years, with some modification, until the end of World War II.

The Endicott Board deemed San Francisco Harbor second only to New York’s in strategic importance. As a result, an extensive series of forts, batteries, and guns were proposed for the harbor entrance, occupying both shores of the Golden Gate. In the Presidio of San Francisco construction began in 1891, when ground was broken for Battery Marcus Miller. On the north side of the Gate, Battery Spencer followed in 1893. Batteries were subsequently built south of the Presidio at Fort Miley (Land’s End), north of the Golden Gate at Forts Baker and Barry, and in the inner-harbor, at Fort McDowell (Angel Island) and Fort Mason.

The Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War that followed (1898-1902) increased the pace of military spending on the West Coast. In 1905, President Roosevelt asked his Secretary of War William Taft to head a board to update Endicott defenses. The Taft Board recommended further innovations including minefields, electrification, searchlights and telephonic communication. This development culminated in a targeting system, known as fire control, which used widely spaced observation posts scattered along the coast. These posts, called base-end stations, had 3-man crews that provided range, bearing and speed information to artillery crews, who then used this data to triangulate on and target a moving enemy ship.

In 1912, Fort Winfield Scott was formally established on the western portion of the Presidio to serve as a coast artillery post. It contained approximately 63 guns mounted at 15 gun batteries and was the headquarters for all other coast artillery posts in the Bay Area until they were disarmed after World War II.

The Coast Artillery soldiers lived in barracks within marching or driving distance of their gun batteries. Many considered the duty a privilege because it was close to the social life of San Francisco. The officers were trained at the Army’s elite coast artillery school in Fort Monroe, Virginia. The soldiers maintained the massive guns and practiced firing at targets miles out to sea. They received reports on their accuracy from pilots of the Army Air Corps flying overhead. The biplanes flew from Crissy Army Air Station, established in 1921 on the Bay Shore of the Presidio.

World War II Era, 1937-1948

Although airplanes were a minor factor in World War I, their threat prompted the Army to make additions to the defense system, including small, rapid-fire anti-aircraft guns and camouflage. The existing batteries could be covered with vegetation-colored netting, but if detected, they remained vulnerable to aerial bombing. Thus, the next, and last, generation of seacoast guns was mounted under thick concrete shields covered with vegetation to make them virtually invisible from above. Sixteen-inch guns, which fired 2,000 pound projectiles to a maximum range of 25 miles, were intended to keep the newest battleships from reaching striking range. Work on the first battery for guns of this type in the U.S. began in 1936 at Battery Davis in Ft. Funston, south of the Golden Gate. The first test firing took place in 1940, from Battery Townsley in Fort Cronkhite, north of the Gate and residents of San Francisco complained that the concussion broke their windows!

As World War II approached, the Army made further improvements to the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco. Additional base-end stations, mines, searchlights, and anti-aircraft guns were installed. After Pearl Harbor, the entire Western Defense Command was placed on high alert, but the three West Coast attacks that did occur caused only minor damage. In 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled an oil refinery near Goleta, Southern California, another sub fired upon Ft. Stevens, Oregon, and a balloon launched by the Japanese exploded in forest near Brookings, Oregon. The most important wartime development in coastal defense was radar, which vastly improved enemy detection and fire control around San Francisco Bay.

But World War II was much more than a time of "improvements" to weaponry. A vast change in the nature of warfare also occurred. Of greatest pertinence to harbor defense, the war was fought and ultimately won from the air. New types of warfare included amphibious assault on undefended coasts, carrier-based air attack, high-elevation bombing and atomic warfare. Defending a harbor against ships became a superfluous activity, and even before the war ended, some seacoast guns were scrapped to become new weapons, and soldiers of the heavy artillery were transferred to anti-aircraft or even infantry duties.

Just 2 years after the war, all guns remaining in the seacoast defenses of San Francisco were declared surplus, and the last weapons were removed in 1950. The Coast Artillery was deactivated that same year.

Fort Baker

Fort Baker was a military post established by the Army in 1897 to support the many seacoast defense batteries located around the north side of the Golden Gate straits. The site consists of historic army buildings clustered around the main parade ground, the Horseshoe Cove waterfront area and several historic batteries.

The land at Fort Baker was once used by the Coastal Miwok, the indigenous inhabitants of present day Marin County, who may have sought shelter from the wind here and gathered mussels, tules and cattails at the marsh. The San Carlos, the first Spanish ship to sail into San Francisco Bay, anchored at Fort Baker's shores in 1775 and later, when the area was part of Rancho Sausalito, it was used for grazing cattle and collecting spring water. Fort Baker played a significant role during World War II and the army continued to use the buildings through the Cold War. As part of the Base Closure program, the army officially transferred the property to the National Park Service in 2002.

Point San Jose, 1864

Two batteries were planned for Point San Jose; each was to have six guns, and the fortifications were to be known as East and West batteries. By the end of May 1864 the batteries were considered complete and ready for armament. Six 10-inch Rodmans were mounted in West Battery by June 30, 1864, and six 42-pounder banded rifles were mounted at East Battery, shortly after that date.1

In 1869 the U.S. government approved a plan to build a permanent fortification at Point San Jose. The plan called for a large fortification, enclosed by an earthen parapet that included the existing batteries. However, this plan was never a high priority and appropriations were curtailed before construction on the fortification could begin. The "temporary" East and West batteries continued to be the point's only defense for the next 30 years, and rifled Rodmans were emplaced at these batteries during the Spanish American War of 1898.1

1. Thompson, Erwin N. Historic Resource Study: Seacoast Fortifications, San Francisco Harbor. California: GGNRA, 1979.

Fort Winfield Scott

Post History

Fort Winfield Scott was established in the western part of the Presidio of San Francisco as a separate coast artillery post on June 19th, 1912. It served as a coast artillery garrison and as the headquarters of the Artillery District of San Francisco. Fort Scott also housed 17 Endicott-era gun batteries that were constructed, armed, and manned at varying levels between 1891 until 1946.

In 1922 Fort Scott was designated headquarters of the Coast Defenses of San Francisco; that term was changed to Harbor Defenses San Francisco (HDSF) in 1925. As the HDSF headquarters, it controlled most other army forts in the Bay Area, included Forts Baker, Barry, Cronkhite, Miley and Funston. Only the Presidio of San Francisco and Fort Mason did come under Fort Scott’s command, although they contained some coastal artillery and other ancillary facilities.

Following the end of World War II, Fort Scott was designated a sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco, and on June 1st, 1946, the U.S. Army’s Coast Artillery School was transferred from Fort Monroe, Virginia, to Fort Scott. The school operated here for only a brief period, however, before the coast artillery system was made obsolete by modern air power, amphibious warfare, and nuclear weapons. The Coast Artillery disappeared as a separate arm of the military in 1950.

Origin of the name

The fort's name honors General Winfield Scott, who was a hero of the Mexican War and the commander the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. In 1882, the fort now known as Fort Point was given the name “Fort Winfield Scott” by Army Headquarters. That fort officially retained the name until 1886, when the fort was downgraded to a sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco. The name was then used once again for the new coast artillery post established in 1912.

Bear Flag Revolt, June 1846

As American settlers moved into Mexican-controlled California, most groups settled either in the Sonoma-Napa area, or north of Sutter's Fort near present day Sacramento. A very few of them obtained grants of land from the Mexican authorities, which put the legality of the settlers' claims to land into question. In April of 1846, Mexican Governor Jose Castro proclaimed that the purchase or acquisition of land by foreigners who had not been naturalized as Mexicans "will be null and void, and they will be subject (if they do not retire involuntary from the country) to be expelled whenever the country might find it convenient."2

Rumors began to spread that Castro's edict would soon be enforced, and that Native Americans had been encouraged to burn the crops of the foreigners. Several leaders of the settlers discussed their concerns of Mexican aggression with U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont at a meeting, in which Fremont failed to promise assistance, but encouraged the settlers to resist.1

Early in June, Mexican General Mariano Vallejo, commandant of the northern frontier at Sonoma offered 170 horses to Castro, who was then organized at Santa Clara. Once the settlers heard those horses were to be used to uproot their claims, they began to mobilize an armed force to stop the transfer. The small force came under the leadership of Ezekiel "Stuttering Zeke" Merritt, an old Rocky Mountain trapper, who seemed to have harbored an overpowering resentment against Vallejo, who allegedly struck Merritt previously.1 "Merritt was a brawny, stern man of forty years age; he is hard featured, has bloodshot eyes and a peculiar stuttering speech. His whole appearance and manner was that of a man moved by some revengeful intoxicating passion."3

On the morning of June 9th, a party of about ten men set out to capture the horses and prevent them from reaching Castro's forces in Santa Clara. Merritt's men accomplished their mission, and they brought their newly acquired horses to Fremont's camp. Soon after arriving at the camp, the small force (now 20 men strong) left to launch an assault on the town of Sonoma. The town was not garrisoned, but it was home to the very influential General Vallejo. By capturing Sonoma, the rebels sought to protect the American settlers in the area. On June 14th, Merritt's force entered the town of Sonoma. The surprise was complete. Vallejo was awakened and made prisoner. The prisoners were then transported to Sutter's Fort in Sacramento.1

Of course, it was necessary to design a flag to replace that of Mexico. The central feature of the flag became a grizzly bear. The bear designed on the flag was the source of much entertainment, due to its closer resemblance to a hog. The original flag was eventually destroyed in the San Francisco fire in 1906. Because of their flag, the insurgents immediately became known as the Bears and their uprising became known as the Bear Flag Revolt.1

Given the lightly fortified garrison of settlers at Sonoma, and the threat of an assault on the town by Castro in the immediate future, Captain Fremont threw off any pretense of neutrality and left for Sonoma on June 24th. In addition to his forces, many new settlers joined, bringing the force at Sonoma to about 90 men.1

In late June of 1846, Fremont advanced to San Solito, present day Sausalito, and launched and assault on the undefended Castillo de San Joaquin, on the south side of the Bay entrance. The seven cannon stationed at the Castillo were spiked to prevent them from being used. Fremont also dispatched a small contingent to patrol the narrows of the Bay, preventing any communication or passage of Mexican forces.1

The Bears, largely by their actions at Sonoma, had gained considerable control north of San Francisco Bay. When Fremont joined the revolt in Sonoma, their control over the area was assured.1 The Bear Flag Revolt put the territory claims of Mexico into question, paving the way for the United States to seize control of the Pacific Coast shortly thereafter

1. Rogers, Fred B. Montgomery and the Portsmouth. John Howell-Books, 1958.

2. Ford's MS. The Bear Flag Revolt. Bancroft Library aquisition.

3. Duvall, Marius. A Navy Surgeon in California, 1846-1847. San Francisco: John Howell

San Francisco Bay Seacoast Defenses 1776-1974

People have always been drawn to the land around San Francisco, because of its sheltered harbor and its rich natural resources. Overtime, as different communities settled here, they would defend their stake in the land against other potential invaders. The Spanish established the Presidio of San Francisco in 1776 to protect their interests in the bay. In 1822, Mexico took over this land from Spain, but later they abandoned the Presidio fort and moved their central government up to Sonoma County. After the United States took control of California in 1848, the U.S. Army began to construct permanent posts and seacoast fortification.

In the 1850s and 1860s, the U. S. Army identified harbor defense as one of the principle means for protecting the seacoast, and therefore the country. If the coast lines were well- protected and fortified against any enemy attack, then the country did not need to support a costly large standing army. Throughout American history, the military and politicians believed that investing time and money into coast defense weapon systems was the best choice for national security.

Because of this, Golden Gate National Recreation Area contains an amazing collection of seacoast fortifications that offers examples of nearly every important development in military fortification from the Civil War to the Cold War. No matter how they were constructed, all the fortifications were all built with one purpose - to protect San Francisco Bay from enemy attack. The batteries of Golden Gate National Recreation Area provide physical examples of the nation's changing history and examples of the military's need to constantly modify and update its own technology.

The San Francisco Bay fortifications are further discussed under the following periods.

Spanish and Mexican period from 1776 to 1846

These fortifications include El Presidio, Castillo de San Joaquin, and Bateria San Jose. Unfortunately, little remains from these structures except for six brass cannon and some foundations of El Presidio.

American "Third System" period from 1850 to 1884

These fortifications include Fort Point, Alcatraz, Camp Reynolds, Fort Mason, and older batteries bordering the Golden Gate.

Harbor Defenses of San Francisco from 1891 to 1945

These fortifications, constructed during the Endicott, Taft and World Wars I and II periods, include Fort Baker, Fort Barry, Fort Cronkhite, Fort Funston, Fort Mason, Fort Miley, Fort Scott, Fort McDowell, Milagra Ridge and Crissy Field.

Cold War Era from 1952 to 1974

Nike Missile sites were located at Fort Baker, Fort Barry, Fort Cronkhite, Fort McDowell, the Presidio and other sites around the bay. Fort Barry's Nike site SF-88L is now a museum, recognized as the nation's finest example of this weapon system.


Cold War Era, 1952-1974

Antiaircraft Defenses

During the Cold War era that followed World War II, the threat of foreign attack on U.S. soil shifted from naval assault to air attack, particularly by aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Thus, the Army Air Defense Artillery took responsibility from the Coast Artillery branch for defending the continental United States. In the San Francisco area, antiaircraft defenses were at a continual high state of readiness from the Korean War and through to the implementation of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of 1972. Coastal defenses around San Francisco during this period largely depended on the Nike antiaircraft missile system. The Nike system was not only the most expensive missile system ever deployed, it was also the most widespread (300 sites in 30 states) and longest-lived (25 years nationwide). The system was deployed to protect urban areas throughout the U.S., bringing Doctor Strangelove to suburban backyards and into the national consciousness.

The Nike-Ajax, and its successor the nuclear-capable Nike-Hercules, were medium range antiaircraft missiles. Guided by a complex system of radars and tracking computers, they had ranges of up to 37 miles (Ajax) and 87 miles (Hercules) and could shoot down planes traveling at two to three times the speed of sound.

Beginning in 1954, 12 permanent launch sites and their associated control, housing, and command sites were constructed around the Bay Area (on San Pablo Ridge, Rocky Ridge, Lake Chabot and Coyote Hills in the East Bay; Milagra Ridge, Fort Winfield Scott and Fort Funston to the south of the Golden Gate; and Fort Cronkhite, Fort Barry, Angel Island and San Rafael to the north). Under the command of the Sixth ARADCOM region (Army Air Defense Command), the missile sites received initial targeting information from an early-warning radar station at the Mill Valley Air Force Station on Mt. Tamalpais (SF-90D on map above). Radars and computers in a Control Area near each launch site would then track a formation of planes and relay targeting information to the site and to each missile after it was launched.

In the 1970s, changing military technology made the Nike missiles obsolete. Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) replaced long-range bombers as the major offensive weapons in both the Soviet and U.S. arsenals. ICBMs fly at altitudes and speeds beyond which AJAX or HERCULES missiles could reach, leaving them without targets. After twenty years of constant readiness, the Nike missile system was declared obsolete by 1974 and the last missiles were taken out of service in 1979.

Fort Point, 1846-1876

Pre-Civil War Era

In 1851, the War Department established a Board of Engineers for the Pacific Coast. The Board recommended casemate fortifications for a pair of works at the Golden Gate, and barbette batteries on Alcatraz Island. The construction of a fort on the southern shore was the highest priority, and a state-of-the-art fortification at Fort Point was perceived as "the key to the entire Pacific Coast [from] a military point of view." 1

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on Fort Point in 1853. Plans specified that the lowest tier of artillery be as close as possible to water level so cannonballs could ricochet across the water's surface to hit enemy ships at the waterline. Workers blasted the 90-foot cliff at the construction site, down to 15 feet above sea level. The structure was protected by 7-foot thick walls and had multi-tiered casemated construction typical of Third System forts. While there were more than 30 such forts on the East Coast, Fort point was the only one of its type built on the West Coast.

Although work began in 1853, the completion of Fort Point was delayed because of the cost and complexity of building multi-storied tiers of arched brick casemates, which would also need to withstand the severe storms of the Pacific Ocean. By 1860, the fort had been raised to the barbette (top) tier and could accommodate ninety cannons yet to be installed.

Civil War Era

In 1861, with war looming on the eastern horizon, the Army mounted the first 55 guns at the fort. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of the Pacific branch of the Army, prepared the defenses of the Bay and ordered the first garrison for Fort Point. Kentucky-born Johnston then resigned his commission to join the Confederate Army (he was later killed at the battle of Shiloh in 1862). Fort Point never had to fire its guns in defense during the Civil War; the war came and went, without the Confederate Army ever launching an assault on the Bay. Although the Fort never came under attack, its mere presence created a deterrent that would have weighed heavily in the minds of those who sought to undermine the Union's grip on the Pacific Coast.

Post-Civil War Era

Severe damage to brick forts on the Atlantic Coast during the war - Fort Sumter in South Carolina and Fort Pulaski in Georgia - challenged the effectiveness of masonry walls against rifled artillery. Troops soon moved out of Fort Point, and the Army never again continuously occupied it. However, in 1870 some of the fort's cannon were moved to East Battery on the bluffs nearby, where they were better protected. The fort nonetheless remained important to the Army. Because the land on which the fort stands was cut down to within 15 feet of the water, a seawall was needed for protection. This 1,500-foot-long wall is an impressive engineering feat. Granite stones were fitted together and the spaces between them sealed with strips of lead. Completed in 1869, the seawall held fast for more than 100 years against the Golden Gate's powerful waves, until it began to give way in the 1980s. The National Park Service rebuilt the wall and placed boulders seaward to deflect the force of the waves.

Design and Construction

Fort Point stands as an example of Third System fortification architecture. The fort had three tiers of casemates (vaulted rooms housing cannon), and a barbette tier on the roof with addition guns and a sod covering to absorb the impact of enemy cannon fire. The Civil War showed the vulnerability of masonry forts, like Fort Point, to rifled cannon. Thus, not long after completion, Fort Point became virtually obsolete. In the 1870s, East Battery, an earthwork fortification just to the south east of Fort Point, was constructed to bolster the defensive capabilities of the now obsolete fort.

Artillery and Hotshot

Fort Point never mounted the 141 cannon that its planners envisioned. By October 1861 there were 69 guns in and around the fort, consisting of 24, 32, and 42-pounders, as well as 8 and 10-inch Columbiads. After the war, the Army installed powerful 10-inch Rodman guns in the lower casemates; these could fire a 128 pound shot more than 2 miles. At its greatest strength, the fort mounted 102 cannon. In addition, the fort had "hotshot" furnaces, which allowed iron cannon balls to heated red hot, loaded into a cannon, and fired at wooden ships to set them ablaze.

Garrison Life

During the Civil War, as many as 500 men from the 3rd U.S. Artillery, the 9th U.S. Infantry, and the 8th California Volunteer Infantry were garrisoned at Fort Point. Stationed several thousand miles from the major theaters of combat, the men spent their days in a routine of drills, artillery practice, inspections, sentry duty, and maintenance chores. Enlisted men bunked 24 to a casemate on the third tier; officers had single or double quarters on the floor below. To supplement coal fuel, soldiers gathered driftwood from the shore to stay warm.

1. Thompson, Erwin N. Historic Resource Study: Seacoast Fortifications, San Francisco Harbor. California: GGNRA, 1979.

Seacoast Fortifications Preservation Manual.

Click here to visit the Fort Point National Historic Site webpage.

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.

Bateria de Yerba Buena, 1797

In an effort to strengthen the defenses of San Francisco Bay, Governor Diego de Borica decided to construct a battery to protect the quiet cove immediately to the east of Point Medanos (now known as Fort Mason). Since the Punta Medanos promontory commanded not only the cove but also the passage between the mainland and Alcatraz Island, it was chosen as the ideal spot to fortify. After being constructed between April and June of 1797, De Borica fortified the battery with five, eight-pounder brass cannons sent from Castillo de San Joaquin (at the present site of Fort Point), where they were deemed too small to be of use.1

The new installation was named Bateria San Jose but soon became known as Bateria de Yerba Buena. However, this fortification soon fell into disrepair. In 1806 Governor Arrillega's inspection of the fort reported that three of its five cannons were functional, and there was substantial damage to the battery structures. In 1822, after a successful Mexican revolt against the Spanish empire, the derelict Bateria de Yerba Buena came under the auspices of the Mexican government.2

1.John Phillip Langelier and Daniel Bernard Rosen, El Presidio de San Francisco: History under Spain and Mexico, 1776-1846. California: National Park Service, 1992.

2. Public Affairs Office, Western Area, Military Traffic Management and Terminal Service. The Story of Fort Mason: Historic U.S. Army post in San Francisco. California: National Park Service, 1971.

Cannons of the Spanish Empire, 1628 - 1846

The San Francisco

Cast in 1679 by Cubas Me Fecit in Lima, Peru, this 8 pound cannon was given the name San Francisco and bears the coat of arms of Don Baltasar de la Cueva Henriquez y Saaverdra, 24th Viceroy of Peru. In a 1837 report, the San Francisco was located at the Castillo de San Joaquin, and guarded the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. This cannon was subsequently moved to Sonoma, at the request of the Mexican Governor of Alta California. On July 20, 1846, Capt. Montgomery, commanding the USS Portsmouth, sent a military detachment to retrieve the cannon, and return it to San Francisco. This cannon is lcurrently ocated near the flag pole at the main post of the Presidio.

The San Domingo

The cannon San Domingo was cast in 1628, and bears the coat of arms of Don Diego Fernandez de Cordoba, 17th Viceroy of Peru. This cannon was cast in Lima, Peru, after enough copper was obtained from Chile.The San Domingo was one of the cannons that was successfully re-vented, after being spiked during the Bear Flag Revolt. The cannon is currently located outside of Building 2, at the Presidio Army Museum.

The San Pedro

The San Pedro is an 8 pound cannon, cast in Lima, Peru, during 1673. It was brought to San Francisco from the Spanish ordinance depot in San Blas, Mexico. The San Pedro was located at the Castillo de San Joaquin, and guarded the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. This cannon was "spiked" by Fremont's Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. The remains of the file that disabled the cannon can still be seen in the touch-hole. This cannon is currently located outside of the Officers Club, Building 50, at the Presidio.

The Birgen de Barbaneda

The Birgen de Barbaneda, or Virgin of Barbaneda in English, was cast in 1693, in Lima, Peru and bears the coat of arms of Don Melchor Puertocarrero Laso de la Vega, 27th Viceroy of Peru. It was brought to the Castillo de San Joaquin in 1793, to fortify the San Francisco Bay. In 1846, the cannon was "spiked" by Fremont's men, during the Bear Flag Revolt. Later that year, Captain John B. Montgomery of the USS Portsmouth successfully re-vented the cannon, effectively restoring its firing capabilities.This cannon is currently located near the flag pole in Pershing Square at the Main Post of the Presidio.

The San Martin

The San Martin bears the coat of arms from Don Meleher de Navarra y Rocafal, 26th Viceroy of Peru. This 12-Pounder brass cannon was cast in Lima, Peru, during 1684. On July 12, 1846, Captain John B. Montgomery uncovered the San Martin, which had been buried, as a result of neglect, in the sand at the Presidio. This cannon is currently located at Fort Point National Historic Site, at the Presidio.

The Poder

The Poder is an 8 pound cannon, cast in Peru during 1673. It was located at the Castillo de San Joaquin, and guarded the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. This cannon was subsequently moved to Sonoma, at the request of the Mexican Governor of Alta California. On July 20, 1846, Capt. Montgomery, commanding the USS Portsmouth, sent a military detachment to retrieve the cannon, and return it to San Francisco. This cannon is currently located outside of the Officers Club, Building 50, at the Presidio.

World War II Harbor Defenses

The defense of San Francisco Bay was of paramount importance during World War II. Not only was there a large civilian population and interior agricultural industry to be protected, but there were major military and industrial complexes in the Bay Area that were prime targets for Japanese attack.

Many of the troops and supplies for the Pacific theater passed through the bay and the Golden Gate on their way to the Pacific Theater. Military infrastructure in the area included Fort Mason, which was the port of embarkation for over a million soldiers during the war, and the Presidio, from which the defense of the Pacific Coast was run. Treasure Island and Alameda Naval Air Station were important naval bases. Liberty ships built by the hundreds at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California, were loaded with cargo, food, medical supplies, tanks, guns, and construction equipment at the ports of San Francisco and Oakland. Hunter's Point and Mare Island Navy shipyards made ships and landing craft used on the many amphibious landings during the war. The local shipyards also repaired and serviced many of the ships and submarines from the Pacific Theater. Port Chicago was a critical ammunition supply depot. All these vessels had to pass through the narrow Golden Gate Straits.

To protect the crucial Golden Gate and Bay Area harbors, an integrated coastal defense system was constructed. This system of weapons, fire control, mines, nets, and men were all that kept the vital life line from San Francisco bay open to supply the men and women of the Pacific Theater.

Fort Cronkhite

This former World War II military post stands at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and was part of San Francisco's first line of defense against enemy attack.

San Francisco Port of Embarkation

From the 1920s through World War II, the San Francisco Port of Embarkation played a critical role in the movement of supplies and troops to the Pacific.

An Integrated System of Guns

San Francisco's harbor defenses relied on a complex system of guns, underwater mines, and antisubmarine nets. Central to the system were guns of many sizes, each with its own purpose. These guns were classified by the diameter of the projectiles they fired.

Mines and Submarine Defenses

If the big guns failed to stop an enemy vessel far offshore, the next line of defense was three minefields containing over 600 underwater mines outside the Golden Gate. An antisubmarine net located inside the Gate would prevent any submarine that penetrated the minefield from entering the bay.

Fire Control (Aiming the Guns)

Fire control used a system of observation posts, plotting rooms, and command stations. Radar and listening devices were used to detect incoming aircraft, searchlights helped aim the guns at night, and observation planes flew out of Hamilton Airfield in Marin County. The Army and Navy coordinated the entire operation from the Harbor Defense Command Post at Fort Scott.

The Men Behind the Guns

Seventeen "batteries" of about 125 soldiers each, manned the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco during the war. These highly trained men maintained and fired the guns, plotted ranges, and staffed the base end stations. Early in the war, they lived at the remote gun batteries and base end stations for weeks at a time. Moral often suffered as they tried to maintain a high state of readiness through long periods with little to do.


Cannons of the American "Third System" Period

U.S.10-inch Rodman gun, Model 1861

In 1867, the United States Army installed forty 10-inch Rodman cannons in the first and second tier casemates of Fort Point. These cannons were made using the newest technology, the Rodmand Process. In, 1893, soldiers fired a 17-gun salute to honor Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson during his visit to San Francisco. This may have been the last time Fort Point's Rodman cannon were ever fired.

U.S. 10-inch siege & garrison mortar, model 1841

Although it is identical to weapons used in posts around the San Francisco Bay, this particular mortar was not used to defend the harbor. Fort Point mounted several mortars of this style on the barbette(top) tier.

U.S. 32-pounder "James Banded" gun, Model 1829

This cannon is a replica of a pre-Civil War weapon that was mounted on the barbette tiers of seacoast fortifications. It is identical to weapons used in posts of the San Francisco Bay. Fort Point mounted eleven 32-pounder guns of this style on the barbette tier.

U.S. 8-inch "Columbiad" gun, Model 1844

This cannon is a reproduction of pre-Civil War weapon which was mounted on the barbette tiers of seacoast fortifications. It is identical to weapons used in posts of the San Francisco Bay.

U.S. 24-pounder (6-inch) "Coehorn" mortar, Model 1841

This mortar is a reproduction of pre-Civil War weapon which was mounted on the barbette tiers of seacoast fortifications. It is identical to weapons used in posts of the San Francisco Bay.

World War II Mobilization Effort

World War II military posts are where simple wood-frame buildings tell a fascinating story of American ingenuity and the nation's ability to create and produce quickly, under pressure. In the fall of 1939, two years before our nation officially entered the war, the US Army comprised of only 200,000 enlisted soldiers and there was little need for new or updated housing. Beginning in 1940, the military started drafting men into the army and navy and military ranks began to swell as hundreds of thousands of draftees -- all of whom had to be housed - entered the service. Within just five years, the army had risen to the challenge and built temporary military housing for all of its soldiers -- a total of approximately 6 million men by 1944!

During World War II, providing adequate temporary housing for these new soldiers became a nationwide concern, because temporary barracks for service men were rarely satisfactory. Military field housing during World War I was notoriously bad: soldiers often lived in tents, frequently in harsh environments, without proper heating and sanitary facilities. By the late 1930s, Americans demanded a higher quality of life for their soldiers; as a result, the army was expected to provide better housing for the draftees. The Selective Service Act, passed in September 1940, specifically stipulated that no soldiers would be sworn into service until the government made adequate provisions for their shelter.

The military realities of World War II were vastly different than those of the "Great War". During World War I, American soldiers were transported to France, where they were housed and trained at European posts, close to the battlefields. But by 1940, Germany had occupied most of Europe, leaving England as the only country available to host American troops. Because England only had limited space to house, maintain and train American soldiers, transporting partially-trained American soldiers overseas was no longer an available option. For the first time, the War Department needed to accommodate a substantial standing army that would be stationed in the US indefinitely. And they kept coming -- in response to the growing threat in Europe, 400,000 men had enlisted by November 1940 and by February, 1941, another 700,000 had joined them. The army needed immediate plans for accommodating all these incoming men.

The army's two construction divisions, the Quartermaster General and the Army Corps of Engineers, were immediately given the job of providing housing, quickly and cheaply. They established five principles to guide mobilization construction plans: speed, simplicity, conservation of materials, flexibility and safety. Using these principles, the construction divisions were directed to draw up standard building plans for simple wood-frame structures; the buildings were made with inexpensive and prefabricated materials and could be constructed in assembly-line fashion. The standard plans were bundled into construction packages that could meet the needs of a 125-man company, complete with barracks, mess halls, and recreation buildings and supply buildings. These structures, which now included central heating, interior showers and latrines, and other modern conveniences, were recognized as being far superior to the World War I tents.


Castillo de San Joaquin, 1793

In order to defend the Spanish colony against hostile vessels, Spain began construction of a fortification to protect the Bay of San Francisco, at its narrow entrance in 1793. Located on La Punta de Cantil Blanco, or the point where white bluffs overlook the two-mile wide Golden Gate Strait, a brick-covered adobe with 15 embrasures was completed in December of 1794 and named the Castillo de San Joaquin. Later that year, reacting to the fear of a British incursion into Spanish territory, the Spanish royal frigate Aranzazu delivered six bronze guns to the Castillo. Far from being a bastion of Spanish control over the region, the Castillo was only intermittently manned, usually by soldiers from the nearby Presidio. A lack of adequate upkeep at the Presidio soon became a problem. In spite of reconstruction attempts, the Castillo's adobe structures quickly deteriorated from rain, shifting sand substrate, and lack of adequate upkeep.1

When the U.S. military began building Fort Point, the cliffs on which the Castillo de San Joaquin stood were leveled. As a result, nothing remains of the Spanish outpost today; however, a few relics survived the destruction of the Castillo, including a collection of several cannons used to defend it. These cannon were cast in Peru more than a century earlier. They are among the oldest cannon in the United States and are currently on display at the Presidio of San Francisco.

1. Langelier, John and Rosen, Daniel. Presidio of San Francisco: Golden Gate. California: United States Dept. of the Interior, 1992.

The San Francisco Port of Embarkation

I especially remember coming home to San Francisco aboard the General Anderson. It was very foggy when the pilot boarded, but all 3500, or so, troops were on deck waiting for a glimpse of the Golden Gate. And, as we steamed through the gate, the fog dispersed, as if a curtain was parting and there was San Francisco's skyline basking in early morning sunshine. There was not a dry eye on board as the band on the pier played "California, Here I Come!" It was just great and I will never forget it.- U.S. Serviceman returning in January, 1956

The massive buildings of Lower Fort Mason, which eventually became the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, were originally built in 1912 to warehouse army supplies and provide docking space for army transport ships. By 1898, with the advent of the Spanish-American War, the United States' interests and responsibilities had shifted from managing internal issues to exerting the country's new power across the Pacific Ocean. The War Department began to build new bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, and various Pacific islands and most of the material for those bases was shipped through San Francisco. The three piers, their sheds, warehouses, and a railroad tunnel running under Fort Mason were completed by 1915. 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.

From the 1920s through World War II, the San Francisco Port of Embarkation played a critical role in the movement of supplies and troops to the Pacific. During the 45 months of war, 1,647,174 passengers and 23,589,472 measured tons moved under the San Francisco Port of Embarkation into the Pacific. This total represents two-thirds of all troops sent into the Pacific and more than one-half of all Army cargo moved through West Coast ports. The highest passenger count was logged in August of 1945 when 93,986 outbound passengers were loaded.

Sutro District

This dramatic edge of the city, once windswept and desolate, was developed in the late 19th century by Adolf Sutro, who transformed the area into an entertaining and restorative destination for locals and visitors alike. The Sutro District included the expansive Sutro Heights gardens, the popular Sutro Baths and the ever-changing Cliff House.

In 1881, Sutro purchased 22 acres of undeveloped land at the edge of the city, which included a promontory overlooking the Cliff House and Seal Rocks with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Mount Tamalpais, and the Golden Gate. Taking advantage of the views, Sutro turned this property into Sutro Heights, an elaborate public garden that was filled with decorated flower beds, statues, forests and vista points.

In 1883, Sutro purchased the existing 20 year-old Cliff House, with the desire to re-establish the restaurant as a wholesome, family-friendly venue. After the first Cliff House was destroyed by a fire in 1894, Sutro spent $75,000 to rebuild and furnish the second Cliff House. The new Cliff House, designed in an ornate, Victorian style, stood eight stories tall and provided elegant dining rooms, art galleries and panoramic views from open-air verandas.

Sutro's interest in natural history and marine studies prompted him to develop the idea of creating an ocean pool, or aquarium, among the rocks north of the Cliff House. Sutro continued to expand his ocean front complex with the development of a massive public bath house, or swimming facility. Sutro Baths was created as a huge swimming and bathing facility, offering six saltwater swimming tanks of varying sizes, shapes and water temperatures that provided exercise and recreation to the San Francisco public.

Presidio, 1846 - 1876

Pre-Civil War

When American forces, represented by the New York Volunteers, occupied the Presidio in 1847, they moved into the adobe structures which had been erected by the Spanish. An officer visiting the Presidio wrote that all of the buildings were of no value, and the post would be improved by their removal. The structures of the Presidio were supported by old adobe walls that were dilapidated from age and ponderous leaky roofs. In fact the buildings were not much more than unsightly mud enclosures.1

In addition to the hardships posed by the poor condition of the Presidio's structures, the Americans encountered several other difficulties in the years following their occupation. Captain Keyes, who commanded the Presidio between 1849 and 1858, spent a large portion of his time dealing with the problems posed by desertion and squatters. When Company M, 3d artillery, arrived at the post in May of 1849, it counted 57 men among its ranks. Every man in the Company knew he could make more money in one day at the gold mines than in months in the Army, and for most of the men, the lure of riches proved to be too great. By the end of August, the Presidio's enlisted strength had dwindled down to 15 men. On one occasion, Keyes sent an officer and a detail in pursuit of absentees, but when the detail reached the party, they decided to abandon their posts and flee with the deserters.2

Civil War Period

With the onset of the Civil War, most of the Army's regular regiments in the west received orders transferring them east to the fighting fronts. Only units of the 9th Infantry remained on the West Coast -- stationed at the Presidio and at Fort Vancouver in Washington Territory. As the war progressed, companies of the 9th Infantry rotated among military posts, but nearly always they had the responsibility of defending the strategically important San Francisco Bay.3

The Civil War had brought significant developments to the Presidio of San Francisco. Its garrison, along with other military installations in the area, had maintained peace and order and assured the dominance of the Union's cause in northern California. The reservation itself grew from a small collection of adobe and temporary wood-frame structures into a substantial frontier/coastal army post capable of housing over 1,500 officers and men.4

Post-Civil War

For the first several months following the war, the Presidio's strength figures varied greatly. The Army quickly mustered out the Volunteers, and regular regiments, arriving at San Francisco by steamer, paused briefly at the Presidio before moving on into the interior of the country. By 1867 the garrison had settled down to its permanent strength of 200 to 300 enlisted men, nearly all assigned to the 2d Artillery Regiment.3

In 1870 the citizens of San Francisco began a campaign to transfer the Presidio military reservation to the city, and thereby providing land for park, residential, and business construction. California's Senators quickly introduced bills in the U.S. Senate calling for such a transfer. A board of Army engineers in San Francisco responded by saying that plans had already been prepared for large earthen batteries along the ocean and bay sides of the Presidio (the future batteries East and West). Furthermore, they argued, that these works would have to be defended to the rear against an overland attack. It soon became apparent that the U.S. military still regarded the Presidio as a strategically important location, and any plans to transfer the property to the public were
dismissed. 3

1.Thompson, Erwin N. Defenders of the Gate: A History from 1846 to 1995. California: National Park Service, 1997.

2. Allen, R.W. March 15, 1855, to Maj. O. Cross, CCF, OQMG, RG 92, NA.

3. Thompson, Erwin N. and Woodbridge, Sally B. Presidio of San Francisco Special History Study: American Period, 1847 - 1990. California: National Park Service, 1991.

4. Schindler, Annual Inspection Report, June 30, 1865, and Annual report of Additions and Repairs, June 30, 1865, both in CCF, OQMG, RG 92, NA.

Alcatraz Occupation

From November, 1969 to June, 1971, a group called Indians of All Tribes, Inc., occupied Alcatraz Island. This group, made up of American Indians relocated to the Bay Area, was protesting against the United States government's policies that affected them. They were protesting federal laws that took aboriginal land away from American Indians and that aimed to destroy American Indian cultures. The Alcatraz occupation is recognized today as one of the most important events in contemporary Native American history. It was the first intertribal protest action to focus the nation's attention on the situation of native peoples in the United States. The island occupation ignited a protest movement which culminated with the occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota in 1973. Because of the attention brought to the plight of the American Indian communities, as a result of the occupation, federal laws were created which demonstrated new respect for aboriginal land rights and for the freedom of American Indians to maintain their traditional cultures.


Angel Island, 1846 - 1876

The U.S. Army began construction on Angel Island in September 1863, when carpenters began erecting quarters for engineers. A company of artillery was stationed on the island on September 21, 1863, and established Camp Reynolds in the valley between Points Stewart and Knox.1

Camp Reynolds

The troops constructed an unofficial battery at Camp Reynolds that contained five 32-pounder smoothbores, scheduled for eventual placement at Point Blunt. The Engineer Department never recognized the existence of this battery because it was never part of an approved project. The water battery at Camp Reynolds contained two 32-pounders and three 24-pounders. In February 1864, a wharf was completed at Camp Reynolds, greatly improving the unloading of supplies and equipment. Construction of the wharf at Camp Reynolds would prove to be a strategic blunder; when Colonel Alexander examined the batteries on Angel Island between November 1867 and April 1868, he determined that the battery at Camp Reynolds might be useful for firing salutes and for purposes of drill only, since it fired directly over the wharf.1

Point Stewart

Construction of the battery at Point Stewart began in November 1863. By June 1864, a road had been constructed from the wharf to the battery, and engineers were in the process of erecting a large wooden magazine. Three 32-pounders and a columbiad were mounted at the battery in July of 1864. Point Stewart turned out to be much too small and narrow to contain the large battery originally contemplated for the site; consequently a third location, Point Knox, was chosen for a battery on Angel Island.1

Point Knox

A survey for a ten-gun battery at Point Knox was undertaken in November 1863, and construction of the earthen parapet commenced soon after. Point Knox's armament -- seven 32-pounders, one 8-inch Rodman, and two 10-inch Rodmans -- were mounted by September 1864. This battery was considered to be located at the most strategic location, although the irregular ground required several different heights for the guns.1

Point Blunt

The site was surveyed in November 1863, but construction on the seven-gun battery did not begin until March 1864. Excavation of earth and rock and the construction of a stoneless earthen parapet were completed by April. Six 32-pounders and one 10-inch Rodman were mounted in the summer of 1864, but severe rains in December 1864 caused heavy damage to the parapet, which slid 5 feet forward.1 In June 1865,the Inspector of Artillery and Ordnance for San Francisco Harbor reported that the battery was not serviceable and that settling continued. Repairs were not attempted, and in February of 1866 Lieutenant Colonel E. R. Platt, Commanding Officer of Camp Reynolds, declared the battery "utterly useless" and asked permission to dismount the guns. A month later all guns were removed and the battery abandoned.2

1. Thompson, Erwin N. Historic Resource Study: Seacoast Fortifications, San Francisco Harbor. California: GGNRA, 1979.

2. John Soennichsen, Historian, Angel Island Association, email communication, April 2005.

Ohlones and Coast Miwoks

Native Americans have called the San Francisco Bay region home for over 10,000 years. Park areas south of the Golden Gate, from the San Francisco Peninsula, to the East Bay and south to Monterey, are the aboriginal lands of the Ohlones (also called Costanoans). Park lands north of the Golden Gate, primarily in Marin County and Southern Sonoma County, are the aboriginal lands of the Coast Miwoks. The park's oldest archeological site is shell material found at Land's End, dated from 150 AD.

Both the Ohlone and Coast Miwok peoples were organized into small, politically independent societal groups or tribes; the Ohlones had about 50 tribes and the Coast Miwoks had approximately14 tribes. Ethno history suggests that small villages were maintained along the marshlands. In San Francisco, the villages were located at today's Fort Mason, Crissy Field, and Sutro Baths. In Marin, the Coast Miwok encampments were located near today's Horseshoe Cove in Fort Baker and at Big Lagoon at Muir Beach. Groups moved annually between temporary and permanent village sites in a seasonal round of hunting, fishing, and gathering. Periodic burning of the landscape was conducted to promote the growth of native grasses for seed gathering and to create forage for deer and elk. The world view and spirituality of both the Ohlones and Coast Miwoks were expressed in a complexly woven tapestry of stories, myth, song, dance, and ritual.

In 1776, when Spanish military and civilian settlers arrived in the Bay Area to establish military garrisons (presidios), Franciscan missions, and civil settlements (pueblos), life abruptly and dramatically changed for the native people of the San Francisco Bay Area. With Spanish colonization, came the introduction of new diseases and the establishment of mission communities meant to supplant the existing tribal organization.

Because they lived closest to the Presidio's military garrison, members of the Ohlone tribe that inhabited the San Francisco Peninsula, called the Yelamu, were baptized and taken into the missions as early as the 1770s and 1780s. Because the Coast Miwok tribes lived further north, their indoctrination came a little later. In 1783, several members of the Huimen community, who inhabited the southern-most part of Marin County, were the first of the Coast Miwok to leave their homeland for Mission San Francisco. This initial migration was a sign of the times to come. By 1810, introduced diseases, forced labor, and efforts to indoctrinate the indigenous peoples into an alien society and religion led to a tragic destruction of the way of life of Ohlones and Coast Miwoks.

Today, descendants of Ohlone and Coast Miwok peoples live throughout the Bay Area. Many are organized into distinct tribal groups. While participating in contemporary society, they are actively involved in the preservation and revitalization of their native culture. Restoration of native language, protection of ancestral sites, practice of traditional plant uses, story telling, dance, song, and basket weaving are all aspects of these restoration efforts. The National Park Service works with Ohlones in stewarding the preservation and interpretation of ancestral sites in the Presidio and throughout the park south of the Golden Gate. The Park Service is working in a similar fashion with the Coast Miwok who today form a single, federally-recognized tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

For Further Reading:

Bean, Lowell John (editor), 1994. The Ohlone Past and Present: Native Americans of the San Francisco Bay Region. Ballena Press, Novato, CA.

Chartkoff , Joseph L., and Kerry K. 1984. The Archaeology of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

Colley, Charles C.1970. "The Missionization of the Coast Miwok Indians of California". California Historical Society Quarterly, 49(2): 143-162.

Cook, Chartkoff, Joseph Sherburne F. 1976. The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

Heizer, R.F. and M.A. Whipple (contributers and editors). 1971. The California Indians: A Source Book. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

Kroeber, Alfred L., 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of Ethnology, Bulletin 78, Washington D.C.

Margolin, Malcolm, 1978. The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA.

A Time of Little Choice: The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area 1769-1810 California Archaeology

Peterson, B.J. (editor). 1976. Dawn of the World: Coast Miwok Myths. Marin Museum Society, Impressions Printing, Woodacre, California. Original: Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan Indians of California, Arthur H. Clarke Company, Cleveland, Ohio, 1910.

Yamane, Linda (editor). 2002. A Gathering of Voices; The Native People of the Central California Coast. Santa Cruz County History Journal, Issue 5; published by the Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, California.

The Spanish and Mexican period, 1776 to 1846

Spanish Era 1776 - 1821

In an effort to solidify their control over North American resources and territory, European colonial powers began to construct fortifications to protect their settlements from foreign encroachment. The Spanish empire had made several claims to California and sought to consolidate its position in North America as a colonial power. Recognizing the significance of San Francisco Bay's vast harbor, Spain began to fortify the area with defensive structures.

Construction of the first defensive structure began in 1776. A lightly fortified military outpost, known as El Presidio de San Francisco in Spanish, was built just inside of the Golden Gate to provide protection for the garrisoned soldiers. This fortification and the others to follow were largely constructed using labor provided by indigenous people from the villages and missions of the Santa Clara Valley and San Francisco area. El Presidio was quite vulnerable to foreign attach, considering its lack of armament to defend itself against naval attack. The Spanish were aware of this vulnerability, and the growing tensions in the region would soon prompt them to address their concerns.

In the years following the establishment of the Presidio, Spain and Great Britain contested ownership of the North America Pacific Coast. Both colonial powers attempted to settle their territorial dispute at the Nookta Convention of 1790. However, their efforts to reach an agreement were unsuccessful, and in 1792, the growing tensions between the two colonial powers became evident when British naval officer George Vancouver visited the Presidio of San Francisco and apprised his government of the lack of adequate defenses. In a reaction to this report and a growing concern for British territorial claims on the West Coast, Governor Jose Arrillaga order the construction of a coastal fortification to protect Spain's control of the harbor.

La Punta de Cantil Blanco

Not long after building the Castillo de San Joaquin, Spanish relations with Britain began to deteriorate. The tensions between the two countries eventually erupted into a full-scale war in 1797. The war spread rapidly, and when the conflict reached the small settlement on San Francisco Bay, Governor Diego de Borica ordered an additional battery built two miles to the east of the Castillo, well inside the bay at a point with suitable anchorage (Fort Mason would be built at the same location in the future). First called Bateria San Jose, but later known as Bateria de Yerba Buena after the name of a nearby cove, this outpost was constructed with eight embrasures, yet it was only equipped with five eight-pounder cannons at the time of its completion.

Mexican Era, 1822-1946

Although Spain had anticipated an attack on the pueblo on San Francisco Bay by the British, that assault was never realized. Ironically, the greatest threat to Spain's control of the region came from an unforeseen enemy which had also been a former ally. The Spanish colony of Mexico embarked on a war for independence in 1821. Following a successful revolt later that year, the Colony won its freedom from Spain. Alta California, which encompasses present-day California, passed quietly into Mexican control.

Augmenting the fortification of the San Francisco Bay was a low priority for the new regime, and the defenses at Bateria Yerba Buena soon fell into further disrepair. A U.S. military report issued in 1841 revealed that only one rusty cannon was stationed at the derelict battery, and by 1846 the coastal fortifications at Bateria Yerba Buena were entirely abandoned by the Mexican military forces. At the present time, no remains of this outpost are known to exist.

In 1834, General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who was the new comandante of the Presidio, moved part of the San Francisco garrison north to Sonoma. The move was partially precipitated by the dilapidated condition of the Presidio's adobe structures. The damage to the fort's structures, largely as a result of adverse weather conditions, was so severe that the fort needed to be almost entirely rebuilt. However, the Mexican government refused to fund the project and the Presidio continued to deteriorate. By 1835, Vallejo had transported the last of the San Francisco garrison to the new northern outpost in Sonoma, leaving the security of the Presidio in the hands of a few caretakers.1

During the period of Mexican control of California, the increasing prominence in sea commerce and an expanding migration of Anglo-American settlers into the region had aroused the territorial ambitions of the United States. In June of 1846, American settlers, supported by a contingent of indigenous Californians, revolted against the Mexican government of Alta California in a movement known as the Bear Flag Revolt. The United States backed the insurgents, which dispatched a small force to march south from Sonoma. The revolt was led by a Captain of Topographical Engineers, John C. Fremont, and included mountain man Christopher "Kit" Carson.

Only meeting light resistance on their march to the pueblo of Yerba Buena, Fremont and his men quickly reached the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, and crossed the harbor at its narrowest point (the Spanish called the entry to the bay Boca del Puerto de San Francisco, but in the following years Fremont used his influence as a topographer to rename the harbor's entrance Chrysoceras or Golden Gate, when translated from Latin into English). When the American force reached the shores of Yerba Buena, the few Mexican soldiers stationed at the Presidio fled at the sight of Fremont's men, leaving the Castillo de San Joaquin and the Presidio effectively abandoned. Just two hours after the Americans landed on Yerba Buena, the entire arsenal of the Castillo, comprised of a number between ten and fourteen cannons, was rendered useless by a process known as "spiking."

The final assault on the Presidio came on July 9, 1846, when Captain John B. Montgomery of the U.S. sloop Portsmouth landed a force of marines to seize the settlement of Yerba Buena, which would later become known as San Francisco. At the Castillo de San Joaquin, the marines found three brass guns that they believed to be 12 and 18 pounders, made in 1623, 1628 and 1693. In addition, seven iron guns were found at the Castillo. The bronze guns that were recovered are believed to be the San Pedro, San Domingo, and La Birgen de Barbaneda. These guns are currently on display at the Presidio.

Today, the archaeological remains of El Presidio lie buried beneath the Presidio Main Post and inside the walls of the Presidio Officers' Club. Nothing remains of El Castillo or the above ground elements of Bateria de Yerba Buena, but the archaeology remains of the latter are unstudied.

To learn more about the early history of the California coast and how the Spanish colonized this area, visit the National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary at

1. Dana, Richard Henry Jr. Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1872.

Fort Baker

Fort Baker is a historic army post located in the Marin Headlands. The post, built between 1902 and 1910, is one of the park's best examples of the army's "Endicott Period" military construction, named after the late 19th century Secretary of War, William C. Endicott. The "Endicott Period" refers to the peace time years, between 1865 (the end of the Civil War) and 1898 (prior to the Spanish-American War), when the army had the time to look inward and make improvements to many of its existing military systems. By the 1860s, many of the Army's "modern" defense systems had become outdated and the War Department expressed growing concerns about the dilapidated condition of the country's seacoast fortifications. As a response, in the 1890s, the Secretary of War, William C. Endicott, made sweeping recommendations for all existing U.S. seaports and proposals to modernize and re-arm all the seacoast forts. In addition to improving its seacoast defenses, the Army now turned its energy toward improving the living conditions of enlisted soldiers, in order to stem desertion, boost moral and attract a better class of recruits.

Here at Fort Baker, the army built many new state-of-the-art fortifications, including Batteries Yates, Spencer, Kirby, Duncan and Orlando Wagner. Once the soldiers arrived to man the newly constructed batteries, the army began a major construction campaign to provide permanent housing for the newly organized Coast Artillery Corps. The new army post included barracks, a commanding officers' residences, a post headquarters, officers' quarters and a 12-bed hospital. Most of the original Fort Baker buildings were designed in the Colonial Revival architectural style. The style is often characterized by large, stocky symmetrical buildings with classical elements, such as columns, wrap-around porches and decorative windows. The soldiers' barracks at Fort Baker represent the army's new interest in providing its soldiers with a healthier environment. Unlike the dark, cramped and often infested 19th century frontier barracks, the large and well ventilated barracks at Fort Baker provided clean running water, ample interior space and modern, indoor toilet facilities. The post also contained important recreational facilities like a gymnasium, a reading room, a post exchange (which functioned as both a small-scale store and lunch room), even a bowling alley.

In order to adequately protect the valuable San Francisco Bay, the army continued to build more batteries along the coast line. The construction of Battery Mendell and Battery Alexander, in 1905, prompted the establishment of the Fort Barry military post in 1910. By the 1930s, Fort Baker as well as Fort Barry (and eventually Fort Cronkhite) became part of the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco. During World War II, the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco, tasked with guarding the harbor with underwater minefields and shore batteries, constructed a mine depot at Fort Baker. Fort Baker was an active military post up through World War II.