The Presidio served as a military post under the flags of Spain (1776-1822), Mexico (1822-48), and the United States (1848-1994). As a U.S. Army post, the Presidio protected commerce and trade, and played a logistical role in every major U.S. military conflict over the last 150 years. World events and those on the home front - from military campaigns to the rise of aviation, from World Fairs to natural disasters - left their mark here.
For thousands of years, Native Americans called the Ohlone managed and harvested the natural bounty of what is now the Presidio. In 1776, Spanish soldiers and missionaries arrived, forever disrupting Ohlone culture and beginning 218 years of military use of the area just south of the Golden Gate.
In 1776 the presidio on San Francisco Bay was established as the most remote military base of the Spanish Empire in North America. In 1821 the newly independent Republic of Mexico included California as part of her territory. For the next 13 years Mexican soldiers served at the Presidio. In 1835 the post was temporarily abandoned when General Mariano Vallejo transferred the military headquarters north to Sonoma. Over time, the Presidio's adobe walls slowly dissolved in the winter rains. American forces landed at San Francisco in 1846 and occupied the Presidio during the United States' war with Mexico. In 1848, California was transferred by treaty from Mexico to the United States and the Presidio flew a new flag as the nation stretched from coast to coast.
One year after American forces first occupied the Presidio in 1846, its ruins were repaired by the New York Volunteers of the U.S. Army. Upon the discovery of gold in California, the sudden growth and importance of San Francisco prompted the U.S. government to establish military reservations here. By executive order of President Fillmore, the United States reserved the Presidio in November, 1850 for military use. During the 1850s-60s Presidio soldiers fought Indians in California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada. To protect the Bay entrance the Army Corps of Engineers built Fort Point, a four-tiered brick and granite fort designed to hold 126 large cannon. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 emphasized the importance of a rich California and the military significance of San Francisco harbor to the Union. This led, in 1862, to the first major program of construction and expansion at the Presidio since it was acquired by the United States. The Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s resulted in additional growth of the Presidio. Soldiers stationed here saw action against the Modoc Indians in the Lava Beds of northern California and against the Apache Indians in the southwest. In the 1880s a large-scale tree planting and post beautification program was started. By the 1890s the Presidio was no longer a frontier outpost but a major military installation and a base for American expansion into the Pacific.
In 1890, with the creation of Sequoia, General Grant and Yosemite National Parks in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, the protection of these scenic and natural resources was assigned to the U.S. Cavalry stationed at the Presidio. Soldiers patrolled these new parks during the summer months until the start of World War I in 1914. In 1916 the National Park Service was created to manage the country's National Parks. The United States' war with Spain, in 1898, increased the role of the Presidio. Thousands of troops camped in tent cities awaiting shipment to the Philippines. Returning sick and wounded soldiers were treated in the Army's first permanent general hospital, Presidio (now Letterman) Army General Hospital. By 1905, twelve coastal defense batteries of reinforced concrete were built along the San Francisco Headlands. Presidio coast artillery units were stationed near the Bay entrance at Fort Scott, with cavalry and infantry garrisoned at the main post. During the following the 1906 earthquake and fire, the US Army at the Presidio assisted the civilian government by providing food, clothing, shelter and protection.
In 1914 troops under the command of General John Pershing left the Presidio for the Mexican border to pursue Pancho Villa and his men. When World War I began General Pershing became the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. The Presidio expanded in the 1920s when Crissy Army Airfield was established to assist in harbor defense. In 1924 the first "dawn to dusk" transcontinental flight finished here. From 1933 to 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge was built, which increased public use of the Presidio. The airfield moved north to Marin County, to become Hamilton Airfield.
The United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Presidio soldiers dug foxholes along the nearby beaches. Fourth Army Commander General John L. DeWitt conducted the internment of thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the west coast while U. S. soldiers of Japanese decent were trained to read and speak Japanese at the first Military Intelligence Service language school at Crissy Field. The Presidio also became headquarters for the Western Defense Command for the west coast and Alaska, and the nearby Fort Mason Port of Embarkation shipped 1,750,000 men to fight in the Pacific. As it became the largest debarkation hospital in the country, Letterman Hospital peaked at 72,000 patients in one year. In the 1950s the Presidio served as the headquarters for Nike missile defense located around the Golden Gate, and headquarters for the famed Sixth U.S. Army. The Presidio of San Francisco was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, with over 350 buildings having historic value.
In 1972, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was created, and the Presidio was designated to be part of the recreation area if the military ever closed the base. As part of a military base reduction program in 1989, Congress decided to close the post. As such, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service on October 1, 1994. At the time of its closure, the Presidio was the oldest continuously operating military base in the country, containing a National Historic Landmark District with more than 500 buildings of historic value.
Since 1998, the Presidio has been jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust. The Presidio Trust is a special public-private governmental agency tasked with managing most of the buildings of the Presidio and making the park financially self-sufficient by 2013. Today, visitors can enjoy the history and beauty of the Presidio. Within its 1,480 acres are more than 500 historic buildings, a collection of coastal defense fortifications, a national cemetery, an historic airfield, a saltwater marsh, forests, beaches, native plant habitats, coastal bluffs, miles of hiking and biking, and some of the most spectacular vistas in the world.