José Francisco Ortega, sergeant and pathfinder of the expedition, was the discoverer of the Golden Gate and of the Straits of Carquines. As commander of the expedition, Portolá is entitled to the credit for whatever the expedition accomplished, but it is nowhere claimed that Don Gaspar was the first white man to look upon the waters of the great bay. From the summit of the Montara mountains, Portolá sighted the high headland of Point Reyes and recognized what was then called the Port of San Francisco, afterwards known as the ensenada or gulf of the Farallones. He descended the mountain on the north and camped at its foot, in the San Pedro Valley, while he sent his scouts forward to explore the coast up to Point Reyes [Note 2], giving them three days for the reconnaissance.
The scouts returned late at night of the third day and reported that they could not reach Point Reyes because some immense esteros (esteros inmensos) intervened which extended far into the land. The day following the departure of the scouts, some soldiers received permission to go into the mountains to hunt for deer. These returning after nightfall, reported that on the other side of the mountain there was a great estero or arm of the sea. José Francisco Ortega was the actual discoverer of the bay of San Francisco, and that he saw it some twenty hours before the hunters of the deer. The second day of Ortega's expedition was probably spent in exploring the shore of the bay and the third in his return, by the route of his coming, to the camp at San Pedro
On July 27th the San Cárlos sailed for San Francisco bay, beginning the voyage with a novena to their seraphic father, Saint Francis. Owing to contrary winds progress was slow and it was not until August 5th that they approached the entrance to the port. At eight in the morning of that day the launch was lowered, and Don José Cañizares, sailing master, with a crew of ten men, was sent in to make a reconnaissance and select an anchorage for the ship. At nine the tide was running out so strongly that the ship was driven to sea, but at eleven o'clock the tide turned and it drew near the coast, the captain approaching the entrance with caution, taking frequent soundings.
At sunset the launch was seen coming from the port but the flood tide was too strong and she was forced back. Night was now coming on; an anchorage must be found and the San Cárlos stood in through the unknown passage. Rock cliffs lined the narrow strait and the inrushing tide dashing against rock pinnacles bore the little ship onward. In mid-channel a sixty fathom line with a twenty pound lead failed to find bottom. Swiftly ran the tide and as day darkened into night the San Cárlos sailed through the uncharted narrows, passed its inner portal, and opened the Golden Gate to the commerce of the world. Skirting the northern shore, the first ship cast anchor in the waters of San Francisco bay at half past ten o'clock on the night of August 5, 1775, in twenty-two fathoms, off what is now Sausalito. [Note 6]
At six the next morning the launch came across from the opposite shore and the mate  explained his failure to come to the ship when he saw her approaching by saying that the tide was so strong that it drove him back in spite of all his efforts. Richardson's bay was then explored by the mate in the launch, but was not considered safe because of the character of its bottom and the fact that it was exposed to the southeast winds. Ayala named it Ensenada del Carmelita because of a rock in it that resembled a friar of that order.
From a ranchería in Richardson's bay the Indians came, and with friendly gestures invited the boat's crew to visit them, but they, having no orders to do so, kept at a distance from the beach, and at nine o'clock returned to the ship. From Belvidere point the Indians cried out to the sailors on the ship who, having no interpreter, could not understand them. At three o'clock in the afternoon an attempt was made to move the vessel to a safer anchorage but the tide was running too swiftly and they anchored off Point Tiburon in fifteen fathoms, dropping two anchors which however did not prevent the ship from drifting.
Meanwhile the Indians on shore near the vessel were keeping up their solicitations and on the seventh the commander sent the chaplain, Fray Vicente Santa María, with the mate and a boat's crew of armed men, in the launch, to pay them a visit. He furnished them with beads and other trinkets for the Indians and charged them to take every precaution against treachery. They were hospitably received by the natives and entertained at their ranchería with pinole,  bread made from their corn or seeds, and tomales of the same. They were much pleased with their reception and found that the Indians could repeat the Spanish words with facility.
Explorations by use of the launch were continued and on the twelfth they made an examination of the large island near them which they named Isla de Los Angeles. Here they found good anchorage, and near at hand, wood and water. Another island near by they named Isla de Alcatraces because of the number of pelicans on it.  This was steep and barren and without shelter, even for a launch.
On the thirteenth Ayala moved his ship to the anchorage of Isla de Los Angeles, or Angel island, as it is now called, which I presume was Hospital Cove where the United States Quarantine station now is. Here, protected from the wind and the strong currents, he made his ship secure with anchors fore and aft, lowered the yards and sent down the top masts. This done he sent the launch with Cañizares and an armed force of men and provisions for eight days, to continue the survey into San Pablo and Suisun bays. Cañizares returned on the twenty-first and the launch was sent with fresh men under the second mate, Juan Bautista Aguirre, to look for a party Rivera had promised to send by land from Monterey, and, if he failed to find them, to explore the southeastern portion of the bay.
Aguirre did not find the Monterey expedition for the good reason that Rivera had sent none, and when sent again on the thirty-first, with the cayuco, he found neither the Monterey expedition nor that of Colonel Anza, for which Ayala was looking.  Meanwhile on the twenty-third fifteen Indians came off to the ship on two of their tule rafts or canoes and were taken on board, entertained and given food. On the twenty-eighth Cañizares resumed his exploration of San Pablo and Suisun bays and returned September 1st. The next few days he spent in surveying the southerly part of San Francisco bay and in making his report to the commander. His descriptions of the bay are excellent and the soundings shown on his map compare with those of the Coast Survey, allowing for the shallowing of the last sixty years.
San Pablo bay he calls Bahia Redonda, though he says it is not round but in the shape of an isosceles triangle. This appears on his map as Bahia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. He visited an Indian rancheria at the entrance to Carquines strait and found the natives polite and modest, not disposed to beg although they accepted some presents of beads and old clothes, and responded by giving the Spaniards some excellent fish, pinole, and seeds. These Indians had rafts or canoes made of tule and so well constructed and woven that they won the admiration of the sailing-master. Four men in them with double bladed oars could make greater speed than the launch.
Passing through Carquines strait, to which he gives no name, Cañizares describes Southampton bay which he calls Puerto de la Asumpta, having examined it August 15th, the festival day of the Assumption of the Virgin. Suisun bay is described as a large port into which some rivers come and take the saltiness from the water which there becomes sweet as in a lake.  One river coming from the east-northeast (east—the San Joaquin) is about two hundred and fifty varas wide; the other, which has many branches, comes from the northeast through tulares and swamps, in very low land, and there are but two fathoms of water in their channels and sand bars with but half a fathom at their mouths.
Cañizares also mentions another island, to which no name is given, about two leagues to the southeast of Angel island. This is Yerba Buena. The tide flats of the Alameda coast with poles driven into the mud for the fishing stations of the Indians; the Presidio anchorage, Yerba Buena cove, Mission bay and Islais creek are all described, as well as the hills and groves of oak and redwood. A ranchería on the Alameda shore, seemed to be a good place for a mission, though he only viewed it from afar.
To Point Lobos was given the name Punta del Angel de la Garda. Fort Point was called Punta de San José. Lime Point was Punta de San Cárlos, and Point Benito, Punta de Santiago. Point San Pedro was called Punta de Langosta (Locust Point), Point Richmond, Punta de San Antonio, and Point Avisadero, Punta de Concha. Mission bay was named Ensenada de los Llorones (The Weepers) because, it is said, the sailors saw some Indians weeping on the beach. Islais creek was called Estero Seco; the cove between Tiburon and Belvidere was Ensenada del Santo Evangelio; Mare island, Isla Plana, and Suisun bay Junta de los Quatro Evangelistas—The meeting of the four Evangelists. Of all the names given by Ayala there only remain to us Angel and Alcatraz islands. Point San José transferred its name to the next point east, while the point to which it was originally given became known as the Punta del Cantil Blanco, the name given it by Anza, and is now called Fort Point.
On the 7th of September Ayala had completed his survey and at eight in the morning he weighed anchor and leaving the shelter of Hospital Cove sailed for Monterey, but the wind failing, the current swept him on to a rock near Point Cavallo, injuring his rudder and compelling him to put into Horseshoe bay for repairs. While thus detained he employed the time in examining the entrance to the bay. He sailed on the eighteenth and arrived at Monterey the next day. He had spent forty-four days in the bay of San Francisco.
Leaving the Salinas valley, the explorers passed into the Gavilan mountains, traveling up the beautiful cañon of Gavilan creek, over the summit, and descended to the San Benito river. They crossed the San Benito just north of where the mission of San Juan Bautista now stands and entered upon the Llano de San Pascual, now called the San Benito valley, passed the Rio del Pájaro, entered the San Bernardino valley and camped for the night on the Arroyo de las Llagas. The following morning the explorers passed between the low hills where the valley narrows to the Coyote river and entered upon the great Llano de los Robles del Puerto de San Francisco—The Plain of the Oaks of the Port of San Francisco—now better known as the Santa Clara valley—and keeping well to the western part, they traveled along the base of the foot hills and camped on the Arroyo de San Jose Cupertino, where from an elevation of about three hundred feet, they saw the bay of San Francisco some seven miles to the north.
A march of four leagues the next morning brought the exploradores to the Arroyo de San Francisco, now known as the San Francisquito creek, the site of Stanford University and of Portolá's camp of November 6th to 11th, 1769. A little ranchería of about twenty huts on the bank of the stream received the name of Palo Alto in honor of a giant redwood tree growing on the bank, whose size, height, and appearance is recorded by both Anza and Font as it had been by Father Crespi six years before. The name has been retained and the people of the pretty university town are fond of their name and proud of their tree.
Anza found on the bank of the creek a cross which had been planted by Rivera in 1774, to mark the spot for a mission, but the plan had been abandoned, he says, because the creek was dry in summer. Passing on the explorers crossed the Arroyo de San Mateo and halted for the night on a little stream about a league beyond. Anza comments upon the abundance of oaks and other trees they have been passing through during the last two days and particularly notes the many tall and thick laurels of extraordinary and very fragrant scent. He has been traveling through the most beautiful section of California.
After breaking camp early the next morning a march of three and a half leagues brought the Spaniards to the mouth of the port of San Francisco, and they camped at Mountain Lake, known afterwards as Laguna del Presidio. Anza does not give any name to the lake but the creek running from it to the sea he calls the Arroyo del Puerto and says its flow is considerable and sufficient for a mill; while Font says that boats can come into it for water. Its present name is Lobos creek and it is but a little brooklet.
Pitching his camp at the laguna, Anza went at once to inspect the entrance to the bay for the purpose of selecting a site for a fort. Font grows enthusiastic over the wonderful bay. He says the port of San Francisco is a marvel of nature and may be called the port of ports. He gives at length an excellent description of it; its shores; its islands; the great river which disembogues into the Bahia Redondo (San Pablo bay), which has been called the Rio de San Francisco, and which, he says, he will henceforth call La Boca del Puerto Dulce—The Mouth of the Fresh Water Port. At eight o'clock the next morning Anza resumed his survey, and going to the place where the entrance to the bay was narrowest, which he called Punta del Cantil Blanco—Point of the Steep White Rock, now called Fort Point—and where, he says, no one had hitherto been, he planted a cross to mark the spot where the fort should be built, and at its foot, underground, he placed a notice of what he had seen.
Between the Laguna del Presidio and the Punto del Cantil Blanco is a mesa—table-land—having an elevation of some three hundred and fifty feet, about a mile in breadth and a trifle more in length, narrowing to the north until it ends in the Cantil Blanco. Font says: "This mesa presents a most delicious view. From it may be seen a great part of the port and its islands, the mouth of the port, and of the sea, the view reaching beyond the Farallones.  The Señor Comandante designated this mesa for the site of a new town."
The comandante, taking with him his lieutenant, now turned to explore the inner coast of the peninsula. He encountered some streams and trees, mostly of oak, of good thickness, but twisted against the ground by the prevailing northwest winds. [Note 20] About three-quarters of a league from camp he came upon a little lake of good water, known to the Spaniards as Laguna Pequeña and to the San Francisco pioneers as Fresh Pond, or Washerwomen's Lagoon, from which he thought water for irrigation might be drawn. Continuing along the eastern shore of the bay he came to a large lake into which flowed a good stream or spring—ojo de agua —, and which appeared as if it might be permanent in the dryest season, while the land about it was fertile and promised abundant reward for cultivation. He returned to camp about five o'clock much pleased with the result of his examination.
The next morning, Friday, March 29th, Anza packed the baggage and sent it by the road of his coming with orders to await him at the Arroyo de San Mateo; then taking his padre capellan, Pedro Font, and an escort of five soldiers, he went to complete his examination of the southeastern part of the peninsula and of the lake he had seen the day before, to which he gave the name of Laguna de Manantial. He also examined the stream—ojo de agua—which Font calls a beautiful little rivulet, and because the day was the Friday of Sorrows—Viernes de Dolores—Anza named it Arroyo de los Dolores."
Thus originated a name that became the official designation of a very large and thickly settled section of the city of San Francisco—the Mission Dolores—shortened in the vernacular to the " Mission." Anza found here all the requirements for a mission: fertile land for cultivation, unequalled in goodness and abundance, with fuel and water, timber and stone suitable for building; nothing was wanting. Anza speaks with enthusiasm of the new town and mission. The fort, he said, shall be built where the entrance to the port is narrowest and where he set up the cross, the town on the mesa behind it, and the mission in this quiet beautiful valley, sufficiently near the fort to be protected, but far enough away to insure its peaceful serenity.
Presidio - El Polin Spring, Mountain Lake, Lobos Creek
Predicting the future or understanding the past - which is more important? Ask the Muwekma Ohlone, who settled the village of Petlenuc beside El Polin some 5,000 years ago. Their simple life ended with the 1776 arrival of Capt. Anza, who chained them up and founded this fort as the northernmost reach of the Spanish crown. The following two centuries of military occupation under the flags of Spain, Mexico and the Unites States shocked and awed this landscape into spectacular transformation, but neither quadrangles nor barracks nor landfills nor quarries nor the gloom of a historic Australian forest have stayed the original native plant communities from their appointed life cycles: Many of the "original inhabitants" still grow on the Presidio's distinctive bluffs, beaches and dunes, telling a tale older than mankind.
Among our oldest local legends concerns the Oja de Agua of El Polin, a freshwater spring in the Tennessee Hollow watershed. The bulk of the military's water supply always came from Mountain Lake to the west, but the seasonal pulse of El Polin commanded greater mystery and attraction. Myth held that any maiden who drank of its waters (particularly during a full moon) would be assured great fertility with an abundance of twins, while any man so indulging would enjoy a vigorous jolt of pre-Columbian Viagra. In his "Discorso Historica'' of 1876, Gen. Vallejo described the "very good water" which "demonstrated miraculous qualities"; he cited the numerous offspring of garrison wives.
The name El Polin derives from the old Spanish word for a giant wooden roller used dockside to load cannon and treasure aboard galleons; due to the phallic appearance of these logs, the word enjoyed widespread used as vulgar slang for the penis. Sources hint at Ohlone origins for the legend of the water's fucundity, but the nickname is 100 percent macho Spaniard.
The modern map of the Presidio marks "El Polin Spring" at the southern foot of MacArthur Avenue, in a cozy picnic area outfitted with a cobblestone well to mark the location. The water draining from the hillside to the well tumbles over some beautiful Spanish-era brickworks in a series of miniature waterfalls, attracting birds that like to drink and shower in the cascades. Copious in February when charged by rainfall, the flow here in June has slowed to five or 10 cups per minute, and will dry to less than a trickle in October.
Some members of the Presidio Trust have deduced from these water-loving plants that El Polin was once the headwaters for an open stream that flowed north to the bay, and they plan to "daylight the stream" by digging up pipes and building three "natural waterways" from Tennessee Hollow that will drain into a central creek running to the newly restored wetlands at Crissy Field. Opponents of this plan, like environmental justice advocate Francisco Da Costa and native plant booster Susan M. Smith, state that no such stream ever existed; they denounce the project as a bid by the Trust to salvage their "failed wetlands" with an increased flow of fresh water through what was once sand dunes, not open creek. (The Crissy tidal marsh has indeed grown silted with deposits of sand, and toxic levels of sewage were found in its shallows.)
We have descriptions of the Presidio at the turn of the 19th century by pioneering naturalists Menzies and Chamisso, an early view of this landscape before it was so helplessly wrangled by western civilization. From the journal of Archibald Menzies, describing his expedition with Capt. Vancouver to the terrain of present-day Crissy lagoon, written in 1792 "We found a low tract of marshy land with some saltwater lagoons supplied by the overflowing of high tides and oozing through the sandy beach... The watering party who landed before us could meet with no fresh water stream. They were therefore obliged to dig a well in the marsh to fill their casks, which was a little brackish, as might be expected." From the journal of Adelbert von Chamisso on his first visit to the Presidio in 1816. "We had taken on fresh water, which in this port, especially in summer, is a difficult business." His ship, the Russian schooner Rurick, was anchored in view of the main post, at the mouth of any existing wetland from that time. An 1839 map of San Francisco drawn by Smith Elder of London clearly shows east-running Islais, Mission and Yosemite creeks by the Mission, and a 1776 map by Pedro Font of the original Anza expedition shows Mountain Lake with Lobos Creek running west to the sea, but neither map shows a north-running waterway beside the fortress.
Today, on the slope rising above El Polin to Inspiration Point, a serpentine grassland boasts a population of the federally endangered Presidio Clarkia or Clarkia franciscana. These plants depend on water draining slowly through the fractures of the underlying serpentine, but much of this water may be squandered by the installation of an open stream below the springs. Might the protected Clarkia be affected? Says Smith, "Putting in drains below El Polin would put this population in jeopardy."
El Polin Spring and Lobos Creek in the Presidio were early water supplies for Spanish, Mexican and Yankee settlers. People went to great lengths to get water; during the Gold Rush enterprising vendors would ferry water in from Sausalito.
There was even an early attempt to dig a tunnel from Mountain Lake to supply water to the downtown area. Not sure if it was ever completed, though. Eventually the Spring Valley Water Company built a flume from Lobos Creek all the way to a pumping station at modern Aquatic Park. . Later, in 1898, the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment camped at El Polin during the Spanish-American War, bequeathing the name Tennessee Hollow.
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 and some of the most spectacular vistas in the world.
Nine architectural styles can be seen in its 790 buildings, which include officers’ quarters, industrial warehouses, air hangars, medical facilities, and stables.
Thousands of years before the Presidio was known as such, Native Americans known as the Ohlone lived peacefully where it now stands, along the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1776 their way of life was disrupted by the arrival of Spanish soldiers and missionaries who sought to convert the Ohlone to Christianity and, as a result, drove many of them away. The Spanish soldiers established the Presidio as military base to protect their stronghold in the Bay Area and control the Ohlone.
When Mexico became independent from Spain in 1822, its military forces assumed occupation of the base. In 1835 the Presidio was temporarily abandoned when a Mexican general transferred military headquarters to Sonoma. American forces stormed the Presidio in 1846 and occupied the base during the U.S.-Mexican War. Two years later, California was transferred by treaty from Mexico to the United States.
Several years after the U.S. assumed control of the Presidio, prospectors discovered gold in northern California. As many as 90,000 people would flood the area over the next decade. American soldiers stationed at the Presidio had trouble fulfilling their posts during the Gold Rush. Soldiers would go away on the weekends and never return. To retain soldiers, Army commanders made agreements with soldiers that the soldiers could take official leave to mine the gold fields under the condition that they return. From the time the Americans took over in 1846 until shortly after the end of the Gold Rush, the Presidio wasn’t much more than horses in corrals and some adobe buildings deteriorating in the rain.
However, in the 1850s the U.S. Army began to build Fort Point on the northernmost tip of the Presidio. Fort Point is a four-tiered brick and granite fort designed to hold a large cannon. It now sits directly under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was built over the fort in the 1930s. As a U.S. Army post, the Presidio protected commerce and trade, and played a logistical role in several major military conflicts such as the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), during which thousands of injured soldiers were treated at the hospital which became Letterman.
During the early 1900s, the United States built additional forts and established reinforced concrete walls along the San Francisco headlands. During the 1906 earthquake and resulting inferno that engulfed much of the city, the Army personnel stationed at the Presidio provided food, clothing, and shelter to victims. The Presidio expanded in the 1920s when the U.S. Army established Crissy Airfield to supplement the harbor defense.
During World War II soldiers at the Presidio dug foxholes up and down nearby beaches, and the Presidio became headquarters for the Western Defense Command for the West Coast and Alaska. One year during World War II, Letterman Hospital admissions peaked at 72,000 patients.
During the 1950s, the Presidio served as headquarters for Nike Missile Defense and the Sixth U.S. Army command. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1962, yet remained an active military post until 1994, when the Presidio became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is now co-managed by the Presidio Trust, a government agency working to make the Presidio financially self-sufficient in the next decade.
In addition, four office buildings, pedestrian paths, and an artificial lagoon are planned for the Presidio. They will be part of a complex called the Letterman Digital Arts Center, headed by none other than Marin County resident and movie mogul George Lucas. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the center will sit on the eastern side of the former military base and will cost approximately $300 million to build. Industrial Light & Magic, one of Lucas’s special effects operations, will be part of the complex. http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/38/4/33
Spain ordered the colonization of the coast north of Nueva Espana [New Spain] in 1769 in response to fears that England and Russia would soon establish territories on America's western coastline. That same year, Don Gaspar de Portola took a Spanish expedition to Alta California and became the first European to see "el brazo del mar" [the arm of the sea], now known as San Francisco Bay.
Seven years later, Juan Bautista de Anza led a Franciscan priest, 193 colonists and soldiers, and 1,000 head of livestock from Sonora, Mexico to the San Francisco Bay. They arrived on June 27, 1776 to establish a presidio [garrison] at the bay's entrance and a religious mission a few miles inland.
"The port of San Francisco…is a marvel of nature, and might well be called a harbor of harbors… I saw none that pleased me so much as this. And I think if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world, for it has the best advantages for founding in it a most beautiful city." - Father Pedro Font, 1776
Presidio de San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Assisi became the northernmost bastion of a network of presidios, missions, and pueblos that extended from Mexico and formed the foundation of Spanish colonization strategy. Presidios were fortified military villages that secured and policed frontier areas. Pueblos were communities designed to spread Spanish culture. Missions were religious and agricultural centers where native people were gathered and indoctrinated into Catholicism and the colonial state.
The presidio's role was to control native people and to capture escaped mission Indians, to build communities, and to protect the frontier from foreign invaders. Along with Franciscan missionaries, the Presidio of San Francisco founded five Missions, four pueblos [towns], and numerous ranchos throughout the Bay Area during the Spanish and Mexican periods.
Being on the very edge of the Spanish frontier in western North America, the Presidio was always poorly supplied, getting at best, one supply ship a year. After Spanish officials became aware that Captain George Vancouver of the British Frigate H.M.S. Discovery, who visited the Presidio in 1792, had reported it poorly supplied and fortified, two additional forts were ordered built. The new installations, Castillo de San Joaquin (near Fort Point) and Bateria de Yerba Buena (at Fort Mason), were constructed in 1794 and armed with 17th century bronze cannons cast in Lima, Peru; six of these guns remain at Presidio.
The Presidio of San Francisco's first Spanish colonists came from provinces along the Pacific coast of Nueva Espana; namely Nayarit, Xalisco, and Sinaloa; and later Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Queretaro, and Zacatecas. These people were not "pure-blooded" Spanish, but were mostly Mestizaje, the product of over 250 years of racial and cultural mixing following the 16th century conquest of Mexico. The Presidio usually had a smaller population than other three California presidios, having from 200 to 360 residents at any time. Women and children often outnumbered the soldiers, who were frequently elsewhere serving as escoltas [guards] at nearby Hispanic communities.
The dune scrub and grasslands of the Presidio had little to offer the Spanish colonists. The harsh coastal winds and thin and dry soils made the land of little value for agriculture and provided minimal forage during the dry summers. Nevertheless, the Spanish appropriated Presidio lands and other areas of coastal California to grow imported food crops and to graze cattle.
Livestock grazing had the biggest impact on the landscape. With the arrival of cattle and sheep also came the first appearance of many different exotic plant species. Their seeds were carried in animals' coats, hooves, and blankets, or were imported in livestock feed. Grazing decimated the Presidio's native perennial bunchgrasses and caused soil compaction and erosion.
Spanish settlers also cut the few oaks and other trees near the Presidio for building materials and for fuel. This rapid transformation of the landscape impacted the native people as well, as acorns and grass seeds started to disappear from their traditional harvesting grounds.
Spain to Mexico at Presidio
The early 19th century saw growing discontent in New Spain's society. Revolts started in 1810 and extended through 1821, when a revolution led to formation of the Mexican Republic. For the next 13 years Mexican soldiers served at the Presidio of San Francisco. During these years, the people of Alta California suffered as supply ships from San Blas became more erratic, and the missions and their native labor sources were forced to provide for most needs. In 1835 the Presidio was temporarily abandoned when General Mariano Vallejo transferred his military headquarters north to Sonoma. Over time, the Presidio's adobe walls slowly dissolved in the winter rains. American forces landed 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.
Little changed at the Presidio through the Mexican Revolution. Its soldiers simply switched allegiance to Mexico. The Presidio was still a poorly supplied outpost far from the central government in Mexico City. By the 1820s, the Presidio community had expanded outside of the walled plaza built by the Spanish. Farmsteads were constructed to the south, in a small spring-fed creek valley by the trail to the mission. Here, near El Polin Spring, Marcos Briones and the Miramontes family constructed homes. It is also said that Russian sailors constructed a timber house nearby for Juana Briones, who was a successful landowner, businesswoman, rancher and healer during the Mexican and early American periods (1830s-1880s). A 19-year-old Russian lieutenant on the frigate Cruiser provided the following account of life at the Presidio in the 1820s:
"...as the danger of attack from savages diminished or, at least, came to affect only the more remote missions, they began to permit outside buildings at the presidios, and as a result it became necessary to make passageways through the heretofore blank outer wall. Lately even Russian expeditions have had bakeries attached to the outer wall for the baking of both fresh bread and extra rusks for a cruise. This is how San Francisco's presidio became a rather formless pile of half-ruined dwellings, sheds, storehouses, and other structures. The floors, of course, were everywhere of stone or dirt, and not only stoves but also fireplaces were lacking in the living quarters. Whatever had to be boiled or fried was prepared in the open air, mostly on cast bricks; they warmed themselves against the cold air over hot coals in pots or braziers." - Dmitry Zavalishin, 1823-1824
Impacts on the Native Population
Military control of native groups grew as they resisted the increased demands for production placed on them by the missions. When local populations dwindled at the missions, additional tribes (Coast Miwok, Yokuts, Pomo, Sierra Miwok, Salinan) were gathered, mixed, and consolidated into dense communities. Under these conditions, native cultures disintegrated and new diseases quickly spread, causing many deaths.
In 1828, Estanislao, a Yokut alcalde [mayor] of the native population at Mission San Jose, led a major revolt. He left the Mission, taking hundreds of followers with him to the San Joaquin Valley, where he fortified his village with a stockade. Estanislao defeated the first expedition from the Presidio, but in 1829, Lieutenant Mariano Vallejo took the village with cannon fire and soldiers from San Francisco and Monterey. Few rebels survived, but Estanislao escaped and was later pardoned.
After the breakup of the missions during the Mexican period, native people could not return to their former lands because they were now mostly ranches, and their cultures were largely destroyed. Many of the remaining Ohlone found work as vaqueros [cowboys] and servants on the Mexican ranchos and in towns.
Emergence of the Californio Culture
The rising value of Alta California's seal and sea otter furs, and the potential profit from cattle hides and tallow, provided what was left of colonial society in California an economic opportunity. To develop this opportunity, Mexico opened its ports to foreign trade in 1821, and the Russian American Company, Hudson's Bay Company, Boston traders and others arrived for business. From this economic change, a society known as Californio arose. The Mexican government also divided the mission lands and gave them away as land grants. Many former Presidio soldiers and other Mexican citizens established huge cattle and horse ranchos. People with land and cattle became rich and had a high style of life during this period.
The Early American Years
One year after United States 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.
The Presidio Comes of Age
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, and the subsequent Philippine-American War, from 1899 to 1902, increased the role of the Presidio. Thousands of troops camped in tent cities awaiting shipment to the Philippines including all four African-American regiments known as the "Buffalo Soldiers". Returning sick and wounded soldiers were treated in the Army's first permanent general hospital, Presidio (later 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.
World War II to Base Closure
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 1989, the army decided to close the Presidio and it was transferred to the National Park Service in October of 1994.
A mature forest of pine, cypress, eucalyptus and other non-native trees covers the higher areas of the Presidio. The army planted these trees from the 1880s through the 1940s in order to make the area appear larger with more relief, to limit visibility within the Presidio, and to beautify the post. The planted cultural forest is being maintained, but native plants will be restore to outlying areas where the forest has expanded.
Letterman General Hospital, the U.S. Army's oldest named general hospital, was established in 1898 to care for sick and wounded soldiers returning from the Philippine Islands during the Spanish American War. Letterman became the largest Army hospital in the country during World War II, treating over 76,000 patients in 1945. Until its closure in 1992, Letterman Hospital provided medical care for soldiers during every major U.S. conflict of the 20th Century. Today, a digital arts center will replace the high-rise part of Letterman Hospital that was built in 1969.
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