The swampy marshes from the Golden Gate to Fort Mason probably didn’t change much from what Ayala saw in 1775 and then again when San Carlos returned in 1776 with supplies for the newly established Presidio and Mission Anza had specified until after the 1906 earthquake. They were where El Polin and other Pacific Heights watershed and creeks since the last ice age met tidal marsh and sand dunes of the Bay. Even before the earthquake the increasing military importance of the Presidio around the Spanish American War called for solid ground to shore. For the Marina, 1915 fair became the catalyst.
Crissy Field 1920's Early Airplanes at Crissy Crissy Airplane and Hanger
However, on the hills beyond the marsh, change came earlier and more dramatically. The Presidio forest was created in the 1880’s. 400,000 seedlings of eucalyptus, acacia, cypress, pine and redwood were planted in neat military rows and grew to provide the splendid canopy of today. And the stark, barren hillsides that spawned frightful wind and sandstorms were tamed and softened to the carpet of winter green and year round luxuriant vegetation of today. To the East and South, it was the rise of elegant Victorians as well as corner and hilltop mansions which anchored the scrub lands and turned swirling sand to elegant City life in homes, many of which still stand today.
The splendid Presidio forest always seemed my neighbor, from the days of my first home in San Francisco a block away on Green and Presidio. Tennis and bike rides through the soft Irish greens of winter rains or baked California Gold after rains ended came in later years. Bike rides have lasted, but Presidio tennis days are just memories.
As for the marsh, I first knew it as asphalt where biking east was almost soaring, reminiscent of planes there in early days. Conversely, west meant fighting headwinds, albeit tempered with each glance up at the splendor of the bridge as it grew closer. Must admit, I had doubts of cost benefit tradeoff of funds spent on turning Presidio shore back to a marsh, but now that it’s done, its grander and more exquisitely beautiful than could ever be expected, and probably ever was as original marsh.
Presidio Base Camps for 1898 and 1906 Calvary in 1906 Nike Missles in 1960's
Only unanswered question about Presidio is how marsh restoration and rest of transition from Army to Park is going to get paid for. Guess that’s why we need to keep our fingers crossed for Lucas and other grand Presidio project success if we are to achieve economic viability needed to keep it as wonderful as it is. Early indications are that tasteful albeit very abundant new Lucas buildings are a vast improvement over 1969 Letterman high-rise. Now all we need is to welcome Lucas to town with challenge to weave his magic over SF Opera and help soar into 21 st century with whiz bang Stars Wars special effects to enhance and keep opera as the greatest and most complete of performing art forms of all times.
Letterman Hospital Letterman 1900's Lucas Digital Arts 2006
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