Wake up to the trill of an orange-crowned warbler punctuated by the drill of a downy woodpecker, and it's just another morning in San Francisco's forested Presidio, originally named El Presidio Real de San Francisco, or The Royal Fortress of Saint Francis, by Spanish explorers.
This unique neighborhood of 1,500 acres, the whole of which is a National Historic Landmark District, has been owned by Spain, Mexico, and the United States over the past 236 years.
It was part-settlement, part-garrison -- or Presidio in Spanish -- when it became the northernmost outpost of New Spain, the territories acquired on this continent by the dwindling Spanish Empire. In 1776, in a vale of scrub bush sheltered from the headlands, barren of the eucalyptus and pine groves we know in the Presidio today, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza sited and José Joaquín Moraga established a military camp, calling it El Presidio Real de San Francisco, the Spanish name of the Italian Catholic friar, St. Francis of Assisi.
In the front section of the present Officers' Club, now undergoing restoration, excavations in 2011 uncovered adobe walls dating from the original 18th-century structure built by the Spanish with native Ohlone labor. The communion of regional Native American tribes and European settlers in the Spanish missions was not a happy one, but nonetheless, the Presidio is considered one of the oldest communities in California.
From 1776 to 1821, the Presidio remained a Spanish imperial outpost from where 193 soldiers kept a close watch for British, French, Russian, even American ships approaching via what is now known as the Golden Gate. Spain lost control of Alta California when Mexico declared independence in 1821, so the Presidio became a Mexican frontier until the Mexican-American War of 1842, after which the U.S. Army took over the strategic location. It remained an active military post, with an airfield and hospital, a coast guard station, a post office, Fort Point, and Fort Scott. Eventually, the base was closed and transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.
The neighborhood is still known by a shortened version of its original Spanish name recalling its dual purpose under Spain's King Charles III -- a military outpost to secure a territorial claim and a mission to spread Catholicism in New Spain. Today, Presidio residents live only 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco in a national urban park run by a federal agency called The Presidio Trust. Also making this place home are 200 bird species, 300 acres of forest, a historic golf course, a Walt Disney museum, a military and a pet cemetery, and six authentic late 18th-century cannons. Not everybody's neighborhood can make such claims.
With grand 1885 Queen Anne houses of five bedrooms and wraparound patios boasting Golden Gate Bridge views and one-bedroom apartments, Presidio residents benefit from a rural escape inside the city. They're surrounded by 11 miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of bike routes, Pacific beaches, coastal bluffs, springs and watersheds, a lake, tidal marshes, and cannonballs piled in tidy pyramids.
- Politics & Government