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History and Park Making at the Presidio

Explore the origins of the Presidio and learn how to experience the history of the park today.

The Presidio is where San Francisco began — a place that preserves the layered and complex history of our nation.

The land at the Golden Gate was the traditional territory of the Yelamu, a local tribe of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples of the San Francisco Peninsula. It then served as a military outpost for the Spanish Empire, the Mexican Republic, and the United States Army. Today, it’s a national park site and a National Historic Landmark District.

Over nearly three decades, preservation efforts have brought this history to life. Now, visitors can walk through historic sites, explore artifacts and exhibitions, and experience the continuing story of the Presidio.

Timeline: Evolution of the Presidio

Early History

This land was and is part of the traditional territory of the Yelamu, a local tribe of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples.

Drawing of Ohlone village from San Mateo County History Museum exhibit "Nature's Bounty."


Spain establishes the Presidio in order to guard the bay from other European powers and protect the nearby Mission San Francisco de Asís.

Artist’s conception of El Presidio in 1792


Mexico achieves its independence from Spain. The Presidio becomes a Mexican outpost.

View of the Presidio in 1816


During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the U.S. Army occupies the crumbling Presidio and begins using it as a post.

The Presidio in 1852. Image courtesy NARA


It gradually grows to be the largest Army post on the Pacific Coast, defending San Francisco and housing troops used in operations in the West.

Looking northwest down Lovers' Lane toward main post from Presidio Gate. mage courtesy California State Library.

1898 - 1903

It is a base for troops sent to the Philippines in the Spanish-American War and Philippine War, as the U.S. projects power across the Pacific.

First Tennessee Volunteer Regiment marching out of Lombard gate with horses, wagons, and spectators nearby. Image courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives.


The Army establishes Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio to treat the sick and injured returning from the Philippines.

Front of hospital. Image courtesy National Library of Medicine.


After an earthquake, troops enter the city to maintain order and control fires, while medical personnel set up refugee camps and treat injured.

Earthquake refugee camp to east of Army General Hospital. Image courtesy California Historical Society.

1917 - 1918

During World War I, the Army uses the post to train officers, organize new artillery and infantry units, and treat wounded men from the front.

Men drilling with bayonets on rifles. Image courtesy of NARA.

1921 - 1936

The Army operates an air coast defense station at Crissy Field, exploring the role of aviation in coastal defense and reconnaissance.

Planes on Crissy Field. Photo by C. Tucker Beckett, courtesy Sutro Library.

1933 - 1937

The Golden Gate Bridge is constructed with access through the Presidio granted by the Army.

Three artillerymen watching the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Image courtesy NARA.

1941 - 1945

During World War II, the Western Defense Command, headquartered at the Presidio, is responsible for the defense of the West Coast.

A group of men entering headquarters building. Image courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

1941 - 1945

Letterman General Hospital becomes the principal debarkation hospital for sick and wounded returning from the Pacific theater.

Patients being unloaded from hospital train. Image courtesy Golden Gate NRA Park Archives.


The Presidio is declared a National Historic Landmark District.

National Historic Landmark plaque


Legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreational Area includes a provision for the Presidio to join it if the Army departs.

Officer and civilians looking at Crissy Field.


The Base Realignment and Closure Commission deems the Presidio to be excess to the military’s needs. Planning to make it a park begins.

Two soldiers walking across parade ground. Image courtesy Golden Gate NRA Park Archives.


The Presidio joins the national park system as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Soldiers lowering flag. Image courtesy Golden Gate NRA Park Archives.


Congress creates the Presidio Trust to manage the Presidio together with NPS and with the support of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

President Bill Clinton signing bill in Oval Office. Image courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library.


The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service unveil restored open spaces at Crissy Field.

Crowd at Crissy Field


The Presidio Trust Management Plan is published.

Aerial photo of Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Robert Campbell.


The Presidio adopts a plan for creating a trails system, which is built over the next two decades.

Bluffs over Pacific Ocean.

2004 - 2013

Organizations bring new life to the Main Post, the Letterman District, Crissy Field, and the Public Health District.

People on lawn watching planes


As required by law, the Presidio Trust begins covering annual operating costs with funds earned primarily through leasing homes and workplaces.

Two-story houses.


The park’s most historic building, the Presidio Officers’ Club, reopens to the public.

Officers Club


The Willia​m Penn Mott, Jr. Presidio Visitor Center opens.

Crowd outside visitor center.


Presidio Tunnel Tops opens.

Crowd at playground.

Today and Beyond

The Partnership for the Presidio maintains the Presidio as a Forever Park.

Golden Gate Bridge and coastal bluffs.

Preserving and Sharing Presidio History

The Presidio protects and shares the park’s extraordinary historical record.

Historic Preservation

We’re rehabilitating this National Historic Landmark District, with hundreds of buildings, artifacts, and landscapes that tell the story of our nation’s past.

Explore Historic Preservation


We manage more than 30 archaeological areas that reveal the land’s history, from Native Ohlone settlement to U.S. Army occupation. The Presidio is one of the only national park sites with an active archaeological dig.

Explore Archaeology


We steward collections of more than one million objects and associated records from multiple eras. Public exhibitions explore the Presidio’s role in shaping and serving the nation, and how this history is relevant today.

Explore Curation
Cabinet with open draws displaying Presidio artifacts. Photo by Henrik Kam.

Upcoming History Events

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Creating a Sustainable National Historic Landmark District

The Presidio is among the most ambitious historic preservation projects in the United States. It’s being revitalized with both history and the environment in mind.

Green Building Rehabilitation

Through innovative sustainability practices, we’re reimagining the park’s historic structures and achieving LEED certifications.

Learn More

Creating a Sustainable Historic Forest

The Presidio’s historic forest was planted by the U.S Army beginning in the 1880s. It’s the largest contributing element to the park’s National Historic Landmark District designation. We’re revitalizing the forest while increasing biodiversity.

Learn More
Exterior of the Wyman Avenue residences in the Public Health Service District.The Wyman Avenue neighborhood residences were rehabilitated in 2010.
Montgomery Street Barracks and lawn, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Photo by Charity Vargas.

The Presidio is perhaps the biggest preservation success story of the 20th century.”

Kelly Sutherlin McLeod

President, California Preservation Foundation

History Spotlight: Presidio Officers' Club

The Presidio Officers’ Club is the park’s most historic building. First established in 1776, it was reimagined many times in its history.


Today, this beautiful, historic destination hosts Colibri Mexican Bistro and is a venue for weddings, celebrations, and meetings. Fridays through Sundays, visitors enjoy free exhibitions tracing the history of the Presidio.

Exterior of the Presidio Officers’ Club.

Book a Historic Stay

Immerse yourself in history at the Inn at the Presidio and the Lodge at the Presidio. These former Army buildings, which date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, have been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Historic Hotels of America” program for their authenticity and architectural integrity.

Media Image

Making a Forever Park for All

The work of maintaining the Presidio as a “forever park” continues every day.

Battery Bluff overlook with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The words “Parks for All Forever” are sketched on the overlook. Photo by Rachel Styer.Photo by Rachel Styer.

Buying Local Supports the Presidio

Did you know that businesses inside the Presidio help sustain park operations and restoration efforts? Whether you’re visiting a yoga studio, a café, a golf course, or a historic hotel, there are all kinds of ways to support local businesses while supporting the park.

From Our Blog

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We’re Here to Help

Have a question about the park? Want help planning your next visit? We’ve got you covered.

Representatives from the National Park Service, Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust standing in front of the Presidio Visitor Center