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Adobe Walls Re-Discovered in San Francisco's Oldest Building


Presidio of San Francisco (November 2, 2011) — For much of its 235-year history, the Presidio Officers’ Club has been the center of military and social life at the Presidio. Now, as part of efforts to re-establish the Main Post as the “heart of the park,” the building is undergoing a comprehensive rehabilitation that includes the repair and stabilization of the building’s original adobe, constructed by the Presidio’s first Spanish inhabitants in the early 1800s.

“The Officers’ Club reveals much about the Presidio’s history as a military post,” said Christina Wallace, project manager for historic preservation for the Presidio Trust. “From the early adobe construction of the Spanish settlers to wood-frame, to more modern construction, this building has always been at the center of military life here.”

Portions of the adobe walls will be uncovered during the rehab; the first time they will be visible since they were covered over in the late 1880s. Pat Taylor, one of few adobe experts, was commissioned by the Trust to oversee the adobe repair and will be on site at the Officers’ Club for the next several weeks. On Saturday November 5 at 9 am and 11 am, the Trust will open the Officers’ Club construction gates allowing visitors a rare “behind the scenes” look at the site and the work in progress. Visitors will learn about the history of the adobe and the current condition of the structure.

The first adobe building on the site that is now the Officers’ Club was constructed by Spanish colonists in 1776. It is believed that the building was destroyed during a devastating storm in 1779. It was rebuilt, only to suffer major damage during a series of earthquakes in the summer of 1808, and then again in the quake of 1812. The existing adobe walls are remnants of the second building. When originally constructed, they would have been coated with a lime wash to protect them from moisture. The original adobe bricks were made with soil from the nearby El Polín Spring site, which was also home to families of Spanish settlers.

While the Presidio was undergoing shifts in sovereignty from Spain to Mexico and finally to the United States, the building itself was remarkably unchanged from 1815 until the 1880s, when the adobe was covered with wood. A 1934 remodel gave the building the familiar (but not authentic) mission-revival character it possesses today.

Efforts to preserve the building’s adobe walls have earned the Trust a 2011 Preservation Design Award from the California Preservation Foundation for the Trust’s “Non-Destructive Evaluation Report.” The award, in the Cultural Resources Studies and Reports category, recognizes the Trust’s innovative use of technology in preservation. Using thermal-imaging technology similar to that used by fire departments to find hot spots and people trapped in burning buildings, the Trust was able to map moisture levels and cavities inside the walls without having to drill into them or tear them down. Guided by these maps, crews are now able to repair the walls with the new adobe bricks. Plans call for exposing more of the original adobe walls on the interior of the building to better interpret the building’s history.

The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to administer the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park site located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio is one of the largest and most ambitious historic preservation projects underway in the United States. The Presidio’s historic buildings represent the nation’s most comprehensive collection of military architecture, dating from the Civil War through the Cold War, including homes and barracks that reflect how the military social hierarchy and domestic life evolved in the Presidio. Since 1994, approximately 75 percent of the park’s historic structures have been rehabilitated for new uses. The Trust has won numerous awards for planning and historic preservation.

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Lisa Petrie

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