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New Life for Presidio's Largest Historic Building


Presidio of San Francisco (December 5, 2008) — For two decades, the building sat vacant: a dilapidated shell serving as a canvas for local graffiti artists. Now the former Public Health Service Hospital in the southern Presidio near Mountain Lake is being given new life. At groundbreaking ceremonies today, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Presidio Trust, Forest City Residential Development, and the community watched as crews demolished segments of the hospital’s non-historic “wings,” the first step in repurposing the 1930s-era historic building as a vibrant residential community near 15th Avenue and Lake Street.

“We’re excited that transformation of this very special neighborhood is underway,” says Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio Trust. “We expect this area to become a gateway to the larger Presidio, a place where the community can experience the history, beauty, and recreational opportunities the park has to offer.”

Demolition of the non-historic wings, encompassing about 128,000 square feet, will take just over four months to complete. Rehabilitation of the remaining structure, comprising more than a quarter-million square feet, is the largest historic preservation project at the Presidio. By late 2010, not only the hospital building itself, but all the buildings and landscapes in the Public Health Service Hospital District will have undergone a dramatic makeover.

“It’s going to be an amazing transformation,” says Chandler McCoy, Associate Director of Planning for the Presidio Trust. “The building and the site have been empty for so long. When it’s all done, this is going to be one of the most desirable destinations in the city.”

The first building on the site was constructed in 1875 and named San Francisco Marine Hospital. The facility provided free medical care to merchant marines from around the world. By the turn of the century the hospital had taken on a larger role in protecting public health, providing such services as disease control, quarantine duties, and medical examinations of immigrants from Angel Island.

In 1932, a new building called the Public Health Service Hospital replaced the original wood framed structure. Twenty years later, two large front “wings” were added, and the hospital continued to operate until its closure in 1981.

“The Presidio is a national treasure,” says Susan Smartt, Senior Vice President of Forest City. “This project is an exciting opportunity to rehabilitate an historic building with a vibrant new use, while maintaining the building’s character and serving the park and the larger community.”

In 2003, the Presidio Trust sought a new use for the former hospital, which is the park’s largest historic building, as well as other buildings on the 42-acre site. The public planning process was completed in spring 2007. Forest City Residential Development was selected to convert the hospital structure to rental housing and add seven small new townhouses.

Many other changes are coming to the rest of the district. The Presidio Trust will rehabilitate the adjacent, historic former Nurses Dormitory and repurpose the building for workspaces. In addition, eleven historic residences along Wyman Avenue, the last of the Presidio’s historic residential neighborhoods to be renovated, will be rehabilitated. The Presidio Trust will also enhance the region with new trails and scenic overlooks, and restore natural areas.

Forest City has significant experience in green building practices like recycling construction waste to keep it out of landfills; and using natural light and sustainable landscaping features. The company plans to seek the Green Building Council’s Gold Certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for the project.

“Sustainability is very important to our organization,” adds Smartt. “For us, sustainability is not just about green buildings, but also creating a healthy environment and educating our residents about green living. Reuse of buildings is clearly the ultimate form of recycling. But more than that, this design is respectful to its park surroundings.”

The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to manage the Presidio of San Francisco, a former Army base located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 1,500-acre site contains the infrastructure of a small community as well as expansive open space, a 300-acre historic forest, spectacular views, and rare and endangered plants and wildlife. It comprises nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, including 469 historic structures that contribute to its status as a National Historic Landmark District, making it unlike any other national park.

Forest City Residential Development is a subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises, Inc., a $10.9-billion, NYSE-listed national real estate company. The company is principally engaged in the ownership, development, management and acquisition of commercial and residential real estate and land throughout the United States. The Residential Group has extensive experience in transforming functionally obsolete urban landmarks into vibrant communities. Forest City also has experience in converting train stations, mills, warehouses and other historic buildings into upscale, mixed-use complexes. Part of its extensive portfolio includes: The Uptown Apartments in Oakland with 665 units; The River Lofts at Tobacco Row in Richmond, Virginia, an entire district of historic tobacco warehouses and related structures that have been transformed into more than 600 loft apartments; and Metro 417 with 277 residences in Los Angeles, formerly the historic Subway Terminal Building. For more information, visit

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Presidio Trust Media Relations

Lisa Petrie

(415) 264-7787