We're fans of the Chronicle's architecture critic John King here at Curbed SF HQ. This is the first in a weekly series of posts keeping up with his opinions and enthusiasms.
For such a utilitarian venue, Fort Mason has a superb location at the north end of the Marina, but with the exception of the hilltop officer's quarters, not it's not exactly attractive. John King takes a look at it today, pointing out that the Army once deliberately set it apart from the city, and the city that now embraces it isn't much closer. He tells us the Fort Mason Center has announced a competition to improve on that, inviting twenty international architectural and landscape design firms, with three to be chosen this summer and tasked with re-envisioning and re-inventing the 1200-acre waterfront site and making it a little more welcoming to the city that's grew up around it. Each firm will get $20,000 to cover expenses, covered by private donations. Of course, there's no money to build anything, but at least this starts the conversation.
The lower part of Fort Mason is best known for it's vast parking lot, Mission-style warehouse (AKA For Mason Center) venues for big parties, home of the Herbst Theater, and the ground-breaking vegetarian restaurant Greens, but it started life as a Civil War battery and Army post in 1861 (then called called Black Point) and became Fort Mason in 1882. After the 1906 earthquake, it was a major refugee center, but had already been identified as as the Army's major supply point for the Pacific and would steadily be built up along the shore with docks and warehouses, with the rest of the wetlands becoming the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 and eventually the Marina District. The depot had some use during the Spanish American and Philippine Wars, but would become the principal embarkation site for men and war materials in World War II.
Uphill, Fort Mason still retains a bosky, almost suburban look and contains the city's most coveted public garden plots, with a waiting list of about three years for a plot. There are two no-brainer changes we'd like to see in the neighborhood. First is the continuation of the Bay Trail and bike access along the south side, currently not available. The second— and previously discussed with the recent America's Cup planning— is the reopening of the rail tunnel under Fort Mason's hill, part of a line that once connected to the Embarcadero and took people from the Ferry Building to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. As for the rest, we'll happily wait for the competition's conclusion in October.
· Fort Mason Center Calls On Top Designers [John King/SFGate]
· Bay Trail Map [Bay Trail]
· A-Cup Reaming The Waterfront [Curbed SF]