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10 Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About the Presidio

In honor of Outdoors Week, each day we're highlighting 10 amazing facts about one of San Francisco's favorite outdoor spaces. So far we've covered Ocean Beach, Angel Island, Glen Canyon, and Treasure and Yerba Buena islands. From history to believe-it-or-nots, these lists highlight the best of the best.


The park and former military base at the northern tip of San Francisco may be super-famous, but that doesn't mean there aren't some secrets that lurk behind those fancy gates. Here's more on the national park that has at various points been home to soldiers, park rangers, former Soviets, and ghosts.

1) The Spanish began to build a fortified village called El Presidio de San Francisco in 1776. El Presidio and Mission Dolores (constructed at the same time) were the first institutions built in what would become San Francisco.
2) The Presidio has a history of coastal defense spanning more than 200 years. It was continually used as a military base by the Spanish, Mexican, and American armies over the course of 218 years. The Presidio remained under US Army control until 1994, when it was transferred to the National Park Service.
3) Rob Hill Campground, the only overnight campsite in San Francisco, is located at the Presidio's highest point above Baker Beach in a eucalyptus grove.


4) Today the Presidio is covered in urban forests. Most of the trees, especially the eucalyptus, were planted by the Army back in the 19th century, and some folks were not happy about it.
5) Presidio cavalry troops served as "park rangers" protecting and maintaining Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon national parks before the establishment of the National Park Service.



6) Before its rehab and conversion into the Presidio Landmark luxury apartments in 2010, the 1931 Presidio Public Health Service Hospital had sat vacant since 1988. Even though it was closed up, ghost hunters used to break in. They claimed you could hear footsteps, see reflections of light, and sometimes feel a cold draft. Apparently the SFPD believed them, because they supposedly wouldn't set foot inside. Unsurprisingly, there haven't been many ghost reports since the renovation.
7) In 1968 a prisoner attempting to escape from the Presidio's military stockade was shot dead by a guard. A few days later, 27 prisoners staged a sit-in, singing "We Shall Overcome." But the Army cracked down on the protesters and charged them with mutiny. The first prisoner to be convicted was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, prompting an outcry in the media.



8) The final resting place for hundreds of animals owned by families that were stationed at the Presidio, the pet cemetery dates back to the 1950s. According to the National Park Service, there are no official records for the site, meaning it probably began with the families themselves, with authorization from one of the commanding officers.
9) In 1975, the Presidio became the first stop for 1,300 refugees from Vietnam. The controversial Operation Baby Lift airlifted infants and toddlers orphaned by the Vietnam War to the US for adoption by American parents. The Army agreed to house and feed the children until permanent homes were arranged, converting the drill hall into a nursery.
10) A pro-democracy foundation run by former Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev opened an office in the Presidio in 1993. It was pretty symbolic and meaningful at the time—the Soviet Union had fallen only two years earlier, and the Presidio was still officially a military base until 1994.

· Outdoors Week 2014 [Curbed SF]