When the U.S. Army first occupied the Presidio of San Francisco in 1846, the military reservation consisted mostly of sandy hills and dales. While grasses and wild flowers flourished during the rainy seasons, drifting sand remained omnipresent. When the Sixth U.S. Army marched out the Lombard Street gate for the last time 148 years later, in 1994, it left behind a mature forest that enhanced the beauty and the landscape of the ancient army post. This successful accomplishment was due to such men as Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, Maj. William Jones, Maj. William Harts, William Hall of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, John McLaren from the City of San Francisco, and countless others. Their foresight and effort, in addition to the magnificent setting, provided the Army, the community, and the nation with one of the most beautiful and historic landscapes to be found.
~ Erwin N. Thompson, Defender of the Gate, 1997
The Presidio’s transformation from mostly open dunes into a richly forested and designed setting is one of the Army’s most impressive accomplishments in landscape architecture. No other military installation in the nation has ever undertaken landscape planning on such a grand scale.
A soldier standing on the Presidio’s windy ridgeline during the Civil War years would have written home about sandy dunes and the open prospect to the bay.
Beginning in the 1880s, the Army planted a vast eucalyptus, pine, and cypress forest to create relief from battering winds, to distinguish the post from the city that was growing around it, and to make the post seem more imposing.
Forestation was conceived by Major William A. Jones in the Plan for the Cultivation of Trees upon the Presidio Reservation. Thousands of trees were planted along the Presidio’s ridges and entrance gates. Today, the 300-acre forest is the largest feature that contributes to the Presidio’s National Historic Landmark District. It also provides habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Renewal of the Forest
Because the trees were planted over a relatively short period, they are beginning to decline at about the same time. To preserve the treasured forest, the Presidio Trust is gradually replanting cypress, pine, eucalyptus, and even redwood guided by the Presidio Vegetation Management Plan. Since 2001, more than 3,500 trees have been planted.
The rejuvenation is especially visible along West Pacific Boulevard near Julius Kahn Park; at the Arguello Gate, where cypress planted just a few years ago already rise 30 feet; along Kobbe Boulevard, where wind studies have informed how trees should be placed on the Presidio’s blustery western edge; and near the World War II Memorial, where trees resistant to pine pitch canker are thriving. Trees that have been felled continue to contribute to the park’s vitality - they are used as compost to increase soil fertility, are milled for benches and fencing, and are immortalized though art, as seen in Andy Goldsworthy’s Presidio pieces Wood Line and Spire