The Presidio Officers’ Club is widely believed to
be the second oldest building in San Francisco, just a few years
younger than its colonial era contemporary - Mission Dolores. What
remains unclear is exactly when the Officers’ Club was built and how
much is left of the centuries old adobe.
Archaeologists hope to discover how the Officers’
Club may have withstood a swarm of strong earthquakes which shook San
Francisco in 1808 and again in 1812 during the largest quake of the
colonial period. The 1812 earthquakes destroyed the adjacent chapel and
the shock was rumored to have generated a tsunami off the coast.
“It’s like peeling back layers of history,” says
Presidio archaeologist Eric Blind, who is leading the effort. “We’re
carefully removing and documenting the various layers applied by the
U.S. Army during the past century and a half, while at the core we’re
looking for evidence of the original construction undertaken by the
Spanish colonists and Indian laborers.”
The original buildings from 1776 were hastily
erected and did not stand very long. Sometime in 1779, a winter storm
destroyed all the buildings of el Presidio, it is believed. The
buildings were rebuilt as adobe structures with patch clay floors and
thatched roofs. Buildings like the Officers’ Club were refitted and
reconstructed many times in response to earthquakes and winter storms on
the exposed peninsula.
When the U.S. Army came to the Presidio in 1846,
it was altered by soldiers to suit their needs. By the 1880s, the
building was mostly made of wood. The Officers’ Club has been modified
several times through 1934, when the Army ‘restored’ it to more of a
Mission style and incorporated more modern conveniences.
Excavations in the colorful Mesa room have proved
fruitful. Painted stencils under the modern drywall have been revealed
and a two concealed doorways have been found that once created a
pass-through dividing the Mesa room into two chambers. Original adobe
walls have been found to lie beneath the modern walls of the building.
The excavation site is open to the public during
normal business hours.