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Fort Scott: Defending the Coastline
The U.S. Army always considered San Francisco Bay a strategic jewel to be protected. To do so, just before the Civil War it built brick Fort Point, whose guns defended the Golden Gate for a generation.
Endicott Batteries
As Fort Point's cannons became obsolete, the Army imagined a new way to protect the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Between 1890 and 1905, fifteen great concrete “Endicott batteries” with manned guns were constructed along the Presidio’s coastal bluffs. Many more were built at other sites around San Francisco Bay, including at Fort Baker and Fort Barry. They were named for Secretary of War William Endicott who led the effort to modernize America’s defenses.
Fort Winfield Scott
To eliminate the need for troops to march the long distance from the Main Post to the batteries, between 1908 and 1912 the Fort Winfield Scott campus was established in the northwest Presidio. It served as the command headquarters for the Army Coast Artillery Corps, including the Presidio gun batteries and the other artillery posts around the bay. The fort was named for Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, a hero of the Mexican War of 1846 and general in chief of the U.S. Army from 1841 to 1861.
Fort Winfield Scott introduced Mission style architecture to the Presidio. Its campus-like design included concrete barracks with smooth white stucco walls, simple arches, curvilinear gables, and red tiled roofs arranged around a horseshoe-shaped parade ground. These iconic buildings are so closely associated with the Presidio that today their profile can be found on the Presidio and Presidio Trust logos designed by artist Michael Schwab.
Fort Scott also included a stately row of Mediterranean style officers' homes built between 1902 and 1912 along serpentine Kobbe Avenue. Today this remains one of the great residential streetscapes in San Francisco. Also built during this time was non-commissioned officer housing on Ruckman and Storey Avenues. These homes, like all the Presidio's former military housing, now welcome a new population of civilian residents.
In 1937 construction of the nearby Golden Gate Bridge created a dramatic new view from Fort Scott. In these years, the Works Progress Administration also funded the stone work that is still a prominent feature around Fort Scott homes and landscapes, including at the Organic Community Garden.
In total, the Army constructed 157 buildings of various kinds at Fort Scott including offices, barracks, homes, classrooms, clubs, warehouses, a gymnasium, a chapel, and a guardhouse. In its early days, the campus housed 30 officers and 950 enlisted men.
The Work of the Coast Artillery Corps
The Coast Artillery was the Army’s most technologically advanced branch in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its officers, selected for their mathematical ability, studied at the elite coast artillery school at Fort Monroe, Virginia. In the age before computers, their training enabled them to calculate the trajectory of projectiles using slide rules.
The soldiers who manned the guns worked in synchronized teams to load, fire, and reload guns with amazing speed. The process of loading a gun is reenacted at the Presidio today at Battery Chamberlin.
Fort Scott after World War II
As the technology of war again changed with air power in World War II, the last coastal guns were removed from the Presidio in 1948, though the concrete batteries themselves remain as historic sites. After 1950 and the disappearance of the Coast Artillery, Fort Scott and its classrooms and barracks served as the Air Defense School for Nike missile personnel. In 1954, 12 Nike missiles with conventional warheads were installed at Battery Caulfield near the Public Health Service District. A later wave of more powerful Nike Hercules missiles with nuclear warheads succeeded them. When intercontinental ballistic missiles made Nike missiles obsolete, they too were removed, and the Presidio lost its last armaments in 1974.
National Center for Service & Innovative Leadership
Today, the Presidio Trust has launched an initiative to honor this rich legacy of military service by transforming the Fort Scott campus into a home for the service movement. The new National Center for Service & Innovative Leadership will honor the post’s history while repurposing Fort Scott to respond to today’s most pressing community challenges.
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