The historic Public Health Service District, established more than a century ago to provide care to mariners from around the world, is now a “green” neighborhood with homes, office space, a pre-school, an historic printing press, trails, scenic overlooks, and 25 acres of open space and native habitat. Years of planning, historic rehabilitation, and landscape improvement culminated in fall 2010 when the new district formally reopened to the public.
The district is the first Presidio neighborhood to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) certification and is the first LEED-ND neighborhood in the country that is also an historic landmark district. LEED is an internationally recognized system that certifies whether a building has been designed with the environment in mind, with concern for water and energy usage, air quality, and the careful use of resources.
While LEED typically applies to new construction, the Presidio Trust is showing that green materials and techniques can be used when historic buildings are preserved. “The most ‘green’ building you can have is one that’s already there and has been given another 50 years of life,” says Presidio Trust historic architect Robert Wallace. “There is no fundamental contradiction between applying a standard like LEED, which was originally intended for new construction, to rehabilitation of historic buildings.”
Reimaging the Presidio’s Largest Historic Building
The centerpiece of the campus is the former hospital, the Presidio’s largest historic building. Empty for a generation, the building underwent a thoughtful historic rehabilitation by Forest City Enterprises that returned the Georgian Revival-style building to its former elegance. Forest City is a national real estate company that specializes in rehabilitating historic buildings.
As part of the rehabilitation, non-historic “wings” that were added in the 1950s were removed so that the original façade could be experienced again. The grand historic portico was reestablished, nearly 80 percent of the original windows were restored, exterior bricks were either carefully repaired or replaced with others selected to match the original color. Replacement limestone came from the same quarry in Indiana where the original stone was procured.
The building now welcomes residents as the Presidio Landmark apartments. The project was certified LEED Gold.
Nearby, the Belles Townhomes are the only new construction in the Public Health Service District and were designed to fit seamlessly within the historic campus. The townhomes have achieved LEED Platinum certification, the highest award in sustainable design.
Historic Wyman Avenue Homes
On nearby Wyman Avenue, historic homes that once housed physicians and their families have been carefully rehabilitated by the Presidio Trust. The single-family homes and duplexes were constructed between 1915 and 1932 and overlook Mountain Lake to the east. Their original character was preserved while incorporating contemporary and sustainable features, including a rainwater recharge system that reduces runn-off.
The graceful former nurse’s quarters, which once was home to 60 nurses, was rehabilitated by the Presidio Trust using green techniques. About 80 percent of the historic building fabric was reused – walls, windows, doors, bathroom fixtures, and even the hardware inside the door handles. The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded the building a LEED Gold certification, making it the first registered historic building in San Francisco to be gold certified in the LEED-CS category. The building is now home to a variety of organizations.
The remainder of the buildings in the campus once provided support services from laundry to heat generation. These historic structures are now home to an incredible diversity of organizations, including Arion Press, the oldest type foundry in the United States, and Lone Mountain Children’s Center.
Several trails now link the Public Health Service District to the rest of the park. A new scenic overlook offers views toward the Pacific Ocean and Lobos Creek Valley, where a natural creek and dune habitat support rare native plants and wildlife. The Marine Cemetery Vista honors sailors who did not return to their native shores.
The district’s revitalization has been recognized with several awards, including the 2011 Governor’s Historic Preservation Award by the California State Office of Historic Preservation (the only award of its kind presented by the state of California), a Preservation Design Awards from the California Preservation Foundation, and a gold level Building Design+Construction, Reconstruction Award.
In all the Public Health Service District revitalization has been honored with seven awards since its completion in July 2010.