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A History of Healing
The district’s story has its roots in an Act passed by Congress on July 16, 1798 and signed by President John Adams. The act directed the Secretary of the Treasury to provide for “the temporary relief and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen” from any nation while the sailors were in U.S. port cities.
To fulfill this mission, in 1875 the Treasury Department built a small wood-frame U.S. Marine Hospital at the Presidio just west of Mountain Lake. Though located on the military post, the hospital was not operated by the U.S. Army.
In 1912, Marine Hospitals across the nation were reorganized under the Surgeon General as the U.S. Public Health Service. While medicine is the art and science of caring for individual patients, public health is the science of protecting and improving the welfare of entire communities. The renamed Presidio hospital treated immigrants, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Native Americans, as well as mariners. It also studied the prevention of communicable diseases.
A New Campus Emerges
The original hospital was upgraded in 1932 to a 480-bed modern facility designed in the Georgian-Revival style by James A. Wetmore. As a nod to its maritime history, the new facility was built in the shape of an anchor, apparent when viewed in aerial photos. The hospital building was surrounded by nurses’ quarters, laboratories, a power plant, and surgeon’s homes, all within an elegant 36-acre district.
The hospital operated for nearly 50 years, finally closing in 1981. It was briefly used as a training center for the Army’s Defense Language Institute, but then lay vacant for almost two decades.
The district was incorporated into the Presidio of San Francisco in 1994 just before the Presidio became part of the national park system. As the post became a park, planning for the district’s future began, leading to the award-winning “green” revitalization that was completed in 2010.
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