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San Francisco National Cemetery

 

San Francisco National Cemetery was the first national cemetery established on the west coast and is the final resting place for 30,000 soldiers, family members, and other notable figures. A walk among the uniform white gravestones tells the story of America’s involvement in foreign and domestic conflicts from California’s founding through Desert Storm.

 

The cemetery is located just west of the Main Post on a beautiful hillside overlooking the northern waterfront and the Golden Gate Bridge. Though it is within the Presidio, it is managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

The cemetery welcomes the public every day from 6 am to 6 pm (office hours are 8 am to 4:40 pm). Periodically, the National Park Service offers free docent-led walking tours. For the schedule, call the Presidio Visitor Center at (415) 561-4323.

 

The newly constructed National Cemetery Overlook, located just above the cemetery off the Bay Area Ridge Trail and Park Trail, is also a beautiful setting to reflect on the service and sacrifice of American soldiers and their families.

 

 

Origins of San Francisco National Cemetery
After the U.S. Army took control of the Presidio in the mid-1800s, it established a small post cemetery west of the Main Post. In 1884 the War Department decided to create a much larger, nine-acre National Cemetery on higher ground overlooking the bay, marking the first time such a facility was designated on the west coast. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “Initial interments included the remains of the dead from the former post cemetery as well as individuals removed from cemeteries at abandoned forts and camps elsewhere along the Pacific coast and western frontier.”

 

Features of the Cemetery
With time and foreign conflicts, the cemetery expanded gradually over the course of five decades to the nearly 29 acres it encompasses today. In these years it also acquired familiar and beloved features (see map):
 
1885 – cemetery lodge (remodeled in 1929)
1893 – Grand Army of the Republic Memorial
1897 – Pacific Garrison Memorial
1900 – Monument to Marines who died at the Tartar Wall in China
1915 – concrete rostrum
1921 – Mission Revival style mortuary chapel
1929 – a series of other support buildings in the Mission Revival style
1934 – Monument to the Unknown Dead; San Francisco American War Mothers Monument
 
The iron fencing, gate, and masonry along the cemetery’s northern boundary are now being restored as the Presidio Parkways’ new southbound tunnel is constructed adjacent to the cemetery.
 
 
Burials
The cemetery ultimately grew to nearly 29 acres and 30,000 internments, including Medal of Honor Recipients, Buffalo Soldiers, and veterans of all major American military conflicts. Following World War II, the cemetery was largely at capacity, and the new Golden Gate Cemetery was opened in San Bruno in 1947. San Francisco National Cemetery stopped accepting new burials in 1973, with the exception of family members who have an existing plot. In that same year, President Richard Nixon transferred responsibility for nearly all national cemeteries from the U.S. Army to the Veterans Administration.
 
 
Memorial Day Commemoration
Each Memorial Day, San Francisco National Cemetery is the backdrop for one of the largest commemorations in the state of California, typically attended by nearly 2,000 people. The ceremony is sponsored by the Mayor’s Memorial Day Citizen’s Committee, with support from the Presidio Trust and many other partners. Visit the Calendar for details as the date of that event approaches.
 
 
Notable Figures Buried in San Francisco National Cemetery
  • Dr. Edgar and Peggy Wayburn, and Congressman Phillip Burton, champions of the Golden Gate National Recreation area
  • Major Dana Crissy, daring pilot for whom Crissy Field is named
  • Major General Frederick Funston, for whom Funston Avenue on the Main Post is named 
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