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Presidio Tunnel Tops Takes Shape

Friday, Nov 20, 2020 Category Park Management; Presidio Tunnel Tops

​​It’s been a year since we broke ground at the Presidio Tunnel Tops, and we’ve been hard at work creating 14 acres of new parkland over the tops of the Presidio Parkway highway tunnels. We’re on track to open in fall 2021 and we think this will become a “must see” San Francisco place, welcoming locals and people from around the world.

How did we get to this point? Let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at the exciting new experiences Tunnel Tops will bring to the Presidio.

Doyle Drive in 1935
In 1935, Doyle Drive divided the Main Post in the park and Crissy Field, which was then an Army airstrip. Image courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

Back in 1993, Bay Area leaders, urban planners, and citizens were faced with replacing the seismically unsafe Doyle Drive, which cut through the Presidio on its way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The question was, how could the freeway be replaced to create a great park experience for visitors?

Sketch by architect Michael Painter
Sketch by architect Michael Painter.

Local landscape architect Michael Painter proposed a graceful parkway that would open up long hidden bridge, bay, and Palace of Fine Arts views by moving traffic into tunnels at two key sites, allowing a new landscape to be created over the tops of the tunnels. Its promise was to provide a special place where all could relax and reset.

Old Doyle Drive demolished in 2012
In April 2012, the old Doyle Drive was demolished to make room for the new “Presidio Parkway.”

Painter’s vision was embraced by San Franciscans, and the community began the long journey toward making it a reality. Numerous citizens and organizations championed the cause and worked to secure the $1.2 billion dollars necessary to construct a new “Presidio Parkway.” Leaders included Doyle Drive Task Force members, SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research), the Sierra Club, San Francisco’s mayor and board of supervisors, and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Over the span of a decade, Painter spent more than 2,000 hours refining his design, often free of charge. In 2015, after three years of construction, traffic began flowing along the new parkway.

Family provides input on design
In 2015, a family provides input on the new Tunnel Tops design. Courtesy of the Parks Conservancy.

It was time to choose a landscape designer, and the right partner for greening the Presidio Parkway was James Corner Field Operations, the firm behind New York’s High Line and countless such ecological projects around the world. In 2015, Corner, along with the Presidio Trust, fundraising partner the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service, worked with the community on design. More than 10,000 people from diverse communities provided input on what they wanted to experience at this new site.

Watch a video overview of the project >>

Gateway Plaza rendering
Rendering of how the Presidio Tunnel Tops’ Gateway Plaza will look once complete.

As a result, Presidio Tunnel Tops will feature scenic overlooks with stunning views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the City, paths and gardens, a Gateway Plaza with food and visitor services, a campfire circle and picnic grounds, and a Youth Campus that includes a play and adventure zone with natural elements called the Outpost, designed for nature exploration.

Learn more about the features of the Presidio Tunnel Tops >>

October 2020 aerial view of site
October 2020 view of the Presidio Tunnel Tops site. Photo credit: James Corner Field Operations.

Since starting to build at the Tunnel Tops in November 2019, our team has been busy. The capital campaign committee successfully achieved the $98 million fundraising goal for the project. The construction team is carving out the overlooks and stairs. They also installed miles of utilities, completed substructure seismic work on historic Building 603 (soon to be Crissy Field Center), reclaimed 122,000 board feet of milled Presidio cypress for the 179 furniture and siding elements within the site, purchased 213 trees and 438 boulders, grew approximately 180,000 plants, and the list goes on!

Take a fly through renderings of the Tunnel Tops features​​ >>

Presidio Tunnel Tops steps rendering
Rendering of the Presidio Tunnel Tops’ steps down to Crissy Field.

The Presidio Tunnel Tops project is on track to open to the public in October 2021. If you’d like to support programs taking place at the Tunnel Tops and other park projects, join the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Learn more about Presidio Tunnel Tops >>