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Then + Now: Batteries Godfrey, Boutelle, and Marcus Miller

Tuesday, Nov 01, 2016 Category History

​Nowhere is our military past more tangible than along the Presidio's rugged western bluffs where powerful concrete gun batteries once defended the Army post from potential attackers. After World War II, new technologies made these once mighty outposts monuments to the past.

Today, three of these structures – Battery Godfrey and Battery Boutelle and Battery Marcus Miller – have been called into service as the backdrop for an art exhibition exploring contemporary concepts of home, safety, and defense. Home Land Security features works from 18 international artists who use painting, sculpture, video, and performance to spur thoughts on what it means to be safe.

Known for such projects as @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz and the Andy Goldsworthy installations throughout the Presidio, the FOR-SITE Foundation partnered with the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust to bring Home Land Security to the Presidio. It's free and on view through December 18, 2016. Before you visit, learn a little more about these fascinating batteries.​

Battery Godfrey Then: 1910​

Battery Godfrey was named for Captain George J. Godfrey of the 22nd Infantry, who was killed in action in Cavite, Island of Luzon, Philippine Islands, in 1899. Completed in 1895, this battery was active from 1895 to 1943. It housed three 12-inch guns and the first 12-inch artillery platform in the country. Battery Godfrey was built to match or outshoot the guns of contemporary battleships at ranges of up to ten miles and could fire one 1,070-pound shell per minute. In 1943, the War Department ordered the salvaging of this battery, along with 12 others considered obsolete. In this image from 1910 from Defender of the Gate, Erwin N. Thompson writes, "Gun 1, Battery Godfrey, ready to fire. The soldier at right is working on the plotting board. The soldier at left is on the phone to fire control stations, plotting room, or battery commander."

Photo Credit: Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Fort Point Administration

Battery Godfrey Now: 2016

For the Home Land Security exhibition, Battery Godfrey houses art that "reflects on the illusion of security and on soldiers' sacrifice to the mythologies invested in warfare."

Art on display:

Al Farrow (American, b. 1943) – Revelation I and Mosque III (After National Mosque of Nigeria, Abuja), art using materials from spent ammunition and weapons.

Do Ho Suh (Korea, b. 1962) – Some/One, a sculpture made of thousands of dog tags.

The Propeller Group (Est. 2006, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) – AK-47 vs M16, a sculptural freeze-frame of colliding bullets.

Krzysztof Wodiczko (Poland, b. 1943) – Veterans' Flame, a video installation with stories of veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photo credit: Nina Dietzel

Battery Boutelle Then: 1910

Battery Boutelle, built in 1900, was named for Lieutenant Henry M. Boutelle, who was killed in action near Aliago, Philippine Islands in 1899. Its three five-inch rapid fire guns, mounted on balanced pillar mounts, were designed to defend against mine sweepers and torpedo boats. They had a firing range of seven miles and could be fired at a rate of up to thirty rounds per minute.

Photo Credit: Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

Battery Boutelle Now: 2016

For the Home Land Security exhibition, Battery Boutelle houses art that "reverses the guns' trajectory, imagining the refugee's journey from a home that exists only in memory, through war, to the uncertainty of arrival on our shores."

Art on display:

Yin Xiuzhen (China, b. 1963) – Weapon, a barrage of weapons suspended in flight made of second-hand clothes.

Mandana Moghaddam (Iran, b. 1962) – Exodus, a video installation capturing the artist's sense of loss and displacement as a refugee from Iran.

Díaz Lewis Collective (Cuba & U.S.A., est. 2012) – 34,000 Pillows, made in response to the congressional mandate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintain a “bed quota” of 34,000 detained immigrants per day in its facilities.

Photo credit: Nina Dietzel

Battery Marcus Miller Then: 1900

The first battery in the Harbor Defense of San Francisco, Battery Marcus Miller was built in 1897. Designed to protect the San Francisco Bay from seaward attack, it was armed with a "disappearing gun" and three 10-inch mounted guns with a range of seven miles. It was named in 1898 to honor Brigadier General Marcus Miller of the U.S. Artillery, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Civil War, the Modoc War, and the Nez Perce War, who served as the commanding officer of the Presidio of San Francisco in 1898. In 1900, the gun crew in the image above was enlisted to protect the bay. The guns were removed in 1920.

Photo Credit: Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

Battery Marcus Miller Now: 2016

For the Home Land Security exhibition, Battery Marcus Miller houses art that "turns a personal lens on a global crisis, offering a contemplative response on the human costs of forced migration."

Art on display:

Luz María Sánchez (Mexico b. 1971) – 2487I, a piece that incorporates sound files of the names of each of the known descendants of those who lost their lives crossing the United States- Mexico border between 1993 and 2006.   

Photo credit: Nina Dietzel​