Then + Now: Presidio Bands

Friday, Oct 07, 2016 Category History

​The Presidio's military bands supported the ceremonial functions of the Army – from providing signals for maneuvers to sounding reveille. They also became an essential part of Bay Area culture, performing public concerts everywhere from seaside amusement parks to major civic occasions. In fact, musical luminaries – from trumpeter Chet Baker to members of the legendary Dave Brubeck Octet –​ got their start in the Presidio's Sixth Army Band.

On Thursday, November 10, 2016, from 6 to 7 pm, take a look back at 140 years of Presidio band history with a special presentation at the Presidio Officers' Club. This mix of stories, images, video, and live music will explore the major role the Presidio bands played not just at the post but in the social and musical life of San Francisco and beyond. Learn more about The Presidio Bands presentation >>

To help prepare you for the upcoming event, we dug into the rich history of Presidio bands. Here are just a few of our favorite pics:

Then: 1869 – 2nd Artillery Band

Marching bands in the 19th century didn't skimp on style. The Second Artillery Band wore "light artillery battery," including dark blue wool jackets with scarlet trimmings and caps, or shakos, with cords and horsetail plumes.

Photo courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Then: 1898 – The Buglers

Sure, they don't have the pomp and circumstance of our modern day marching bands, but military buglers served as the all-important alarm clock for the Presidio's inhabitants. By sunrise, buglers played "Reveille" to signal to enlisted men it was time to rise (along with the sun); "Tattoo" signaled it was time for lights out.

Photo courtesy of the Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley

Then: 1913 – 3rd Coast Artillery Band with Chief Musician Armand Putz

In its heyday, the Third Coast Artillery Band was all the rage in the Bay Area. From carnivals and movie premieres to concerts at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Panama Pacific International Exhibition, this Presidio-based band had star power. Plus they had a renowned bandmaster – Armand Putz, a conductor of drive and precision, who led the band for the first 25 years of the twentieth century. He was also known for his cornet solos, original compositions, and fencing skills.

Photo courtesy of Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

Then: 1930 – 30th Infantry Band

Housed in the Montgomery Street Barracks, the 30th Infantry Band was stationed at the Presidio after World War I. The unit is pictured here marching on the Civil War Parade Ground. But San Francisco residents came to know and love them by hearing their tunes on the radio. They were known fondly as "San Francisco's Own" 30th Infantry Band.

Photo courtesy of Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

Then: 1955 – Sixth 6th Army Pipe Band

The Sixth Army Pipe Band, clad in kilts and flourishing bagpipes, was known for their many public performances.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library

Then: 1964 – Sixth Army Band

The Sixth Army Band, led by Chief Warrant Officer Nathan A. Cammack, was big news around San Francisco – they gave 157 performances in 1963 and marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 1964.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library

Now: 2016 – Detachment 1, 40th Infantry Division Band

Even after the Presidio's transition from post to park, talented musical groups still remain a part of the culture here. Hear The Spirit of the 59th, musicians from Detachment 1, 40th Infantry Division Band, perform live at Presidio Dialogues – The Presidio Bands. Three members of the group are veterans of the Presidio’s Sixth Army Band. ​​ 

​Photo courtesy of Detachment 1 40th Infantry Division Band

Now: 2016 – To celebrate Fleet Week 2016, the US Navy Pacific Fleet Band performed at this season's final Presidio Twilight!

Photo by Rachel Styer