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Hiking: San Francisco

Old Army Base Marches

March 02, 1997|JOHN McKINNEY

After a century and a half of use, the U.S. Army transferred ownership of San Francisco's historic Army post, the Presidio, to the National Park Service in 1994. Of the many Army bases across the United States shut down, the Presidio was the only military installation to become part of the park system.

The Presidio occupies about 1,600 acres of real estate in one of America's most desirable--and expensive--cities. Not everyone was happy with the new parkland (some Congress members preferred a smaller park with commercial development, and some real estate developers would have liked to do what developers do). But most citizens were pleased by this splendid addition.

The National Park Service aims to rehabilitate the Presidio's historic buildings and restore the woodlands and native dune vegetation. Other plans, subject to future funding, include establishing museums and an international environmental education and research center.

Several periods of architecture are represented in the Presidio, ranging from red-brick barracks, circa 1895, built in the Georgian style to a Spanish Revival-style theater. Some experts rate the Victorian-era officers homes along Funston Avenue among the best examples of that period in San Francisco.

Army Maj. W.A. Jones, environmentally conscious before his time, is credited with initiating a forestry program that in the 1880s transformed forlorn, wind-swept sand dunes into the wooded preserve it is today. Thousands of trees, native and not, were planted under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers: acacia, eucalyptus, Monterey pine, redwood, madron~o and many more species. Some areas were planted in straight rows and now appear like soldiers standing in formation.

Once landscaped, the Presidio was one of the most desirable places in the U.S. for a soldier to be assigned. The base was used mainly as a medical facility and administration center, although during World War II its coastal batteries were activated to defend the Golden Gate Bridge against possible enemy attack.

Even before the Presidio became part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Franciscans enjoyed limited public access. Now a walker can wander over a network of paved roads, sidewalks and footpaths. Choose among several short jaunts that explore architecture and military history or simply offer a nice walk in the woods.

An excellent place to begin a tour is at the Presidio Army Museum, housed in a former hospital built in 1857.

Displayed in the Presidio's oldest building are uniforms, weapons, and many more objects and photographs that depict military history and the changing landscape of San Francisco. Located at the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Funston Avenue, the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Main Post Walk (a one-mile loop) visits the Officers Club, Pershing Hall, a splendid row of Victorians that served as officers' quarters, the parade ground, post theater and more.

Lovers' Lane (a three-quarter-mile walk) has been a favorite for couples for more than a century. Stroll hand-in-hand with your sweetie and find out why.

Ecology Loop Trail (two miles round trip), which begins near the Presidio Army Museum, winds through groves of Monterey pine and eucalyptus, then visits Inspiration Point and the historic site of El Polin Springs, used by Spanish soldiers more than 200 years ago. More than two dozen varieties of trees can be seen along the trail, which joins Lovers' Lane to complete a memorable loop.

Directions to trail head of Ecology Loop Trail: Follow Lombard Street to the Presidio's west gate. When Lombard dead-ends at Lincoln Boulevard, turn left and drive a block to Funston Avenue, turn left, then make another left into the parking lot across from the Presidio Army Museum. To join the Ecology Loop Trail, walk a quarter-mile down Funston to its end, where the trail (a fire road) begins.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ecology Loop Trail

WHERE: Golden Gate National Park Recreation Area

DISTANCE: 2 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Wooded grounds of former Army base.

HIGHLIGHTS: Historic buildings, diverse flora, romantic setting.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Golden Gate national Recreation ARea, Ft. Mason, Bldg. 201, San Francisco, CA 94123; tel. (415) 556-0560

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