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American Society of Landscape Architects


September 2007 Issue

El Presidio, 230 Years Later
Landscape design concepts transform a military parking lot and the Golden Gate Bridge’s on-ramp into a public green.

By Marilyn Clemens, ASLA

El Presidio, 230 Years Later The Presidio: C/O The Presidio Trust

When the Spanish came by land in 1776 and set up a fortified encampment at what they called El Presidio, Padre Pedro Font prophetically noted: “The port of San a marvel of nature.... And I think if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world, for it has the best advantages for founding in it a most beautiful city.”

Two hundred thirty years later, the Presidio’s 1,500 acres of wooded ridges and open spaces form the northwest portal to one of the most densely built cities in the United States. Although planners and developers once eyed the “realigned” military base as a reserve for much-needed housing, local civic leaders and congressional representatives lobbied successfully to preserve this beautiful historic place as an enduring national resource. The Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994 and has been under the management of the Presidio Trust since 1996. The Presidio Trust is a wholly owned corporation of the federal government that manages the interior 80 percent of the 1,168 acres originally included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, while the National Park Service oversees its coastal areas. (A history of the Presidio, the creation of the Presidio Trust, and its initial accomplishments appeared in “Revolution in the Park?” in Landscape Architecture, September 2000.)

The May 2002 “Presidio Trust Management Plan” (PTMP) emphasizes the preservation and enhancement of its cultural, natural, scenic, and recreational resources for public use.

Highlights of the plan include:

• increasing open space by 100 acres through eliminating nonhistoric buildings

• using National Historic Landmark District buildings to generate revenues

• adhering to sustainable practices and environmentally sound technologies in all the Presidio’s renovations and transportation and infrastructure systems

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