At the Main Post of the Presidio, you can explore a former Army base reborn as a national park — and see why there still are battles to be fought over its future.
Old military buildings hold museums and historic displays. Half of the parade ground has been converted from asphalt to a lush green lawn. But on the northeast edge, where acres of colorful gardens and meadows should tumble toward the bay, we’re confronted by bare dirt and a chain-link fence.
It’s a construction site, even though most construction came to an end in 2015. It’s also a reminder not to take the enticing landscape at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge for granted, because progress is never easy.
“People have been backing the rehabilitation of the Presidio for decades, and here we have this huge scar running through a very valued landscape,” Amy Meyer, one of the original board members of the Presidio Trust, the autonomous federal agency that manages nearly all of the 1,491-acre park.
“This” is a reference to the Presidio Parkway, the primary link between Marin and downtown San Francisco. It replaced Doyle Drive, a tall, seismically unsafe viaduct from 1940, with new structures that descend from the Golden Gate Bridge to a route below the Main Post that twice passes through tunnels.
The “parkway” opened in June 2015, and the idea was that by now the 70-acre project area would be on the way to full rebirth. The marquee attraction would be a 14-acre park spilling from the Main Post toward Crissy Field — the first and still most popular success story in the 23 years since the U.S. Army handed the Presidio to the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Nope. There’s a lot of dirt and the occasional bulldozer pushing it around. Halleck Street, the most direct route from the Main Post to Crissy Field, is still closed. So is the historic pet cemetery on McDowell Avenue.
What we have instead are tense negotiations between the Presidio Trust and Caltrans, which built the parkway. Also involved is the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which helped with the environmental clearance.
The main sticking point, apparently, is that Caltrans and the trust don’t agree on what the state highway agency should be handing over to the trust (and, let’s not forget, the National Park Service). The quality of the soil, for instance. The extent of prep work regarding the piped creek that the trust wants to reopen as part of larger environmental restoration efforts.
If this sounds vague, that’s because the agencies won’t talk about what’s going on behind the scenes.
“The Transportation Authority and Caltrans are in negotiations with the Presidio Trust on the final landscaping, environmental mitigations and civil works to reach final completion and coordinate with the trust” on restoration efforts, said Eric Young, a spokesman for the county authority. “We hope to reach agreement soon.”
Caltrans’ official statement uses the same words but adds: “Negotiations are expected to conclude by the end of the calendar year, leading to permits and other agreements so that respective parties could go back to their governing bodies for approval.”