The Fortress of the Presidio

October 15, 2015 | By | Reply More

The_Presidio_and_Golden_Gate,_from_Russian_Hill,_San_Francisco,_by_Thomas_Houseworth_&_Co._2Designation of a presidio site was not enough to bring it into being; this was helped along by the arrival through the Golden Gate, on July 25, 1776, of the same San Carlos which had first made it into the San Francisco Bay on August 5 in the previous year.

Abroad were the necessary tools and supplies that had been sent for the construction of the Presidio; soon an enclosure that formed a 275-foot square with walls of redwood palisades was hammered together.

In two years, this temporary structure was replaced by an adobe building with walls of solid dimensions.

One cannon, courtesy of the San Carlos, slug over its side and delivered to the Cantil Blanco, was mounted to command the strait, and the future City of San Francisco had its presidio and its fortress.

presidio_plaque_thumbLater, probably about 1791, the headquarters of the comandante was erected within the palisade; today what is left of it (very little indeed and certainly not enough to be called a “building”) has been long claimed (see the sign outside the modern Officers’ Club) to be the “oldest building in San Francisco,” which it assuredly is not.

The oldest building in San Francisco is the present Mission Dolores, dedicated on August 2, 1791, and still very much in use.

As indicated, all that is left of the Presidio “Comandancia” is a small adobe wall which dates from 1791, but this is hardly to be thought of today as a building.

Several fortresses succeeded each other on Cantil Blanco, one in 1792 and a more substantial one in 1794 which was called the Castillo the San Joaquin.

The first garrison consisted of a corporal in command of six men, and the armament was eight twelve pounders that had been cast in Peru.

It appears that neither the foundation out of the cliff nor its firepower commanded the respect of foreign visitors; indeed, Otto von Kotzbue, visiting the area in 1824 as commander of the Russian man-of-war, Rurik, reported that a few well-directed shots from his vessel would have reduced the Castillo on the Cantil Blanco to ruin and rubbish.

san-francisco-presidio-1887The fortress was constantly in need of repairs and its exposure to the fogs that mark the area made it extremely unpopular duty with the Spanish, later Mexican, soldiers assigned to it.

In 1813, an earthquake severely damaged it; there followed a rebuilding in 1817, this time partly in brick and stone, and, by 1820, a certain respectability came when twenty guns were mounted, among them three twenty-four pounders.

Change came in 1822 when Spain’s flag yielded to that of the newly independent Mexico.

Apparently the Mexican government came to regard the San Francisco Presidio as a sort of minor penal colony for recalcitrant soldiers; while the officers were of a more trustworthy sort, some of the ordinary soldiers were, at times, serving out periods of punishments which came from infractions of military discipline.

It can easily be imagined that Mexican soldiers, used to a warm climate, had a special dislike for their stay on a cliff frequently swept by dense fogs.


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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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