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Rendezvous with destiny.

The best way to see the future of San Francisco's Presidio is to bike its present

EVERY EVENING AT 5 sharp, the Sixth Army military police lower the flag over Pershing Square in San Francisco's Presidio. In a tradition that goes back to 1848, a cannon booms, the guard salutes, Army military police lower the flag over Pershing Square in San Francisco's Presidio. In a tradition that goes back to 1848, a cannon booms, the guard salutes, and Old Glory is folded into regulation triangles. It is a tradition whose days are numbered. On September 30, 1994, the Army will strike colors at the Presidio for the last time, when the military base officially becomes part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

While the changing of the guard is nearly a year away, plans that may well shape the future of the Presidio's 1,480 acres (780 of them open space) and inventory of 500 historic buildings are nearing completion. After more than three years of debate, the National Park Service has released its long-awaited general plan, listing recommendations for managing the future park. Those who wish to comment on the proposals for this incomparable site still have time to do so before formal hearings are held.

While you can get a quick feel for the landscape through a car window, a better way to experience the once and future Presidio is from the saddle of a bicycle. The routes on the map on page 39 were chosen to help you preview key sites discussed in the plan, while avoiding the steepest hills and areas of weekend traffic. For a free 16-page summary of the plan, write to Presidio Information Center, Fort Mason Building 201, San Francisco 94123, or call (415) 556-3111.

MAIN POST

The best place to begin any Presidio tour is at the Presidio Army Museum, the only noncommercial building there currently open to the public. If you are bringing your bike in by car, arrive by 10 to find parking across the street--it's always a challenge on weekends. The museum's straightforward exhibits detail the history of the Presidio, starting from its settlement as a Spanish fort. It's open from 10 to 4 Wednesdays through Sundays.

Pedaling up Funston Avenue, you'll pass beige Victorian officers' homes along a streetscape that has changed little since the 1860s (although the cannonballs that once edged the street have been replaced by curbs). The plan calls for turning one of the homes into a museum focusing on how officers lived at the end of the last century.

It wasn't long after Juan Bautista de Anza discovered this tip of the San Francisco Peninsula in 1776 that he began building fortifications, just downhill from the present Officers' Club, on a knoll that was sheltered from prevailing winds and commanded a sweeping view of the bay. Today, the site is a paved parking lot, but the plan calls for an archaeological survey of the Spanish fort, as well as restoration of the surrounding area to its 19th-century use as a parade ground. The large Mediterranean revival administration buildings to your right as you face the bay will remain the headquarters of the Sixth Army; the striking century-old red brick Enlisted Men's Barracks fronting Montgomery Street to your left will house a visitor center as well as space for cultural programs.

Down Sheridan Avenue, a quick left onto Fisher Loop leads to the foot of the Post Chapel, which was built in 1932. Facing the chapel is the Golden Gate Club, with grand views of the Golden Gate Bridge; under the plan, this would be opened to the public as a restaurant. The San Francisco National Military Cemetery next door will remain the resting place for American soldiers.

FORT WINFIELD SCOTT

After climbing Lincoln and Park boulevards from the Cavalry Stables (one of which would become a working cavalry museum with park police horses), veer right on Kobbe Avenue and catch your breath in the pullout at the crest of the hill. The brick classical revival houses along Officers' Row, dating to 1912, would, under the plan, become part of the accommodations for a proposed research and training institute and a 300-person conference center encompassing Fort Winfield Scott. Fort Scott, built in 1912 to barrack troops manning nearby coastal batteries, represented a new look for the Presidio: according to park planner Travis Culwell, the curvilinear layout of the buildings around the parade ground was "very high design for the Army." As you circumnavigate the grounds, detour across busy Lincoln Boulevard and down Langdon Court to the cement foundations of the Coastal Defense Batteries built in the 1890s. The Coastal Trail leads along the bluffs to drop-dead views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Bicyclists can continue from here down to the bridge overlook and on to Fort Point, but narrow road shoulders, blind curves and intersections, and busy weekend traffic make this a dangerous option for children and other inexperienced pedalers.

INTO THE WOODS

Coastal views through the trees to Land's End are more than enough reward for climbing the gentle grade of Washington Boulevard, which meanders through open forests of stately eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and cypress planted over much of the upper Presidio a century ago. According to the plan, family housing on Washington and elsewhere in the Presidio (a total of 600 units altogether) would be removed to allow for replanting of native vegetation.

Farther along Washington, you skirt the northern edge of the Presidio Golf Course. The 160-acre course, built in 1895, was one of the first on the West Coast (it's still one of the most scenic) and would be opened for public play under the park plan. From here, you can either shortcut left on Arguello Boulevard back to the Main Post, or head right to the Arguello Boulevard Gate and then left onto W. Pacific Avenue. The Presidio's century-old stone boundary wall will be on your right.

Just beyond Julius Kahn Playground, one of the pleasantest areas in the city for a picnic, you begin a last climb to the top of Lovers' Lane. To finish the loop, you can walk your bike down this paved-but-potholed path (it's a militarily precise straight--and steep--0.7-mile shot back to the Main Post), or coast down Presidio Boulevard. The plan calls for revitalizing the mature forest on both sides of the lane, and expanding trails that crisscross the popular Ecology Trail.

ALONG THE BAY

Originally wetlands, Crissy Field was filled to become the first (and only) Army Air Service station on the West Coast; it was used as an airfield through the 1950s. Today, you can walk, jog, or bike the flat, wide, 1 1/2-mile trail from Marina Green to Fort Point, which is tucked under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

From the museum parking area, swing down Halleck Street, under the Doyle Drive overpass, and through a barren paved expanse to Golden Gate Promenade. The beaches to the right, already favored by windsurfers scooting over whitecaps, would be developed as a boardsailing beach, while the beachfront to the left and open spaces inland would be restored as wetlands and dunes.

Heading toward the bridge, you'll pass the hedge-screened buildings of the Coast Guard Station with its 1890 residence that currently houses the offices of the Gorbachev Foundation/USA, one of the new Presidio's first tenants. The World War II barracks to the left would give way to wetlands, and the original Crissy Hangars would be turned into an aviation museum. From here it's another 1/2 mile to Fort Point National Historic Site, open from 10 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays. For tours, call (415) 556-0505.
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Title Annotation:touring the Presidio in San Francisco, California
Author:Phillips, Jeff
Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:1278
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