Referred to as the key to the whole Pacific Coast
…and to think most people don’t know it even exists. To say “most people” may be an exaggeration but I don’t think it would be too far a cry from the truth as this place is so hidden—literally right under the Golden Gate Bridge.
I lived in San Francisco back in the 80’s and have visited it many times thereafter but never heard of this wonderful historic site until my most recent visit during the 4th of July holiday, visiting my son, now a Bay Area resident. I had Googled best sites to watch the fireworks and Fort Point came up. I began reading about it and was very intrigued. While we didn’t go there for the fireworks (chose Crissy Field instead, which was an excellent spot), I made it a point to put Fort Point on our to-do list when my daughter joined us a couple days later. And boy, was I glad we went!
A Golden Treasure
In 1933, as foundation construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge, this now 157-year-old fort was right smack in the way and therefore scheduled to meet its demise. Because of its excellent military architecture, the American Institute of Architects had proposed preservation of Fort Point in 1926 but funds were not available to carry out that gesture. At the threat of its removal, Joseph Strauss, Chief Engineer of the bridge project, redesigned the Golden Gate Bridge to be built over Fort Point; thereby, saving the structure. How cool is that?
On October 16, 1970, President Nixon signed the bill making Fort Point a National Historic Site. After sustaining only moderate damage in the devastating 7.9 level San Francisco earthquake in 1906, this building’s use over the next 40 years was for barracks, military training and storage. Then, during World War II, soldiers from the US Coast Artillery were stationed there to guard minefields and anti-submarine net. It currently serves to guard the Golden Gate Bridge and to welcome hundreds of guests daily, most days of the year.
Here’s a brief history of how this masterpiece came to be, without ever really serving its initial purpose…
A funny thing happened on the way to war
Between 1817 and 1867, to protect United States harbors, the coastal defense system built some 30 forts along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and only one—Fort Point—on the West Coast. California had just become the 31st state in 1850, after the US won the Mexican-American war in 1848. During that time, the US Army and Navy officials had set up strategic points to secure the San Francisco Bay. Those points consisted of Lime Point, Angel Island, Alcatraz, Point San Jose, Presidio and Fort Point.
However, construction on Fort Point didn’t began until 1853, at the outbreak of the Civil War, by the US Army Corps of Engineers. A 90-foot cliff at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay was blasted 30 feet below sea level to make way for the fort’s foundation. In 1861, 200 previously unemployed miners, who labored for eight years on this project, finally mounted the fort’s first cannon. It was the US Army’s most sophisticated coastal fortification, yet this massive, impenetrable brick-walled structure, with new artillery including 102 smooth-bore cannons mounted atop, never saw action.
In August 1865, the captain and crew of the Confederate raider, C.S.S. Shenandoah prowled the waters of the Pacific looking for Yankee whaling ships. They planned an attack on San Francisco. On their way to the harbor, the captain was informed by a British vessel that the South had lost and the Civil War was now over. Whew! Talk about being saved by the bell.
So, there you have it
To this day, Fort Point, an impressive survivor of weather and war, remains the admiration and pride of the Pacific Coast. Standing inside its massive and unscathed courtyard was quite humbling–especially when thinking about the labor required to build this and the eight million bricks that perfectly hold it together a century and a half later.
Wow! Fort Point. Certainly a point of interest worthy of your visit.
Terri Liggins, aka t-RAW
Reach And Win your transition to a healthier, wealthier you!
Fort Point National Historic Site
Bldg. 201, Fort Mason
San Francisco, CA 94123
For current hours of operation call 1-415-556-1693.