California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
- (Bateria San Jose, Bateria Yerba Buena,
San Jose Military Reservation, Post at Point San Jose, San Francisco
General Depot, Seacoast Searchlight No. 9, San Francisco Port
- History of
- by Sgt Maj (CA) Dan Sebby,
Military Historian, California Military Department
- In 1797, the El Real
Ejército de California (Royal Spanish Army of California)
established a coastal defense artillery battery known as Bateria
San Jose (Saint Josephs Battery) as a sub-post of El
Castillo de San Joaquin (The Castle of Saint Joachim) which
was located at the present site of the Fort Point National Historic
Site. The mission of the battery was to protect the La Yerba
Buena anchorage (todays Aquatic Park area).
By 1806, the battery fell into disrepair due to a lack of maintenance.
The Spanish Governor of Alta California (Upper California),
José Joaquín de Arrillagas inspection report
read, There was not even a hut for the gunners and the
guns were rendered useless by exposure.
In 1821, under the terms of the Treaty of Cordova, which established
a monarchy separate from that of Spain, Alta California became
a province of the Mexican Empire. In 1823, the empire became
a republic known as the United Mexican States (also known as
the Republic of Mexico or United States of Mexico;
In 1835, in order to counter the perceived military and commercial
threat from the Russian colony at Fort Ross, Mexican forces abandoned
military installations in what is now San Francisco. At that
time, Commandante-General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo edeployed
these forces north to the new El Presidio de Sonoma
With the conquest in 1846 of the land now known as San Francisco
by United States forces under Captain John C. Fremont, a survey
was conducted to determine possible defensive works to protect
the harbor. There is no record of the condition of the Bateria
at the time of the American occupation, but the area was so overgrown
with brush that it was called Black Point. Historical
sources stated that the fortifications were allowed to deteriorate
under the Mexican administration. However, the survey recognized
the strategic importance of the Site, and the U.S. Army recommended
that the point be reserved for future military use.
When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded Alta California to
the United States of America in 1848, the military government
of California began organizing civil government and institutions
in preparation for eventual civilian rule. One of the first missions
for the military administration was to develop a system in which
private and public lands would be administered and what areas
would be reserved for military and naval uses.
With the discovery of gold in Coloma, California, in 1848 and
the influx of 49ers into San Francisco, a great deal
of strain was placed on the military government to secure the
planned military reservations. Deserters from the U.S. Army and
the large number of squatters looking for any vacant land to
pitch a tent made it impossible for the local commanders to keep
the military reservation secured. Occasionally, an officer with
a squad of soldiers would evict the squatters only to have them
return when the detail left.
On 6 November 1850, President Millard Fillmore issued a Presidential
Order withdrawing from the public domain five parcels of land
to be used for military purposes:
- The northern end of the
San Francisco peninsula from Point San Jose to the Pacific Ocean
(the area encompassing the present day Presidio of San Francisco
and Fort Mason and all the land in between);
- The Marin Headlands (the
present day Forts Baker and Barry);
- Angel Island;
- Alcatraz Island; and
- Yerba Buena Island.
- On 31 December 1851, President
Fillmore issued another Presidential Order establishing the Point
San Jose Military Reservation, separate from the Presidio of
San Francisco. This order described the reservation as being
all land within an 800-yard radius of the northern extremity
of Point San Jose. This area consisted of 120.50 acres.
Despite the fact that Point San Jose was a military reservation,
starting in 1853, civilians began moving onto it without challenge
from military authorities and began treating it as private property.
Several substantial private homes were built on the Site over
a 10-year period. In 1859, John C. Fremont, now a wealthy businessman,
former State Senator, and Republican Presidential candidate,
bought the northernmost of the homes on a 12-acre lot from a
local banker, Mark Brunigen, and moved there with his family.
With the start of the Civil War in 1861, Fremont reentered the
U.S. Army as a Major General.
Later that same year, General Fremonts family moved from
their fine home on Point San Jose to Jefferson Barracks in St.
Louis, Missouri to be with the General, who was now commanding
the U.S. Armys Western Department.
By 1863, the military situation in the Far West had changed.
A Confederate privateer was raiding the Union merchant fleet
in the Pacific, and rumors that Southern sympathizers were organizing
in San Francisco caused the U.S. Army to strengthen its defenses
of San Francisco, including the occupation and fortification
of Point San Jose. When the plans became public, there was an
outcry from the residents of Site and neighboring San Franciscans.
Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered that the Site be occupied
immediately and that the legal formalities would be settled later.
The Corps of Engineers immediately set about constructing two
6-gun batteries. The West Battery mounted M-1861 10-inch Rodman
smoothbore cannons and the East Battery mounted 42-pounder banded
rifles. Each battery also had a covered powder magazine.
In the process of building the East Battery, the house belonging
to General Fremont was razed. Four other homes were retained
as officers quarters and three remain in use on the Site
today, although they have been heavily modified, or in one case,
moved (i.e., Building 2 was moved to its present location during
the construction of Building 1).
During the 1860s and 1870s, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps
built barracks, additional officer and noncommissioned officer
quarters, and support buildings. Many of these buildings remain
and are still in use today.
With the conclusion of the Civil War, many of the parties who
were evicted from their homes in 1863 began filing suits against
the Government. Most of these plaintiffs gave up, especially
when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against one of the petitioners
in 1867. By ruling in favor of the Government in the case of
Grisar v. McDowell, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the Governments
title to the land based on the two Presidential Orders issued
by President Fillmore.
Despite this ruling, the descendents of John C. Fremont continued
to seek compensation for their loss through legislative means
and the courts. The last attempt came in 1969 when the Fremont
family filed suit against the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator
of the General Services Administration. The case was dismissed
later that same year.
On 1 July 1870, as a result of an Act of Congress, the reservation
was reduced to roughly its present boundaries. With this reduction,
the Reservation measured 55.5 acres and fit into a parcel bounded
by Van Ness Street to the east, Bay Street to the south, and
Laguna Street to the west. This action was announced in War Department
General Order 87, dated 19 July 1870.
- On 25 November 1882, War
Department General Order 133 redesignated Point San Jose Military
Reservation as Fort Mason. This action was to honor Brevet Brigadier
General Richard Barnes Mason, Commander of the 1st Regiment of
Dragoons and the fifth military governor of California (18471849).
From the end of the Civil War until 1906, very little changed
at Fort Mason. The post was garrisoned by several artillery,
infantry, and engineer units, and served as the home for several
of the Commanding Generals of the Department of California and
the Pacific Division. Some of the most famous officers of the
post-Civil War U.S. Army resided on the Site. Among the U.S.
Armys leaders who served at Fort Mason were Lieutenant
General Phillip H. Sheridan (1883 and 1886), Major General Nelson
A. Miles (18881890), Brigadier General William Shafter
(18991901), Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur (19031905
and 19061907; his son, General Douglas MacArthur, also
lived at the post in 1930), and Brigadier General Frederick Funston
Unlike the Presidio of San Francisco and Angel Island, the Spanish-American
War (1898) and Philippine Insurrection (18991902) had little
effect on Fort Mason. An emergency battery was built to defend
against a feared Spanish attack that mounted two 8-inch rifles.
This battery was, for the most part, the extent of Fort Masons
participation in the war.
In 1890, the Board of Fortifications, chaired by former Secretary
of War William C. Endicott, recommended that three modern Coast
Artillery batteries be built at Fort Mason. However, only one
of these batteries was built in 1899 and named Battery Burnham
in honor of Lieutenant Howard Burnham who was killed in the Battle
of Chickamauga in September 1863. The battery was armed in 1900
with a single 8-inch breech loading rifle on a disappearing carriage.
The battery remained in service until 1909 when it was disarmed.
With the inactivation of Battery Burnham, Fort Masons role
as a harbor defense installation ended after 46 years of service.
The next phase in the history of Fort Mason was caused not from
an act of war, but an act of nature. At 5:15 a.m. on 18 April
1906, the San Francisco Earthquake struck, devastating the city.
U.S. Army activities in downtown San Francisco, such as the headquarters
for both the Department of California in the Phelan Building
and the Pacific Division in the Grant Building, as well as numerous
leased warehouses of the San Francisco General Depot, were destroyed
by the earthquake.
With Major General Adolpus Greely, Commanding General of the
Pacific Division, on leave, Brigadier General Frederick Funston,
Commanding General of the Department of California and Acting
Division Commander rushed to General Greelys quarters on
Fort Mason to establish a command post. General Funston, without
authority from the War Department, mobilized over 1,400 federal
troops from U.S. Army posts in the San Francisco area and throughout
the West .
Fort Masons garrison, Companies C and D of the 1st Battalion
of Engineers, immediately marched out of Fort Mason, under arms,
to conduct anti-looting patrols and to secure the Hall of Justice,
the United States Mint, and City Hall. The garrison returned
the next day to conduct relief operations on the post.
On 20 April 1906, General Greely returned to San Francisco and
assumed control of the U.S. Armys relief operations from
General Funston. General Greely continued to use his home as
the command post throughout the emergency.
Although the U.S. Army had planned to consolidate logistical
activities at Fort Mason since 1903, it took the earthquakeand
the resulting destruction of the San Francisco General Depots
leased facilitiesto motivate the U.S. Army to move forward.
On 12 June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation
funding a new depot at Fort Mason.
Also in 1906, the Southern Pacific Railroad approached Lieutenant
General Arthur MacArthur, Commanding General of the U.S. Armys
Pacific Division, for permission to build a spur line to Fort
Masons yet-to-be-built piers and a tunnel under the original
garrison area. General MacArthurs Quartermaster, Major
Carroll A. Devol recommended approval of the proposal with the
stipulation that other railroads would be allowed to use the
line and that Southern Pacific would not charge the U.S. Army
for switching charges. Major Devol asserted that the tunnel would
help expedite shipments of materiel from San Francisco to U.S.
Army units in the Departments of California, Colorado, and the
Columbia as well as the western portion of the Department of
the Dakotas. However, when General Funston assumed command of
the Division in 1907 from General MacArthur, he stopped all planning
for the tunnel until Congress approved the project. The project
was eventually completed in 1914 under the auspices of the California
State Board of Harbor Commissioners.
As part of the program to build the new depot, the War Department
acquired several tracts of submerged land in 1909 from private
parties, including the widow of Major General John C. Fremont
and one other person evicted from the post during the Civil War.
Only one tract had to be acquired through condemnation proceedings,
which were against Virginia Vanderbilt, a member of the powerful
Vanderbilt shipping and railroad family.
With the property secured, the U.S. Army began building warehouses,
shops, and three piers for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps
Army Transport Service. Completed in 1912, the new San Francisco
General Depot was opened on the lower portion of Fort Mason.
The following year, the Site became the homeport for the troop
and cargo ships of the Army Transport Service.
With completion of the depot, Fort Mason became the major transfer
point for troops and materiel shipped to and from the Continental
United States and the U.S. Armys outposts located throughout
the Pacific Ocean area. Soldiers transiting through Fort Mason
would travel by a ferry to and from the Recruit and Replacement
Depot at Fort McDowell on Angel Island. Fort Mason continued
to perform this mission until the early 1960s.
World War I saw an increase in the amount of soldiers and materiel
shipping through Fort Mason. This increased workload required
additional temporary structures to be built. The
San Francisco General Depot was also the primary logistical base
supporting the American Expeditionary Force that supported the
White Russians opposition to the Bolshevik Revolution in
Siberia from 19191920. With the defeat of the White Russian
Army and the collapse of the Siberian government, Allied forces
were withdrawn from Eastern Russia. While the two American regiments
were withdrawn to the Philippine Islands, photographic records
at the NARA in College Park, Maryland showed the anti-Bolshevik
Czech Legion was repatriated to Czechoslovakia through Fort Mason.
Between World Wars I and II, Fort Mason resumed its normal routine
of supplying Pacific garrisons with soldiers and materiel. In
1932, the San Francisco General Depot was renamed the San Francisco
Port of Embarkation (SFPE). The following year, several new officer
family quarters on the upper portion of the Site were constructed.
In 1934, Piers 2 and 3 were lengthened, and a new marine repair
shop was built to service the vessels of the Army Transport Service.
With war becoming more and more inevitable in the early 1940s,
the U.S. Army began building several new barracks as well as
administrative buildings to support the expansion of the SFPEs
workload. On 8 December 1941, the Oakland Sub-Port (later Oakland
Army Terminal and now Oakland Army Base) and Fort McDowell with
its personnel replacement activities came under the operational
control of the SFPE and became sub-posts of Fort Mason. In 1942,
Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg and Camp Joseph T. Knight in Oakland
became operational as sub-posts of Fort Mason. Despite the addition
of new Ports of Embarkation in Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles,
the SFPE and Fort Mason continued to function at full capacity
throughout World War II. Also in 1942, the transportation functions
of the U.S. Armys Quartermaster Corps were transferred
to the newly formed Transportation Corps.
With the ending of World War II in 1945, several of the wartime
Ports of Embarkation were closed and their mission consolidated
at SFPE. Although facilities at Fort McDowell were closed, the
remainder of the SFPE remained busy with the return of troops
from the China-Burma-India and Pacific Theaters of Operations
as well as soldiers (and after 1947, airmen) re-garrisoning the
Philippines and occupying Japan.
With the start of the Korean War in 1950, troopships were again
leaving the docks of Fort Mason loaded with soldiers bound for
combat. That same year, the Army Transport Service disbanded,
and its ships transferred to the U.S. Navys Military Sea
Transport Service. The tempo continued throughout the Korean
War, although aircraft of the U.S. Air Forces Military
Air Transport Service (later Military Airlift Command and now
Air Mobility Command) began supplanting troopships.
In 1955, the SFPE was replaced by the Transportation Terminal
Command, Pacific which commanded all terminal operations in the
Pacific with headquarters at Fort Mason. In 1959, Oakland Army
Terminal was made a separate installation (i.e., no longer a
sub-post of Fort Mason), reporting to the Headquarters of the
Transportation Terminal Command.
In 1962, all embarkation and debarkation activities were moved
to the more modern Oakland Army Terminal, and the lower portion
of the post were declared excess to the needs of the U.S. Army.
In 1964, the Headquarters of the Transportation Terminal Command,
Pacific also moved to Oakland.
On 1 July 1966, the post was officially inactivated. Concurrent
with this, the Oakland Army Terminal was redesignated as the
Oakland Army Base. These changes were announced on 2 September
1966 in Department of the Army General Order 37. Despite this
change, the upper post continued to operate as an administrative
and family housing area for the Oakland Army Base. In 1968, the
lower portion of the post was transferred from the Department
of the Army to the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department
of Commerce (now U.S. Department of Transportation [DOT]) as
a storage area.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Golden Gate National
Recreation Area Act in which all unused or underused federal
properties in the San Francisco Bay Area would be transferred
to the NPS of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
On 1 April 1973, operational control of the upper portion of
Fort Mason was transferred from the Military Traffic Management
and Terminal Service at Oakland Army Base to the Headquarters,
Sixth U.S. Army at the Presidio of San Francisco. With this transfer,
the upper Fort Mason became a sub-post of the Presidio of San
Francisco. Concurrent with that, the NPS assumed management responsibilities
of former Fort Mason.
In 1974, the Presidio of San Francisco transferred control of
the eastern portion of the upper post to the NPS. However, under
a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of
the Army and the NPS, that portion continued to operate as a
sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco. U.S. Army families
continued to live on the former Fort Mason as tenants under the
provisions of the MOU until the drawdown of troops at the Presidio
of San Francisco allowed for the gradual consolidation and eventual
closing or relocation of all family housing on that and other
U.S. Army installations.
The last U.S. Army activity on the former Fort Mason was its
Officers Club in the historic McDowell Hall (Building 1). This
facility, maintained by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program
of the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey,
operated a restaurant, bar, and small overnight lodging facility
until it was finally closed and transferred to the NPS in 2004.
Mason circa 1922 (National Archives and Record Administration,
College Park, MD)
- The Posts
at San Francisco's Point San Jose
- by Colonel Herbert M.
Hart, USMC (Retired)
- Nine points of the law
or not, possession had little effect in 1863 when the Army decided
that it needed Point San Jose. Squatters who had moved into the
reservation within the past decade, building, renting, mortgaging,
and selling the property without regard for legal titles, were
told they would have to go.
Fresh in the memories of some Army men was the furor when Captain
E. D. Keyes cleared squatters from Rincon Point in 1853. That
pisode had resulted in a civil trial. Although the suit was dismissed
by the judge, Keyes was told by a juror that the jury probably
would have found Keyes guilty in sympathy for the "underdog"
- This had subdued Army
enthusiasm for clearing Point San Jose. As General Irvin McDowell
summarized the situation, "Combinations f land-grabbers
and land-jumpers so harassed this officer that he wrote in despair
that he could not protect the government property, and in one
of his letters reports: 'They have seized on Point San Jose and
have it in complete possession."
The military value of the point was admitted as early as 1797.
That was when "Bateria San Jose" was constructed at
the tip of the oint. It was also known as "Battery at Yerba
Buena." Five brass 8-pounder cannon were put in earthworks
that were hastily dug and covered with brush wood fascines. Instead
of a permanent garrison, a sentinel was to visit the place every
By 1806 this practice must have stopped. An inspection by the
governor noted that the battery had been neglected. "There
was not even a hut for the gunners and the guns were rendered
useless by exposure," it pointed out.
The sand hills and scrub brush gradually reclaimed the area.
By the time that Mexico took over San Francisco in 1822, the
site was known as Black Point because of the dark underbrush
that covered everything.
Although the United States quickly asserted its ownership of
the Point as early as 1850, nothing in the military line was
done to use it. An 1856 report on Bay defenses suggested that
a permanent battery should be constructed at Point San Jose.
It should be "in barbette with earthen parapet, breast height
of bricks, a small magazine, and a brick building for ordnance
stores and a guardhouse," the report recommended. "It
should mount 20 guns."
This recommendation was repeated in 1862, but it was with some
hesitancy that the Army took action. Large, well-built residences
had been erected by citizens on Black Point, shrubbery and fences
had been laid out, and taxes had been paid to the city in accordance
with their assessments. Even John Fremont had paid an estimated
$40,000 for a frame cottage and 12 acres on the Point. He had
rented the place to a friend in 1861 when be went East for Army
Then at 6 a.m. on October 3, 1863, General George Wright received
a telegram from the War Department. "The Secretary of War
directs that you take military possession of Point San Jose,"
it said, "and erect the battery proposed for its defense.
The question of ownership will be determined later."
A few days later a company of the 9th Infantry was ordered to
Point San Jose to "take and hold military possession of
such land as necessary for the erection of batteries. Almost
immediately complaints were heard from occupants. The first was
that the soldiers had destroyed some shrubbery.
- Shrubbery removal was
not the least of the Army efforts, however. The houses were commandeered
and those in the way of the engineers' plans were removed or
leveled. Fremont's cottage was razed, touching off a series of
legal disputes that went as far as the United States Supreme
- When the Court determined
that the property belonged to the United States "whether
or not they were by sufficient authority appropriate for public
use," the Fremont family brought suit for damages. From
a $250,000 claim in 1866, the suit was refiled for a million
dollars in 1893. When nothing was done on it for 14 more years,
it was thrown out of court.
- The 12-gun battery was placed on tile western brow of the point,
in position to intersect the fires from Alcatraz. An estimated
need for 100 artillery-men to man them was made in 1864. One
company of infantrymen from the 9th Regiment was the garrison
until late in 1864 when a battery of the 3rd Artillery was transferred
from Alcatraz. In March, 1865, the post became the headquarters
of the 9th Infantry Regiment, a non-artillery role that was to
hint of the future.
- Along with the other Bay
forts, San Jose's troopers devoted more of their attention to
settling civil problems than with defending the harbor from Confederate
attack. And as the Civil War ended, the squatter problem once
again raised its head.
- An inspection on June
6, 1865, revealed, "Certain citizens have possession of
a part of the military reservation at Point San Jose (Black Point)
. . If the present Occupants are allowed to retain undisputed
possession of this highly valuable property any longer, it may
cost the government a large sum to dispossess them."
- Called Fort Mason since
1882, the Post at Point San Jose is on Van Ness Avenue at Bay
Street. Although its transportation depot functions were closed
in 1964, its historic residences have been retained by Army,
and later the National Park Service, and have been marked.
- After the fort's artillery
functions ended, it became quartermaster depot, then a supply
and transportation center through 23 million tons of cargo and
a million troops were deployed in World War II. In 1906 it was
a refugee camp for victims of San Francisco earthquake. Hundreds
were fed and housed. In a single night six babies were born in
- Former Noncommissioned
- Post at Point San Jose During the 1870's
- As Post Point San Jose,
and Fort Mason after 1882, this ground plan remains basically
correct to modern times. An 1870 report said, ''The officers'
quarters are five frame cottages of different sizes and plan,
but all are comfortable and pleasantly situated on the sheltered
brow, with a luxuriant flower garden around them. They were cottages
of citizens before the point was taken up as a government post."
It noted that above battery "are built two sets of company
quarters, of which only one at the present time is occupied.
They are each of wood, 90 by 30-1/2 by 13 feet . . furnished
with a double row of bunks, two tiers high . . . two tables and
four benches complete its furniture." Reservation included
67 acres with a small parade ground on the crown of the point.
(Redrawn from McDowell report, 1879.)
Jose is a rocky point which, with an elevation of 80 feet, projects
into the bay northward," reported surgeon in 1870. "It
is steep and bare on its western face, less so on its eastern
or sheltered face; and on both sides it falls away into low sand
mounds." This 1865 era painting shows entire Point Officers'
quarters are in foreground across road, headquarters is the long
building with the porch across front.
- This page was
reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West,
published in 1965
- Fort Mason
- by Justin Ruhge
- The history of Fort Mason is based in
the Spanish development of Punta Medanos as Bateria San Jose
with five brass 8-pounders, followed by the American development
of this same area as Black Point or Point San Jose with a 12-gun
battery during the Civil War as presented in an earlier section.
The whole area became a military reserve on November 6, 1850.
Colonel Richard Barnes Mason, for whom the Fort is named, was
the Military Governor of California in 1847. He laid out the
reservation and it was approved by an Executive Order of President
Millard Fillmore. Ignoring the Army reservation claim, many private
squatters built businesses and dwellings on the sand dunes and
beaches in the reservation because of its location and great
bay views. John Fremont, of California Conquest fame, was one
of those. Over the years and through many lawsuits, these squatters
were evicted and their buildings torn down or converted to Army
barracks or other Army uses. The area was first and foremost
a military Fort.
- The Fort became the headquarters of the
Army in California and later the Army transportation hub for
shipments of personnel and equipment overseas to many Pacific
destinations. A new battery, mine casemate and searchlight were
built at Black Point on the land managed by Fort Mason, before
the Army's primary mission at Fort Mason was changed to a military
Batteries at Fort Mason
- Spanish Period
Number of Guns
Type of Gun
Point San Jose
- For all coastal defenses
built in the smoothbore era, (Spanish, American Third system
and Post-Civil War periods), the number of guns actually emplaced
was usually less than the number of emplacements built. Many
of the cannons were on hand and not emplaced and those numbers
changed from year to year. In addition, there often were several
different calibers of cannons present. The calibers of the Spanish
era cannons were given by the weight of the round shot fired
by the gun, i.e. a 42 pounder. The Americans had cannons of calibers
given both in pounds or inches of bore. These are not delineated
in the table as those of later years are.
- Civil War Period
Number of Guns
Type of Gun
(1) The Point San Jose battery was built of brick. It was
buried sometime in the early part of the twentieth century. The
National Park Service has uncovered it and is restoring the works
- Endicott Period
Type of Gun
Type of Carriage
8 Inch M1888
At Fort Mason the mining casemate had to be planned from scratch.
Colonel Mendell selected a site at the foot of the cliff on the
west side of Black Point Cove overlooking what is today the Aquatic
Park. Here was constructed a small temporary wharf for unloading
construction material and on April 9, 1890, the first Bay Area
mine casemate was begun.
- Twenty concrete steps led down to the
concrete 12x22-foot arched operating room. A concrete traverse
blocked the 17.5-foot-long passageway from the foot of the stairs
to the operating room. Two ventilating pipes led up through the
thick earthen cover. An inclined concrete cable gallery measuring
2.5 feet by 3.5 feet ran to the water's edge. By July 1890 the
casemate was complete except for plastering the interior and
the construction of a path leading down from the Fort proper.
- When San Francisco Harbor was mined for
the first time during the Spanish-American War, this first mining
casemate was still in use. It still stands today behind a locked
- Point San Jose Mine
Casemate circa August 1891. (National Archives and Records Administration,
College Park, MD)
Seacoast Searchlight No. 9
- 1901 marked the beginning of searchlights
in the harbor defenses of the Pacific Coast. The searchlight
was designed to be employed at night against enemy ships running
along the coast. Later they were used more against enemy aircraft.
In addition, searchlights were used extensively on navy ships
and small patrol boats by all nations.
- Sizes of the lights varied from 24, 30,
36 and 60-inch diameter. The original installations were permanent
in ground shelters or on towers. Most of these had independent
gasoline powered DC power generators located near the lights.
During the 1940s however, mobile, self-contained searchlights
were developed and generally replaced the older installations.
With the growing availability of Radar in the 1940s, the need
for searchlights rapidly diminished, replaced by a better technology.
- In 1911, a 60-inch searchlight was located
at Fort Mason on the road up from the wharf where it was housed
in a metal structure, which still exists in 2004. This light
was powered by an independent 25-KW. 125V, DC gasoline set located
in the magazine at abandoned Battery West.
- Report of
Completed Works - Seacoast Fortification: Seacoast Searchlight
- Fort Mason as a Headquarters
- It was not until 1863, when pressed by
the threat of Confederate naval attack on San Francisco during
the Civil War, that the Army occupied the Fort Mason military
reservation and constructed batteries at Point San Jose. On August
30, 1865, Major General Henry W. Halleck of Civil War and California
Conquest fame arrived in San Francisco and took command of the
newly formed Military Division of the Pacific. Although the Presidio
of San Francisco, about three miles west of then small San Francisco
City, was the principal garrison, Division Headquarters were
in downtown offices and Halleck considered the Presidio too far
to commute in that horse and buggy era. Consequently, the Army
seized the existing buildings on the reservation and in so doing
started the history of what was to be called McDowell Hall. George
Brooks, editor of the Golden Era, built the original building
for this structure in the 1850s. It was a rambling one and a
half story structure, which was finally acquired by a wool merchant,
Emil Grisar. This house was repaired and enlarged and moved into
by General Halleck in November 1865. Major General George H.
Thomas, Major General John M. Schofield, Brigadier General E.
R. S. Canby, and Major General Irwin McDowell, all of Civil War
fame, later occupied it.
- In 1876, McDowell, who had commanded the
Department of the Pacific and its successor Department of California
in the mid-1860s, returned to San Francisco to command the Division.
At this time, McDowell decided that he needed a newer and larger
house with which to carry out his official duties. Work began
in July 7, 1877 at the Post of Point San Jose.
- Army records show that parts of the old
house were incorporated into an entirely new residence for the
Commanding General. The new house contained on the first floor,
a reception hall, library, drawing room, conservatory, dining
room, storeroom, laundry, wood room, and two rooms probably for
servants. The second floor had six bedrooms and four bathrooms.
Over the kitchen wing was a small room and space for storing
trunks. The basement housed a coal room, ash room and later a
General McDowell was the first resident of the new hall, which
later carried his name.
- The Post at Point San Jose was nreamed
Fort Mason in 1882 in honor of Colonel Mason, the First Military
Governor of California.
- Over the years McDowell Hall housed one
Colonel and forty-four Generals. Even Douglas MacArthur lived
there briefly as a Major General in 1930. Presidents Ulysses
S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes were entertained in McDowell
Hall in 1879 and 1880 respectively.
- Lieutenant General John DeWitt, in charge
of the Fourth Army and the Ninth Corps Area, was the last Commanding
General to live in Officer's Quarters No. 1, as it was called
When he transferred in September 1943, his successor Major General
Kenyon A. Joyce agreed on September 13 to turn the house over
to Major General Frederick Gilbreath, Commander of the San Francisco
Port of Embarkation for wartime use as an officer's open mess.
In Gilbreath's command was a young lieutenant named Ronald Reagan
who may have dined in McDowell Hall. McDowell Hall serves as
an open mess and officers' club in 2004.
- The ground floor is preserved for the
most part but the east wall of the conservatory has been extended
and the room converted into a cocktail lounge. A large one-story
social hall, or ballroom, was added in 1948 to the southeast
part of the building and a large one-story dining room added
to the northeast. The former dining room is now part of the cafeteria
and the kitchen. The second story is essentially intact. McDowell
Hall is one of San Francisco's
most historic residences.
Port of Embarkation
- After the Spanish-American War, America's
out-of-country interests spread north to Alaska and to the west
to the Hawaiian Islands, Philippines and China; and south to
the Panama Cannel. To support this new sphere of influence, an
Army supply line of ships, docks and warehouses were needed on
the West Coast. Fort Mason was selected for this role and named
the San Francisco General Depot. Northwest of the bluffs where
sand dunes sloped down to a little cove and beach, the Army built
its first overseas supply depot basically in two phases. The
first phase, lasting from 1909 through 1912, included construction
of three piers, numbered west-to-east 1,2 and 3; and two three-story
Mission-revival style hipped-roof concrete storehouse. Retaining
walls along the bluff to the south were built in 1910 to hold
back the sand dunes. This initial construction program also included
the large permanent shed on Pier 2.
- The first transport ship to use the new
port, the Army's U.S.S. Sherman, arrived from Manila, Nagasaki
and Honolulu on January 7, 1912. In 1913, a diplomatic crisis
with the Empire of Japan created a major war scare and for several
months the half-finished port was used heavily for increased
shipment of troops, weapons, ammunition and supplies to Hawaii,
where a Japanese attack was feared.
- The second phase of construction took
place from 1913 to 1914 with erection of the two large Mission-revival
storehouses to the east of the earlier two buildings. The four
buildings were designated A to D from East to West. A tunnel
beneath the upper part of Fort Mason, which permitted construction
of a military extension of the State Belt Railroad of California
westward to serve the Fort Mason Piers, was also completed. The
last spike on the railroad through the tunnel was driven on November
1, 1914 and soon railroad spurs served all the piers and storehouses.
- American entry into the World War in 1917
brought further expansion, and "temporary" sheds were
built on Piers 1 and 3. Immediately following World War I, the
United States sent a military expeditionary force to Siberia
in Russia, which was launched from the San Francisco General
Depot in 1918. Many additional temporary frame structures littered
the port area during World War I and for the next decade and
- The 1920s were generally a quiet time
of routine troop rotation and supply with little change in the
physical plant of the port. But the 1930s brought funding under
the Public Works Act and a time of renewal. In 1932 the name
of the depot was changed to San Francisco Port of Embarkation
and that same year Pier 2 and its shed were extended. In 1934,
Piers 1 and 3 were extended; the temporary sheds demolished,
and new "permanent" ones built. A Marine Repair Shop
(Bldg. 308) and other structures were added.
- The Port of Embarkation made its greatest
contribution to American history in World War II when it supplied
the whole Pacific Theater. But it was apparent as early as 1940
that the Port was too small for the job it now had to do and
the Oakland Army Terminal was under construction to supplement
and eventually replace it. In response to wartime necessity,
other ports sprang up in Los Angeles, Port Hueneme, Seattle,
and elsewhere, though for a time all were under the command of
Fort Mason's Port Headquarters.
- The port at Fort Mason remained a significant
facility through the Korean War in the early 1950s, but a decade
later was superseded by the Oakland Army Terminal and others.
Fort Mason's Port of Embarkation was closed down in 1963. Today,
under the National Park Service, the four storehouses, three
piers and their sheds, the other buildings, and the railroad
spurs represent a major turning point in American history.
- The grounds of Fort Mason were shared
between Army housing and the National Park Service Golden Gate
National Recreation Area Headquarters. The Fort Mason Foundation
manages the docks and warehouses. One of the old warehouses (Building
E) holds the collection of the J. Porter Shaw National Maritime
- The National Park Service's
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Headquarters building served
as a hospital in 1902 and later as the Administrative Offices
for the San Francisco Port of Embarkation
- References: San Francisco
Port of Embarkation by Chuck Wullenjohn 1985; Historic McDowell
Hall, Fort Mason, San Francisco, California by Gordon Chappell,
1981; The U.S. Port of Embarkation, Fort Mason, San Francisco,
California, 1909-1963 by Gordon Chappell 1981; The Story of Fort
Mason Historic U.S. Army Post in San Francisco by U.S. Army Transportation
Terminal Command, Pacific, Fort Mason, 1960; Historic Structure
Report Fort Mason by R. Patrick Christopher and Erwin N. Thompson,
1980; Seacoast Fortifications San Francisco Harbor by Erwin N.
Thompson, 1979; National Archives, San Bruno, California; Presidio
Army Museum Archives.
Status Card - Post, Camps, Stations and Airfields: San Francisco
Port of Embarkation, Fort Mason
- 1864 DeRussy Battery
Plan and Post Map Click the map
to view a larger, clearer image
- 1866 Real Estate Map,
Presidio and Point San Jose Military Reservations Click the map to view a larger, clearer image
- 1867 Point San Jose
Post Map Click the map to view
a larger, clearer image
- 1876 Point San Jose
Sectors of Fire Click the map to
view a larger, clearer image
- 1892 Post Map Click the map to view a larger, clearer image.
- 1900 Post Map Click the map to view a larger, clearer image.
- 1907 Post Map Click the map to view a larger, clearer image.
- 1909 Post Map Click the map to view a larger, clearer image
- 1912 Reservation Map
Click the map to view a larger,
- 1914 Post Map Click the map to view a larger, clearer image
- 1922 Post Map Click the map to view a larger, clearer image
- 1960 Real Estate Map
Click the map to view a larger,
- Quartermaster Docks
- Before the Spanish American
War, half of Fort Mason was sand dunes. As America's influence
radiated across the Pacific - to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines,
and China - the Army filled in a shallow cove and constructed
three piers and four concrete warehouses.
- Fort Mason became the
Army's supply and transportation center for the Pacific.
- On December 7, 1941, the
attack on Pearl Harbor brought America and Fort Mason into World
War II. Fort Mason served as the headquarters for the San Francisco
Port Embarkation (SFPOE) which funneled supplies and troops to
the Pacific Theater of war Over 1 ½ million passengers
and 23 million ship tons of cargo (one ship ton equally 40 cubic
feet) left the SFPOE, Fort Mason was a scene of constant activity
with buildings squeezed into every available space. Liberty Ships
lined the piers as they were stuffed to capacity for their Pacific
voyage. These same "ugly ducklings" brought home our
soldiers and supplies at the end of the war. Today, the Liberty
Ship Jeremiah O'Brien, docked at Pier 3, is a proud reminder
of the past and is open to the general public.
- Fort Mason's piers were
also active through the Korean War and the early 1960's.
Quartermaster Docks, 14 October 1941 (National Archives and Records
Administraton, College Park, MD)