Fort Point has stood guard at the narrows of the Golden Gate in San Francisco, California, for nearly 150 years. It has been called “the pride of the Pacific,” “the Gibraltar of the West Coast,” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.” When construction began during the height of the California Gold Rush, Fort Point was planned as the most formidable deterrence America could offer to a naval attack on California. Although its guns never fired a shot in anger, the “Fort at Fort Point,” as it was originally named, has witnessed Civil War, earthquake, bridge construction, reuse for World War II, and preservation as a National Historic Site.
Fort Point was built between 1853 and 1861 by U.S. Army Engineers as part of a defense system of forts planned to protect San Francisco Bay. Designed at the height of the Gold Rush, the fort and its companion fortifications would protect the Bay’s important commercial and military installations against foreign attack. The fort was built in the Army’s traditional “Third System” style of military architecture (a standard adopted in the 1820s). It would be the only fortification of this impressive design constructed west of the Mississippi River. This fact bears testimony to the importance the military gave San Francisco and the goldfields during the 1850s.
Although Fort Point never saw battle, the building has tremendous significance due to its military history, architecture, and association with maritime history.
After the Civil War, Fort Point became underutilized and was used intermittently as an army barracks. The pre-Civil War cannons, so valuable when initially installed, became obsolete and eventually removed. During World War II, the Army remodeled Fort Point as a detention barracks, though the building was never ultimately used for that purpose. During the 1920s, the property was used by the Presidio for housing unmarried officers and different military trade schools.
In the late 1930s, plans for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge also involved plans for the demolition of Fort Point. Fortunately, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss recognized the architectural value of the Fort. He created a special engineer arch that allowed the bridge’s construction to occur safely over the Fort. During World War II, Fort Point was again used as temporary housing for soldiers. After World War II, the movement to preserve Fort Point for its historic and architectural value began to grow. Over the next 20 years, support for the preservation movement waxed and waned. In 1959, a group of retired military officers and civilian engineers created the Fort Point Museum Association and lobbied for its creation as a National Historic Site. On October 16, 1970, Fort Point became a National Historic Site.
The National Park Service administers Fort Point as a Golden Gate National Recreation Area unit. It is located at the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio of San Francisco.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Building 201, Fort Mason
San Francisco, California 94123
Source: National Park Service