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Fort Mason, once known as San Francisco Port of Embarkation, US Army, in San Francisco, California, is a former United States Army post located in the northern Marina District, alongside San Francisco Bay. Fort Mason served as an Army post for more than 100 years, initially as a coastal defense site[1] and subsequently as a military port facility. During World War II, it was the principal port for the Pacific campaign.[2]

Today it is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the site of several cultural facilities. It is a National Historic Landmark District[2] with over 49 buildings of historic significance, spread over 1,200 acres (490 ha).[3][4]


A panoramic image facing southeast toward the Fort Mason Center, taken from a position near water level.
Fort Mason Center (foreground) with Oakland and Russian Hill (on the right) in the distance.

Fort Mason can be split into two distinct areas. The upper area, sometimes called Fort Mason, is situated on a headland and was the site of the original coastal fortifications. The lower area, Fort Mason Center, is situated close to water level to the west of Upper Fort Mason, and is the site of the former military port, with its piers and warehouses. The Marina Green lies to the west of Fort Mason, while Aquatic Park is to the east.


The Civil War prompted the construction of a set of coastal defense batteries located inside the Golden Gate. Initially these defenses were built as temporary wartime structures rather than permanent fortifications and one of these was constructed in 1864 at Point San Jose, as the location of Upper Fort Mason was then known. A breast-high wall of brick and mounts for six 10-inch (250 mm) Rodman cannons and six 42-pounder guns were built on the site. Excavation in the early 1980s uncovered the well-preserved remains of the western-half of the temporary battery, and it has now been restored to its condition during the Civil War.[5]

The fort was named Fort Mason in 1882, after Richard Barnes Mason, a former military governor of California.[6]

President Grover Cleveland established the Endicott Board in 1885 for the purpose of modernizing the nation's coastal fortifications. Chaired by Secretary of War William Endicott, the board recommended new defenses at 22 U.S. seaports, deeming San Francisco Harbor second only to that of New York in strategic importance. As a result, an extensive series of forts, batteries, and guns were built on the harbor, including Fort Mason.[7]

The piers and sheds of Lower Fort Mason were originally built from 1912 to warehouse army supplies and provide docking space for army transport ships. By this time, the US Army began to build new bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, and various other Pacific islands. Most of the material for those bases was shipped through San Francisco. By 1915, the three piers together with their associated warehouse had been completed, and a railroad tunnel driven under Upper Fort Mason to connect with the railroad network along the Embarcadero.

With these new facilities, Fort Mason was transformed from a harbor defense post into a logistical and transport hub for American military operations in the Pacific.[8] The Army ferry General Coxe provided scheduled transportation from Fort Mason to the processing center at Fort McDowell on Angel Island up to eight times per day during the war.

File:Jeremiah O'Brien liberty ship.jpg

The SS Jeremiah O'Brien is a World War II era Liberty ship. Built in 57 days, the ship is an example of the United States rapid response to sealift demands of the war.

Army Ports: Passengers and tons of cargo embarked during the period December 1941—August 1945.

During World War II, Fort Mason became the headquarters of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, controlling a network of shipping facilities that spread across the Bay Area. Over the years of the war, 1,647,174 passengers and 23,589,472 measured tons moved from the port into the Pacific. This total represents two-thirds of all troops sent into the Pacific and more than one-half of all Army cargo moved through West Coast ports. The highest passenger count was logged in August 1945 when 93,986 outbound passengers were loaded.[8]

The Korean War in the 1950s also kept the post busy, and in 1955 the San Francisco Port of Embarkation was renamed the U.S. Army Transportation Terminal Command Pacific. The embarkation operations continued through the early sixties. In 1965 the headquarters of the US Army Transportation Terminal Command were transferred to the Oakland Army Terminal, and most of Fort Mason's embarkation facilities fell into disuse. The Army continues to use and maintain the old officer housing. The National Park Service took over the administration of the site in the 1970s as a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In 1976 lower Fort Mason became the Fort Mason Center, a non profit organization that provides a destination for programs, events and organizations that support and reflect the evolving cultural fabric of San Francisco and the Bay Area. (GGNRA).[9][10]

Current uses[]

File:Fort Mason HQ.jpg

GGNRA headquarters building in Upper Fort Mason

Some of the old officer housing remains in use by the Army, while some is rented to the public. One of the larger buildings has been converted into a youth hostel, operated by Hostelling International USA.[11]

As a whole, the former post is now a mix of parks and gardens and late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings that are still in use. A path follows the harbor edge, rising along the headland and offering views north past Alcatraz and west to the Golden Gate Bridge.

A portion of the site, known as the Fort Mason Center, houses the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery, Blue Bear School of Music, City College of San Francisco Art Campus, Long Now Museum and Gallery, Greens restaurant, Readers Bookstore, Magic Theatre, the Mexican Museum, Off the Grid, BATS Improv, San Francisco Children's Art Center, Museo ItaloAmericano, and California Lawyers for the Arts. The Outdoor Exploratorium is located on the Fort Mason Center campus as well as along the northern path on Upper Fort Mason.

The National Park Service headquarters for both the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park are located in Fort Mason.[12][13]

Operations for the United States Park Police are located in the fort, providing police services for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and Marin County.

Future developments[]

A proposal exists to extend the F Market & Wharves historic streetcar line to a terminal at Lower Fort Mason. This extension would run from the vicinity of the existing terminal near Fisherman's Wharf, westward alongside the San Francisco Maritime Museum and Aquatic Park, and then through the existing, now unused, San Francisco Belt Railroad tunnel under Upper Fort Mason.

A technical feasibility study, under the aegis of the National Park Service and San Francisco Municipal Railway, was completed in December 2004. An Environmental Impact Statement for the extension, involving the San Francisco Municipal Railway, National Park Service and Federal Transit Administration, commenced in May 2006.[14] The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was completed in March 2011, and was scheduled to be reviewed by December 2011.[dated info]


  1. Thompson, Erwin N. (July 8, 1984). "San Francisco Port of Embarkation, U.S. Army" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Inventory Nomination Form. National Park Service. Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named nhlsum
  3. Noehill original nhld
  4. Noehill boundary increase
  5. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area - American "Third System" Period, 1850-1884". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  6. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area - Fort Mason History Walk". National Park Service. p. 12. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  7. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area - Harbor Defenses of San Francisco, 1891-1945". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Golden Gate National Recreation Area - The San Francisco Port of Embarkation". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  9. {{cite web url= |title=Golden Gate National Recreation Area - Fort Mason History Walk |pages=15–16 |publisher=National Park Service |accessdate=2007-12-18}}
  10. "Oakland Army Base". The California State Military Museum. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  12. "San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park - Contact Us". National Parks Service. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  13. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area - Contact Us". National Parks Service. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  14. "Historic Streetcar Extension Project". Historic Streetcar Extension Project. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 

External links[]

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