Adaptive Reuse at San Francisco’s Presidio, Plus Slideshow

4 min read

Tucked into a corner along the southern edge of the Presidio, the district's long-empty buildings have undergone amazing transformations, preserving their original character while incorporating contemporary sustainable features.

Forest City’s Presidio Landmark is one of the most unique apartment living opportunities in the nation. Located in the Presidio of San Francisco, a national park in the heart of one of the world’s great cities, it is an adaptive re-use of the largest historic building in the park into 154 apartments. The result is a rare combination of park serenity and access to San Francisco’s vitality in a building that blends the best of historic preservation, sustainability and modernity. View a slideshow of the Presidio here.

Presidio Landmark is part of the 42-acre Public Health Service District, and is a contributing building to the Presidio National Historic Landmark District. Tucked into a corner along the southern edge of the Presidio, the district’s long-empty buildings have undergone amazing transformations, preserving their original character while incorporating contemporary sustainable features. The district now features residences, cultural and educational organizations and public trails that link the Presidio’s natural, historic and recreational attractions.

Presidio Landmark represents yet another milestone in the Presidio’s rich history, which dates back to 1776 when it was a Spanish military post. After the Presidio became property of the United States in 1847, it served as an active military base until 1989. Its use by the U.S. Army came to end in 1995 and the Presidio became a national park. To oversee its change from post to park, in 1996 Congress created the Presidio Trust and mandated that the park become self-sufficient by 2013, a goal that it has already met. As part of that effort, the Trust selected Forest City to rehabilitate the U.S. Marine Hospital, which provided free care to merchant seamen, into apartments. The building, renamed Presidio Landmark, was the catalyst for the restoration of the entire Public Health Service District.

The building’s transformation was challenging. Built in 1932, it closed in 1981 and since then was abandoned, graffiti strewn and suffered major damaged inside and out. Prior to that, starting in 1952, major modifications were made to the structure and its surrounding grounds, impacting its historic character. Two six story non-historic “wings” were built in the 1950s and blocked and altered exterior historic windows and decorative limestone. A one-story “arrival court” and portico dramatically altered the main entrance. Inside, the entrance had been moved and became bathrooms, marble has been hidden in hallways and, false hanging ceilings installed covering cornices and other decorative items.

The renewal restored Presidio Landmark’s historic integrity and its intended design. The non-historic wings were removed. Brick, limestone and terra cotta exteriors were restored, including replacing 20,000 bricks of five different hues, reintroducing Indiana limestone to restore areas of the façade and restoring nearly 700 historic wood windows. The grand main entrance was brought back and a park-like setting established. New apartments in the 220,000 square-foot building shunned a cookie cutter design that could have occurred given the hospital layout, instead creating unique geometry and 24 different formats that maximize window exposure of existing narrow wings dramatic ocean and city views.

In keeping with its natural setting and Forest City’s commitment to sustainability, the developer used LEED certification as a measure of sustainability and combined it with its own best practices to be sensitive to the environment, and respectful of a historic building, park and the site’s history of health and wellness. As a result, this project is the first adaptive reuse project to a residential use to achieve LEED Gold certification in the Bay Area. The adaptive re-use results in about 75 percent less greenhouse gas impacts than resulting from a conventional new construction. All together, the sustainable features have the equivalent reduction in green house gas emissions as taking 154 cars off the road annually. Ninety percent of all indoor spaces receive natural light, storm water is treated by increased planting and rooftop runoff is directed through a filtration bed. This effort was a major contributor to the entire Public Health Service District receiving the U.S. Green Building Council’s (LEED-ND) certification. That achievement made it the first LEED-ND certified neighborhood in the country that is also an historic landmark district.

Project Team:

• Planner: Presidio Trust

• Developer: Forest City

Owner: Presidio Trust

• Architect: Perkins + Will

• General Contractor: Plant Construction Company

• Historic Preservation: Page & Turnbull

• Residential: TCA

Interiors: Shopworks

Civil Engineer: Sherwood Design Engineers

• Landscape Architect: Conger Moss Guillard

• Structural Engineer: Nabih Youssef Associates

• MEP Engineer: Donald F. Dickerson Associates

Christine Rombouts is a communications consultant with Forest City and a freelance writer specializing in the design, development and sustainable industries.

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