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San Francisco Military Base Hospital Reborn as Apartments

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.




All photos: Perkins+Will

About five years ago, the former Public Health Service Hospital in San Francisco's Presidio was a dump. Shuttered since the 1980s, the building had bashed windows, graffiti-coated walls, and medical equipment strewn throughout. On top of that, the hospital was reputably haunted and an abandoned cemetery sat nearby. Today the complex where seamen once recovered and drug addicts got high has been rehabilitated into the Presidio Landmark apartments, chic homes that rent for as much as $8,000 a month.

In 1776, Spain established the Presidio military installation at the southern entry into San Francisco Bay. Mexico took over the base for a couple decades before the United States assumed control in 1846. The Presidio served as a strategic training and staging area during the Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. When America wasn't at war, San Franciscans meandered around the Presidio's park-like, 1,500-acre grounds. Congress voted to close the installation in 1989, and the Presidio was subsequently transferred to the National Park Service and became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Next, the Presidio Trust was formed to pilot the public-private partnership to redevelop the buildings and achieve financial self sufficiency—a goal it has since reached. Thus far, 75 percent of the Presidio's 433 historic buildings have been converted to new uses such as offices, museums, and residences.

The Presidio Landmark was the largest project. The seven-story complex opened as a hospital in 1932, shortly before construction commenced on the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. Daringly named Building 1801, it was designed in the Georgian Revival style and laid out in the shape of an anchor to pay homage to the mariners who filled its 480 beds. The hospital was built near a 600-grave cemetery that was forgotten by the time it was covered in construction rubble during the hospital's expansion in the 1950s.

The Public Health Service Hospital closed in 1981 as part of government cuts. Afterward, the Army's Defense Language Institute and a medical research center were based in a portion of the hulking facility until 1989. But the building mostly sat untouched, some of its state-of-the-art early 1980s medical devices still in boxes. In the intervening years, squatters made themselves at home; graffiti painters used the long hallways as their galleries; and ghost hunters sought spirits in the operating rooms and morgue.

Meanwhile, plans for Presidio Landmark's reincarnation were under way. The Presidio Trust selected Forest City Enterprises to redevelop the hospital into residences, and architectural firm Perkins+Will drew up the plans. Work on the $71M project began in 2008. After some back and forth, Perkins+Will decided to hack off the bulky wings added to the building's south end in the 1950s, because they detracted from the original design. In turn, three additional stories were stacked on top of the four-story north wing. Craftsmen reinstated the broken terra cotta and replaced damaged limestone in kind. They also mended the original red tile roof, and repaired 80 percent of the mullioned windows. The copper gutters also were reconstructed; they had long ago been swiped. Inside, the elegant lobby and six-story staircase, complete with marble walls and crown moldings, were restored. The 154 units are divided into one- and two-bedroom apartments that range in size from 400 to 1,500 square feet. The former morgue has been sanitized of its macabre past use and now includes a catering room, gym, yoga studio, and wine cellar. No word on whether a ghost has indulged in someone's Cabernet.



The Presidio Landmark is perched on a bluff and is surrounded by grassy fields, which affords views of the city and Pacific Ocean. A trails network links the apartments to the rest of the Presidio. The burials to the north, rediscovered in 1989, are marked by a plaque and are part of a roped-off dune restoration area—a more dignified finally resting place than the landfill that was once there. The other structures in the Presidio's Public Health Service District also have new tenants. The doctor's houses are now single-family homes and duplexes; the nurses' quarters contain offices; and the laundry building is home to Arion Press, a book printer.

So just how much does it cost to live in a national park four miles from downtown San Francisco? As of this writing, available one bedrooms in the Presidio Landmark range from about $2,700 to $4,300 a month, and a two bedroom is available for $6,000 a month.

· All coverage of The Presidio Landmark [Curbed SF]
· Presidio Landmark [official site]
· Presidio Landmark [Perkins+Will]
· Public Health Service District [The Presidio]
The Presidio's Historic Public Health Service Hospital has Been Recycled into Luxury Apartments [National Parks Traveler]