Inside San Francisco's Presidio: A 1,500-acre former US Army base turned National Park now home to 'Star Wars' creators and VC firms

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

The Presidio of San Francisco has something that the rest of the city doesn't: silence.

  • The Presidio of San Francisco is a 1,500-acre national park at the north end of the peninsula.
  • It's unusual compared to the rest of the city - you won't find brightly-colored Victorian homes, trendy coffee shops, or much of an indication of an urban environment.
  • Instead, the Presidio is blissfully quiet, smells like eucalyptus, and is filled with century-old red-roofed Mission-style homes that once housed soldiers stationed on what used to be a US Army base. They're available for rent, too.
  • The post is now populated by some residents and companies, like Peter Thiel's Founders Fund and Lucasfilm.
  • But remnants of the site's military past are still present, like an abandoned fort and a pet cemetery that was used by the army base's officers.
  • Take a look around the Presidio of San Francisco.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
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The Presidio is on the northern edge of San Francisco.

The Presidio is on the northern edge of San Francisco.

It has served as a military outpost for three different nations, starting with Spain in 1776.

It has served as a military outpost for three different nations, starting with Spain in 1776.

Source: SF Gate

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It eventually became under the control of the US military and was turned into a coveted Army post — soldiers were considered lucky to be stationed at the Presidio, according to SF Gate.

It eventually became under the control of the US military and was turned into a coveted Army post  — soldiers were considered lucky to be stationed at the Presidio, according to SF Gate.

Source: SF Gate

But then the Base Realignment and Closure Act in 1989 spelled the closing of the Army post, and the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.

But then the Base Realignment and Closure Act in 1989 spelled the closing of the Army post, and the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.

Source: National Park Service

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The Presidio National Park is unlike other national parks in the US — it's the only one that Congress requires to be financially self-sufficient without taxpayer assistance.

The Presidio National Park is unlike other national parks in the US — it's the only one that Congress requires to be financially self-sufficient without taxpayer assistance.

Source: Presidio

So the Presidio Trust, the federal agency in charge of running the park, went about restoring the red-bricked historic structures that would later make tenants out of residents, startups, tech offices, and organizations of 21st century San Francisco.

So the Presidio Trust, the federal agency in charge of running the park, went about restoring the red-bricked historic structures that would later make tenants out of residents, startups, tech offices, and organizations of 21st century San Francisco.
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On any given day, you'll find cyclists, walkers, and joggers regularly making use of the miles of trails throughout the site, as well as a small number of coyotes that roam the acreage. Coyote awareness signs are posted throughout the park.

On any given day, you'll find cyclists, walkers, and joggers regularly making use of the miles of trails throughout the site, as well as a small number of coyotes that roam the acreage. Coyote awareness signs are posted throughout the park.

Source: KQED

The paths, with their overhanging eucalyptus trees, are right at the doorstep of lucky residents that live in the former military homes.

The paths, with their overhanging eucalyptus trees, are right at the doorstep of lucky residents that live in the former military homes.
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There are 23 different residential neighborhoods of apartments and homes available for lease spread out across the park.

There are 23 different residential neighborhoods of apartments and homes available for lease spread out across the park.

Source: Presidio

According to SF Gate, snagging one of them can be like finding a rental anywhere in San Francisco, but there are longer waitlists for certain areas of the Presidio.

According to SF Gate, snagging one of them can be like finding a rental anywhere in San Francisco, but there are longer waitlists for certain areas of the Presidio.

Source: SF Gate

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One of the more expensive homes in the Presidio comes with seven bedrooms and is rented out with a bidding process, with the initial bid starting at $18,500 a month according to SF Gate.

One of the more expensive homes in the Presidio comes with seven bedrooms and is rented out with a bidding process, with the initial bid starting at $18,500 a month according to SF Gate.

Source: SF Gate

Some of the buildings have been filled by offices too — the private equity firm VMG Partners and software company Revinate call the Presidio home.

Some of the buildings have been filled by offices too — the private equity firm VMG Partners and software company Revinate call the Presidio home.
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The Presidio's biggest tenant is Lucasfilm, the legendary production company behind the beloved Star Wars franchise, on the eastern edge of the park.

The Presidio's biggest tenant is Lucasfilm, the legendary production company behind the beloved Star Wars franchise, on the eastern edge of the park.

Source: Presidio and San Francisco Chronicle

It was built in 2005 on the site of a decommissioned Army hospital.

It was built in 2005 on the site of a decommissioned Army hospital.

Source: Presidio and San Francisco Chronicle

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This is now the headquarters for Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

This is now the headquarters for Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Source: Presidio

Lucas chose a San Francisco location for the headquarters to allow closer collaboration between special effects teams and computer game developers, according to SF Gate.

Lucas chose a San Francisco location for the headquarters to allow closer collaboration between special effects teams and computer game developers, according to SF Gate.

Source: SF Gate

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Many a Star Wars fan has ventured here to catch a glimpse of the memorabilia on display inside the lobby.

Many a Star Wars fan has ventured here to catch a glimpse of the memorabilia on display inside the lobby.

Though heads up — this is as far as the public can go. There aren't tours through the rest of the building.

Though heads up — this is as far as the public can go. There aren't tours through the rest of the building.

Source: Presidio

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A couple of doors down is home to one of Silicon Valley's head honchos in the venture capital arena. Peter Thiel's Founders Fund is credited, among other feats, with backing companies like SpaceX and Airbnb in their early stages.

A couple of doors down is home to one of Silicon Valley's head honchos in the venture capital arena. Peter Thiel's Founders Fund is credited, among other feats, with backing companies like SpaceX and Airbnb in their early stages.

Source: Business Insider

Both Lucasfilm and the Founders Fund back up to a sprawling park with grassy hills and a duck-filled pond.

Both Lucasfilm and the Founders Fund back up to a sprawling park with grassy hills and a duck-filled pond.
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Three of San Francisco's signature landmarks are seen from this vantage point. A quick turn of the head to the left, and there's the Golden Gate Bridge.

Three of San Francisco's signature landmarks are seen from this vantage point. A quick turn of the head to the left, and there's the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can see the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts looming large just a few yards away.

You can see the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts looming large just a few yards away.
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And beyond the Palace of Fine Arts is Alcatraz, what was once a maximum-security island prison.

And beyond the Palace of Fine Arts is Alcatraz, what was once a maximum-security island prison.

Source: National Park Service

A short jaunt to the west is the Main Post, the heart of the Presidio even back when the Army roamed these parts.

A short jaunt to the west is the Main Post, the heart of the Presidio even back when the Army roamed these parts.

Source: Presidio

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The Main Post Lawn is where platoons would carry out their training sessions.

The Main Post Lawn is where platoons would carry out their training sessions.

Source: Presidio

They lived in the barracks that line the lawn. Now they're filled with offices, like the Presidio Trust.

They lived in the barracks that line the lawn. Now they're filled with offices, like the Presidio Trust.
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And the Walt Disney Family Museum fills one, too. It's been here since 2009 showcasing exhibits that catalog the life and accomplishments of the beloved producer.

And the Walt Disney Family Museum fills one, too. It's been here since 2009 showcasing exhibits that catalog the life and accomplishments of the beloved producer.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Big offices may have moved in, but the Presidio still has an iron grip on how the historic acreage is used.

Big offices may have moved in, but the Presidio still has an iron grip on how the historic acreage is used.
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On the western side of the Presidio is Fort Scott, which is basically an army base within an army base.

On the western side of the Presidio is Fort Scott, which is basically an army base within an army base.

It's sat mostly abandoned for years until recently when the Presidio Trust launched a development process recruiting organizations to submit proposals that could revitalize the land.

It's sat mostly abandoned for years until recently when the Presidio Trust launched a development process recruiting organizations to submit proposals that could revitalize the land.
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The vision for the fort was for it to be a "campus for change," with its operations serving a higher purpose through social and environmental problem-solving.

The vision for the fort was for it to be a "campus for change," with its operations serving a higher purpose through social and environmental problem-solving.

Now-embattled WeWork and the Elon Musk-founded OpenAI were among the organizations that submitted a joint proposal to build on the fort.

Now-embattled WeWork and the Elon Musk-founded OpenAI were among the organizations that submitted a joint proposal to build on the fort.
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But the Trust rejected the proposal, citing that it was dismissive of the overall humanitarian vision for the land. The fort will continue to sit untouched until the Trust gradually develops it itself.

But the Trust rejected the proposal, citing that it was dismissive of the overall humanitarian vision for the land. The fort will continue to sit untouched until the Trust gradually develops it itself.

Read more: WeWork and an Elon Musk-founded company wanted to turn an abandoned San Francisco US Army post into a $200 million 'campus for change'. Here's why it'll never happen.

Fort Scott isn't the only remaining piece of the Presidio's military history.

Fort Scott isn't the only remaining piece of the Presidio's military history.
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To the north of the fort, nestled underneath the freeway, is the Presidio Pet Cemetery, open to the public.

To the north of the fort, nestled underneath the freeway, is the Presidio Pet Cemetery, open to the public.

Source: Presidio

This is where military personnel and their families laid their furry friends to rest. There are over 400 tombstones with names like Laddie and Schmelly inscribed on them.

This is where military personnel and their families laid their furry friends to rest. There are over 400 tombstones with names like Laddie and Schmelly inscribed on them.

Source: Presidio

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There are even pet fish buried here.

There are even pet fish buried here.

There's no official founding date for the pet cemetery, but newspaper reports on the site date back to the early 1950s, according to the Presidio website.

There's no official founding date for the pet cemetery, but newspaper reports on the site date back to the early 1950s, according to the Presidio website.

Source: Presidio

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The pets may be long-gone, but their final resting place sits with some of the most gorgeous views of the city sprawled out before them.

The pets may be long-gone, but their final resting place sits with some of the most gorgeous views of the city sprawled out before them.