The new William Penn Mott, Jr. Presidio Visitor Center welcomes park goers inside San Francisco’s celebrated 1,500-acre urban national park and former military post. Situated on the Presidio’s historic Main Parade, the 7,500-square-foot visitor center, originally constructed in 1900 to serve as a military jailhouse, has been transformed into an inviting and engaging space.
The building’s character and interiors have been restored by removing decades of alterations that previously subdivided the building into a bank and post office. By reconstructing missing architectural features, the exterior was returned to its original state of dignified simplicity. Modern design elements and technology were also carefully integrated throughout to complete the adaptation of the historic jail. With exhibit design by Macchiatto, the visitor center now orients the public to the history, culture and geography of the Presidio.
Park goers approach the new visitor center via a porch that extends the front length of the building, where they can appreciate the generously proportioned area of military quarters and drill grounds. Inside, the first room is bright and airy, with white plaster walls, warm wood finishes and large arched windows that provide ample natural light and views of the green. The space’s main feature is a large topographic map of the Presidio, surrounded by touch screens, where visitors can plan their trips throughout the park. A large video wall presents upcoming events, weather and shuttle options, while an adjacent wall displays merchandise available for purchase.
The second room, formerly the jailhouse detention area, is now dedicated to interpretive stories about the Presidio. The space features the original barred windows, historic painted brick and wood floors inlayed to reveal the outline of the former jail cells—producing a more subdued, inward-looking quality. The centerpiece of the room is a large, interactive table that invites visitors to make connections between the people, places and things that previously existed within the park. Sweeping views of the surrounding Bay Area can be accessed from an enclosed perch, formerly a 1940s-era loading dock, located just off the space.
The Presidio is characterized by its wooded hills and scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. It was recognized as a California Historical Landmark in 1933 and as a National Historic Landmark in 1962. After 219 years of military use, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service and began its next phase of mixed commercial and public use. Its transformation is stewarded by three agencies: the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.