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Greening Success Story:
The Presidio of San Francisco, California

The Presidio of San Francisco includes nearly 1,500 acres of land near San Francisco Bay. Used by military personnel as a garrison by Spain, Mexico, and finally the United States since 1776, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) in 1994. In 1996, Federal legislation created a nonprofit Federal government corporation, the Presidio Trust, to manage the new park.

At a Presidio greening charrette held in 1995, 125 participants began planning the future of the park, including elements of historic preservation. They formed a community team that included military tenants, new nonprofit tenants, and local community groups. The team members are committed to sustainability and to testing new technologies, among other greening elements. A nonprofit Presidio Alliance was formed that brings together individuals, nonprofits, and businesses to promote ecological integrity, social equity, and economic viability to achieve a sustainable future community of the Presidio.

Continuing the greening initiatives started by the NPS, the Presidio Trust is developing a sustainable development program that includes green buildings, water conservation, waste management, and transportation alternatives. This commitment ensures that, as the Presidio community grows, resource and environmental conservation practices are incorporated into everyday activities. By preparing for the future, the Presidio will provide an exceptional quality of life for visitors and tenants today and in the years to come.

The Thoreau Center for Sustainability, housed in the Presidio, is the first public/private partnership in a national park that combined sustainable design principles with historic design criteria in renovating four of the Presidio's buildings. Since its opening in April 1996, the Thoreau Center has been the home of the Tides Foundation, the Tides Center, Materials for the Future, the Energy Foundation, the Wilderness Society, and more than 20 other nonprofit organizations that are working directly on issues of social and environmental sustainability.

Building Energy

Several energy conservation measures have been implemented at the Presidio, from increasing daylighting in buildings to shutting down a wasteful, antiquated central steam plant. Energy-efficient package boilers are used in the rehabilitated buildings. Compact fluorescent lighting, task lighting, and occupancy sensors are also used. ENERGY STAR-rated appliances are specified, and a building-integrated skylight photovoltaic (solar electric) system was installed on one building. A demand-side management contract has helped to save money and energy, and energy audits are being conducted in buildings scheduled for rehabilitation.


Water-saving efforts include retrofitting plumbing systems with low-flow fixtures, switching to drip irrigation, and using drought-tolerant plants. The golf course uses satellite monitoring and weather monitoring to avoid overwatering. Pesticide use has been cut back, which is helping Mountain Lake to stay cleaner. The Presidio is also planning to use reclaimed water for irrigation from the City of San Francisco.


Public transportation is being developed. A new "quick-fill natural gas fill station" is used by NPS and Presidio Trust employees as cars and trucks are converted to CNG (compressed natural gas). Electric shuttles for internal use are also being considered. New tenants at the Presidio are required to develop a transportation plan as a condition for being a tenant. At the greening charrette, the transportation team requested that bicycle racks be installed throughout the park.

Solid Waste

The charrette's waste-reduction team identified the need for an on-site recycling center. A lease was signed with a recycling organization that began operating the center in April 1999. The San Francisco Conservation Corps is coordinating recycling collection, processing, and education. Public containers and office containers are being provided, as well as waste-reduction training.

In 1996, building removal at Crissy Field included a pilot deconstruction project. Buildings were dismantled board-by-board; the wood was sold primarily to local crafts people and builders. The Presidio's sustainability policy regarding rehabilitation, reuse, and recycling of buildings lists the following priorities: (1) adaptive reuse in place, (2)  moving the building, (3) deconstruction, and (4) demolition. The Presidio Trust will contract with a crew to salvage building materials. Concrete from the Letterman building was to be crushed and recycled as road base.

Additional efforts include the hiring of a compost specialist to coordinate park-wide composting and the establishment of a native plant nursery. The Presidio also uses recycled plastic wood for boardwalks and makes use of other recycled products and materials.

Building Design and Construction

The Presidio's staff and teams emphasize preservation rather than new construction. They are developing Sustainable Design and Building Guidelines that include goals and standards for new building and historic rehabilitation projects. One theme of the guidelines is to look for and preserve the "original intelligence" that may have been nearly renovated out of the buildings. Original intelligence refers to the original sustainable aspects of the building, such as natural ventilation and daylighting.

Site Planning and Landscaping

The natural resource area includes native plant revegetation and removal of exotic and non-native plants. An extensive native plant nursery has been established; drought-tolerant and native plants and grasses will be used extensively. The restoration of the Presidio's neglected, polluted Mountain Lake was an important focus of the greening charrette.

Pollution Prevention and Indoor Air Quality

A major park tenant, the Thoreau Center for Sustainability, has used low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials, natural floorings, cotton insulation, and recycled materials in the renovation of its facility. The Presidio Trust Sustainable Design and Building Guidelines will include air quality provisions.


Waste-reduction training is being developed for staff and tenants. Future plans call for further development of comprehensive sustainability education programs. Tenants who bring innovative technologies, education programs, and other benefits are actively sought.

For More Information, Contact:

Aimee Vincent
Sustainability Coordinator
Presidio Trust
P.O. Box 29052
(415) 561-5300

Director of Strategic Planning
National Park Service
Golden Gate National Park
(415) 561-4725
Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123

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