The boundary wall for the Presidio at the intersection of Greenwich and Lyon streets. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Lacking political support, new Presidio gate project in limbo

A project meant to revive a long-bricked-over Presidio gate has died a quiet death.

A project meant to revive a long-bricked-over Presidio gate has died a quiet death.

San Franciscans who traverse the tree-lined national park may know its three historic entrances: The Lombard Gate, the Arguello Gate, and the Presidio Gate (at Presidio Boulevard).

But did you know there was a fourth gate?

That would be the Greenwich Gate, and starting in 1890 the gate served as an entrance to the clack-clack-clacking of San Francisco’s earliest streetcars.

But the roughly 26-foot-wide entrance was filled with bricks in 1950, lost to the Presidio’s history. Only a slender seam remains, visibly darker than the surrounding brick.

A boundary wall for the Presidio at the intersection of Greenwich and Lyon streets. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Now a years-long $900,000 effort to reopen the Presidio’s lost fourth gate is in limbo, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

“The word on Greenwich gate is that the project was put on hold indefinitely,” Lisa Petrie, a Presidio Trust spokesperson, confirmed to the Examiner. “The Trust is focusing on other infrastructure projects at this time.”

When asked if this project would be picked up again, Petrie answered “No current plans at all.”

The effort is bricked.

The project, which was estimated to at roughly $905,097 to complete, sports a comparatively tiny cost in the world of transportation infrastructure. The Examiner was unable to confirm how much funding was spent on the project before it was shelved.

If completed, it would create an entrance half the width of the original restored at the historic Greenwich Gate site. A 535-foot multi-use trail including a section for pedestrians and people on bikes would’ve been created at the entrance, connecting folks from Greenwich to Lombard Street inside the Presidio.

That’s a matter of safety, wrote staffers from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority in a 2016 report summarizing the project.

It would give a ready alternative for walkers and bicyclists from the Lombard Gate, which while only one block north, sees more vehicle traffic than any other Presidio gate — that’s 8,800 – 10,700 vehicles per day, a danger to the many pedestrians there. Lombard Street is also on The City’s Vision Zero High Injury network, a map of San Francisco’s deadliest streets.

Interestingly enough, the Greenwich Gate is just down the block from Supervisor Catherine Stefani’s home in the Cow Hollow neighborhood. She represents the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors.

Neighbors speaking to the Examiner said Stefani’s leadership on the project could’ve made the difference in leading the project to fruition through its various detractors — some of whom were apparently dog owners worried the new walkway would cut into the grassy section of the Presidio their canines enjoy.

In 2018 during her election to the District 2 supervisor seat, Stefani replied in a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition questionnaire that she had “no answer” to her position on the project, support or non-support. Nearly a year later, she told the Examiner “I have not taken a position on it yet.”

With safety in mind, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was incensed the project has been put on indefinite hold when informed by the Examiner Thursday.

“We are disappointed that a small, commonsense project to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to the Presidio was shelved,” said Melissa Lewis, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “It’s frustrating that such a small project requires political will. We’re grateful for the team at the Presidio Trust who put the proposal together and strongly advocated for this project. We hope that Supervisor Stefani and the SFMTA can work together to find a solution and bring it back.”

Marina denizens weren’t too happy either.

Liz Miller is a volunteer with Northern Neighbors, a relatively new urbanist group comprised of some transit and pedestrian-supporting neighbors in District 2, which includes the Cow Hollow/Marina. Miller said the group supports the Greenwich Gate.

“It would help pedestrian safety and freedom,” she said.

Charles Deffarges is a San Francisco native who grew up and lives in Presidio Heights. Though he once advocated for the project in a professional capacity with the bike coalition, he has since changed jobs.

Speaking now purely as a neighbor who grew up riding his bike in the Presidio, he said “there’s literally a wall around the Presidio. Any opportunity we have to break down that wall we should be taking,” he said, to connect people to more opportunities to walk and bike.

The Presidio Trust was mum on the source of the project’s opposition, as was Supervisor Stefani. Some neighbors who spoke to the Examiner recalled opposition from dog owners, as well as concern from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which would’ve had to relocate the 45-Union/Stockton and 41-Union bus stop, which terminates near the proposed gate and features facilities for drivers.

SFMTA did not return a request for comment.

Despite that transit trouble, originally the entrance was used for streetcars.

Track construction near the shops at Baker and Greenwich streets looking toward the Greenwich gate at the Presidio on July 20, 1907. (Courtesy SFMTA Photo Archive)

Run by the Presidio & Ferries Railway, that company was eventually purchased by Muni in 1913, said Rick Laubscher, a local transit historian and president of the Market Street Railway museum and nonprofit.

The D and E streetcar lines helped Cow Hollow rise as a neighborhood, spurred by the easy access to downtown. And the D streetcar line rolled straight through the Greenwich Gate.

Workers lay down track on a curve at Baker and Greenwich streets with the Presidio in the background on April 22, 1909. (Courtesy SFMTA Photo Archive)

But after World War II, streetcar lines began to disappear as San Francisco shifted its Muni fleet to buses. Tracks were pulled out of the concrete across The City.

“The gate was pretty much bricked up right away” after that, Laubscher said.

And now it may never return.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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