The Presidio Officers' Club, touted as San Francisco's most historic building and the center of the Presidio social scene for more than a century, bustled with life once again Tuesday at the reopening ceremony following a three-year renovation.
“Today, we celebrate and honor the cultures that have played a role in the Presidio over the centuries — Native Americans, Spanish explorers, Mexican soldiers, generations of United States soldiers and their families, and the community that has come together over the past two decades to create the Presidio that we now celebrate,” said Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio Trust, which manages the national park.
For much of the 20th century, the Officers' Club was an exclusive gathering place for military officers and their families. It also served as living quarters for Spanish and Mexican soldiers, barracks for the U.S. Army, a mess room and kitchen, laundresses' headquarters, post headquarters and other uses.
“It was a center of attraction for officers who were on post because that was the place you could go during the day for lunch [and] for dinner at night,” said Robert Menist, a retired Army major general who frequented the club from when he was a child in the early 1950s until 1994, when the Presidio was formally transferred from the Army to the National Park Service.
The 36,895-square-foot building overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge will celebrate its public opening next month. It will feature permanent and rotating interactive exhibits, along with a new restaurant, Arguello, by award-winning local chef Traci Des Jardins.
The Presidio Heritage Gallery, considered the club's centerpiece, includes multimedia displays that allow visitors to connect with the Presidio's history. Down the hall, the Mesa Room boasts the club's original adobe walls from around 1800. The club will also offer public events and programs, and there is space to host celebrations and meetings.
“The Officers' Club is the Presidio's new front door,” Middleton said. “And Moraga Hall, the beautiful hall with the fireplace, is the Presidio's new living room.”
Middleton, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, were among the speakers at Tuesday's event, which also featured a cannon fire salute by the 75th Pacific Division (training).
“There are endless layers of history throughout the club, starting with the front portion which was constructed by the Spanish colonists in 1776,” said Nancy Hellman Bechtle, chair of the Presidio Trust board of directors.
The public opening of the Officers' Club will be held Oct. 4-5 and will feature musical performances, activities for children and other programs.