Origin of the name 'Fort Mason'?

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I am researchin a translation of a book that is set in San Fransisco and would like to know more about the history of the Fort Mason area. Was this a fort used in war? an army camp? or something else? What was the status of the Fort Mason region in the late 70's?


-- Ronen Altman (shred@barak-online.net), March 13, 2001


Fort Mason is named for Col. Richard Barnes Mason, the U.S. Army's first military governor of California after its 'conquest' in 1846. The government originally claimed the area in 1850 as a site for future fortifications and named it "Point San Jose Military Reservation," but then failed to occupy it with troops. As a result, squatters moved into the area and built substantial homes. Residents called the area "Black Point" for many years.

When the Army finally decided to fortify the point during the Civil War they evicted these occupants and turned their homes into officer's quarters. The little post was armed from 1864 until 1909 but never saw battle. (San Francisco has never been attacked.) The Army officially renamed the post "Fort Mason" in 1882.

Fort Mason's was headquarters for the Army Transportation Command's "San Francisco Port of Embarcation" from the 1910s until the early 1960s. This facility shipped troops and supplies to the Philippines, Hawaii, Canal Zone, and other Pacific areas. During World War II, the fort was also the command headquarters for all troop and material shipping along the west coast. During the war, millions of men and tens of millions of tons of cargo moved through Fort Mason's piers and through its subpost at Oakland Army Terminal.

In the early 1960s, all ships and cargo activities moved to Oakland but the military's command functions and staff residences remained at Fort Mason. In the early 1970s title to the fort transferred to the new Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (That's when I worked there.) From the mid-1970s onwards the fort gradually evolved from military use to civilian recreation: the Army administrative workers moved to Oakland; park staff occupied the old Port of Embarcation headquarters building; empty structures were demolished and the areas relandscaped; and the old transport piers and warehouses at "lower" Fort Mason were converted into the Fort Mason Center for the Arts.

Hope this is useful.

-- John Martini (jamartini@earthlink.net), March 13, 2001.

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