California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts
Fort Baker
(Lime Point Military Reservation, Fort at Lime Point)
by Gordon Chappell
Regional Historian, Pacific West Region
National Park Service

The history of coast defense weaponry from the American acquisition of California in 1848 to the end of such systems a century later is the history of increasing range and accuracy of the guns. When the first American fort was built to guard the Golden Gate, the strait which is the sole entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the largest and most powerful guns had a range of a little over two miles, or barely twice the width of the strait. Hence the early defenses were located at the narrowest part of the strait and at harbor points just inside which commanded the entrance, such as Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, Fort Mason and, later, the Presidio. As time passed and the trend continued toward guns of increasing accuracy and longer and longer ranges, the inner harbor points tended progressively to be abandoned in favor of emplacements for newer and larger guns which were built farther and farther westward toward the sea, climaxing with the installation of the 16-inch guns, largest and last permanent batteries to be built, as far north as Fort Cronkhite, four miles northwest of the Golden Gate, and as far south as Fort Funston, six and a half miles southwest of the Golden Gate, yet with their mission still to defend that strait. By that time the range of the largest guns had increased from a little over two miles in the 1850s to roughly 26 miles in the 1940s.

Similarly the history of the forts which housed the men to man these guns was a history of westward movement toward the ocean. On the San Francisco shore this meant at first Fort Point, Fort Mason, and the Presidio which lay between them. But as the new long range gun batteries began to be built in the 1890s, there was a progression seaward, first to Fort Winfield Scott which comprised the hitherto undeveloped western portion of the Presidio, then to the Point Lobos Military Reservation farther west and south, where battery construction in 1899 was followed by renaming of the reservation Fort Miley in 1900, then to the Lake Merced Military Reservation about six miles southwest of the Golden Gate, renamed Fort Funston in 1917 and destined to be-the location of the first 16-inch guns in San Francisco's defenses.

On the north or Marin County shore a similar progression began with the old Lime Point Military Reservation established in 1850 being transformed in 1897 into Fort Baker, followed by the creation of Fort Barry to the west in 1904 as the-garrisons followed the big guns seaward, concluded by construction of 16-inch Battery Townsley roughly four miles northwest of the Golden Gate in 1937 and the creation that same year of Fort Cronkhite to house its gun crews.


Lime Point Military Reserveation

The Lime Point Military Reservation was set aside by President Millard Fillmore in 1850 as the site for a strong defense fortification across the-strait from Fort Point, which had been recommended by the first board of officers to study defense of San Francisco Bay. But the reservation was beset by long litigation for acquisition of land, and it was not until 1866 that the government acquired title.' The Civil War was over, and in passing had seen many demonstrations of the vulnerability of forts of the Fort Point type to the shells fired by rifled artillery. Plans nevertheless continued to be drawn for a counterpart to Fort Point at the base of Lime Point, and Major George Mendell undertook blasting of the cliffs three times in 1868 and 1869 to begin preparing a shelf near sea level similar to that on which Fort Point stood for construction of a similar multi-tiered brick and masonry casemated fort. But the project went no farther than this preliminary blasting. Instead, between, 1872 and 1876, barbette batteries were constructed at Point Cavallo (Battery Cavallo), on the ridge above Lime Point (Cliff and Ridge Batteries), and on Gravelly Beach to the west (Gravelly Beach Battery). These consisted generally of brick and concrete emplacements behind breast-height walls over which the guns were to fire, protected by massive earthworks to the-front and over the brick and concrete magazines and traverses between the gun emplacements. The only 'garrison' buildings on the Lime Point Military Reservation were barracks-like quarters for construction crews, storehouses, and offices, all built on the west side of Horseshoe Bay (today immediately beneath the northern trestle approach to the Golden Gate Bridge). At least five wood-framed, gable-roofed buildings stood there for many years, but are gone now.


Fort Baker

Plans were drawn up in 1890 by a Board of Engineers for modern Endicott-type batteries stretching on this northern shore from Point Cavallo westward to Point Bonita. Construction soon began on Battery Spencer (transferred from the Engineers to the Artillery in 1897), Batteries Kirby and Duncan (both finished in 1900), and Battery Orlando Wagner (completed in 1901). To man these batteries, the Lime Point Military Reservation was renamed Fort Baker in 1897, and Battery I, Third Artillery, established a tent camp there as the first garrison. Construction began in 1901 on the first eleven permanent buildings, including two duplex officers' quarters, barracks for one company of artillery, a post hospital, a guardhouse, a bakery, storehouses, and other structures. More buildings were-added as time passed, including a large World War II temporary frame hospital down near the beach at the foot of the parade ground, completed in October 1941and in the process of demolition in 1981. Other temporary structures brought the total number of buildings in Fort Baker to 159 by mid-December of 1942. Most of these temporary buildings are now gone, but the complex of older permanent structures, built mostly between 1901 and 1910, is largely intact today (1981), and most are still occupied by resident army officers or provide offices and other space for the Western Region Recruiting Command and the 91st Division (Training)'. The Presidio Yacht Club is also at Fort Baker.

The historic buildings are grouped together in four contiguous complexes. Facing the Parade Ground, clockwise from the southwest, are Bldg. 407 whose age and original function are unknown, Officers' Quarters 631 and 629 (completed June 1904), 607 (finished in May 1903). 606 and 605 (both built 1901-1902), the Commanding Officer's Quarters (built in 1902-1903), Post Headquarters (completed in May 1903), Artillery Barracks No. 601 (completed May 1903) and 602 (completed in August 1902), the Post Exchange and Gymnasium (built in 1903-1904 with the 1915 addition of a bowling alley), a brick artillery barracks No. 636 (completed in May 1907), and the Guardhouse, Bldg. 615 (built in 1901-1902).

Behind the head of the Parade Ground are the Post Hospital 533 and Hospital Steward's Quarters No. 523 (both completed in August 1902) as well as senior Non-Commissioned Officers' Quarters 523 (completed August 1902), 527 and 529 (both finished in June 1904), 530 and 531 (both built in 1908-1909).

To the southeast of the Parade Ground, on both sides of the road to Battery Yates, are various service buildings: Bakery No. 557 (built August 1902, enlarged 1.908), Quartermaster & Commissary Storehouse No. 559. (August 1902), Wagon Shed 561 (c. 1903); Pumphouse 671 (c. 1902), Commissary Storehouse 637 (1908), Blacksmith Shop 644 'and Carpenter & Paint Shop 645 (both finished in March 1910), and Ordnance Storehouse 645 (built during World War I in 1918).

Southwest of the Parade Ground is the Submarine Mine Depot, consisting of the Mine Wharf (1937' and Mine Storehouse 407, Mine Cable Tank Building 670, Mine Power House 409, Mine Explosives Magazines 410 and 411, and the Mine Loading Rooms, Bldg. 412, all of which were built in 1941.

The historic timbered tunnel between Forts Baker and Barry was built in 1917-1918 and later enlarged and concreted in 1935-1937.

All of these historic buildings are proposed by the National Park Service for preservation.

Postscript

Since the above article was written in in 1981, very little changed at Fort Baker until 2000 when the final uniformed elements of the US Army left the Presidio complex. In that year units of the US Army Reserve's 91st Division (Training Support) moved to Camp Parks. Today Fort Baker is another unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Today, the US Coast Guard maintains a station at Fort Baker's former Mine Depot


Batteries at Lime Point Military Reservation

 Glavelly Beach

 12

 Rifled Smoothbores
 Pintle Mounted Barbette Carriage

 1870

1876

 1898 (1)

 Cliff

 2

 Rifled Smoothbores
 Pintle Mounted Barbette Carriage

 1870

-

 1898 (2)

 Ridge

 4

 Rifled Smoothbores
 Pintle Mounted Barbette Carriage

 1870

1876

 1901 (3)

 Cavallo

 17

 Rifled Smoothbores
 Pintle Mounted Barbette Carriage

 1872

1876

 1905 (4)

(1) The Army emplaced one 15-inch Rodman at Gravely Beach in 1873, but the battery was never actually "in service" since there was no garrison at Fort Baker until the late 1890s. The gun's position was obliterated circa 1900 during construction of Battery Kirby. Today, only one magazine remains of the Gravelly Beach Battery .
(2) Cliff Battery was located at the extreme tip of Lime Point Ridge. It was totally demolished during construction of Battery Spencer. It was never armed.
(3) Ridge Battery consisted of four 15-inch Rodman emplacements located mid-way along the ridge and more than a hundred yards north of Cliff Battery/Battery Spencer. It was first armed in 1893 with four 15-inch Rodman smoothbores transferred from the Presidio of San Francisco. (They were dismounted at Fort Scott to make way for construction of Battery Cranston and Marcus Miller.) Ridge Battery was disarmed circa 1909. It wasn't affected by the construction of Cliff Battery, and its four positions are still visible as you walk up the "covered way" to Battery Spencer.
(4) Battery Cavallo wasn't armed until 1900 when three 8-inch converted Rodman rifles were installed to cover the minefield in front of Alcatraz. These guns were also removed circa 1905.
 
Batteries at Fort Baker

 Spencer

 3

 12 Inch M1888

 M1892 Barbette

 1893

1897

 1943 (1)

 Kirby

 2

 12 Inch M1894

 M1897 Disappearing

 1900

-

 1941 (1)

Duncan

 2

 8 Inch M1888

 M1892 Barbette

 1898

-

1917

Wagner

 2

 5 Inch M1896

 M1896 Ballanced Pillar

 1901

-

 1917

 Yates

 6

 3 Inch M1902

 M1902 Ballanced Pillar

 1903

1905

 1943 (2)

 Gravelly Beach

 2

 3 Inch M1902

M1902 Ballanced Pillar

1942

1942

 1943 (2)

 Gravelly Beach

4

90mm M1

 Fixed M3 and Mobile M1

1943

 -

 -
 
(1) Battery Chester had one gun removed in 1918. It was replaced by a gun from Battery Spencer in 1918. One gun was removed from Battery Kirby in the 1920s.
(2) Four guns from Battery Yates were removed in 1942. Two were emplaced on top of old Fort Point and two were emplaced at Gravelly Beach, for use as Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat guns. Later the Gravely Beach guns were also moved to Fort Point.
 

Fort Baker 1925
 
 
Fort Baker Today
 

 Enlisted Barracks and Parade Ground. October 2000
 

Officers Quarters, October 2000 
 

 US Coast Guard Station, October 2000

For more information of Fort Baker, click on the National Park Service's Fort Baker WEBSITE

Originally Published in 1981 for the annual meeting of the Council on Abandoned Military Posts. Reprinted with permission of the author

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