California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
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Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts:
The Posts at San Francisco's Point San Jose
(Bateria San Jose, Bateria Yerba Buena, Point San Jose Military Reservation, Post at Point San Jose, Fort Mason)
by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (Retired)
Executive Director, Council on America's Military Past
Fort Mason today.  Photo courtesy of the US Park ServiceNine points of the law or not, possession had little effect in 1863 when the Army decided that it needed Point San Jose. Squatters who had moved into the reservation within the past decade, building, renting, mortgaging, and selling the property without regard for legal titles, were told they would have to go.

Fresh in the memories of some Army men was the furor when Captain E. D. Keyes cleared squatters from Rincon Point in 1853. That episode had resulted in a civil trial. Although the suit was dismissed by the judge, Keyes was told by a juror that the jury probably would have found Keyes guilty in sympathy for the "underdog" squatters.
This had subdued Army enthusiasm for clearing Point San Jose. As General Irvin McDowell summarized the situation, "Combinations of land-grabbers and land-jumpers so harassed this officer that he wrote in despair that he could not protect the government property, and in one of his letters reports: 'They have seized on Point San Jose and have it in complete possession."

The military value of the point was admitted as early as 1797. That was when "Bateria San Jose" was constructed at the tip of the point. It was also known as "Battery at Yerba Buena." Five brass 8-pounder cannon were put in earthworks that were hastily dug and covered with brush wood fascines. Instead of a permanent garrison, a sentinel was to visit the place every day.

By 1806 this practice must have stopped. An inspection by the governor noted that the battery had been neglected. "There was not even a hut for the gunners and the guns were rendered useless by exposure," it pointed out.

The sand hills and scrub brush gradually reclaimed the area. By the time that Mexico took over San Francisco in 1822, the site was known as Black Point because of the dark underbrush that covered everything.

Although the United States quickly asserted its ownership of the Point as early as 1850, nothing in the military line was done to use it. An 1856 report on Bay defenses suggested that a permanent battery should be constructed at Point San Jose. It should be "in barbette with earthen parapet, breast height of bricks, a small magazine, and a brick building for ordnance stores and a guardhouse," the report recommended. "It should mount 20 guns."

This recommendation was repeated in 1862, but it was with some hesitancy that the Army took action. Large, well-built residences had been erected by citizens on Black Point, shrubbery and fences had been laid out, and taxes had been paid to the city in accordance with their assessments. Even John Fremont had paid an estimated $40,000 for a frame cottage and 12 acres on the Point. He had rented the place to a friend in 1861 when be went East for Army service.

Then at 6 a.m. on October 3, 1863, General George Wright received a telegram from the War Department. "The Secretary of War directs that you take military possession of Point San Jose," it said, "and erect the battery proposed for its defense. The question of ownership will be determined later."

A few days later a company of the 9th Infantry was ordered to Point San Jose to "take and hold military possession of such land as necessary for the erection of batteries. Almost immediately complaints were heard from occupants. The first was that the soldiers had destroyed some shrubbery.
Shrubbery removal was not the least of the Army efforts, however. The houses were commandeered and those in the way of the engineers' plans were removed or leveled. Fremont's cottage was razed, touching off a series of legal disputes that went as far as the United States Supreme Court.
When the Court determined that the property belonged to the United States "whether or not they were by sufficient authority appropriate for public use," the Fremont family brought suit for damages. From a $250,000 claim in 1866, the suit was refiled for a million dollars in 1893. When nothing was done on it for 14 more years, it was thrown out of court.
The 12-gun battery was placed on tile western brow of the point, in position to intersect the fires from Alcatraz. An estimated need for 100 artillery-men to man them was made in 1864. One company of infantrymen from the 9th Regiment was the garrison until late in 1864 when a battery of the 3rd Artillery was transferred from Alcatraz. In March, 1865, the post became the headquarters of the 9th Infantry Regiment, a non-artillery role that was to hint of the future.
Along with the other Bay forts, San Jose's troopers devoted more of their attention to settling civil problems than with defending the harbor from Confederate attack. And as the Civil War ended, the squatter problem once again raised its head.
An inspection on June 6, 1865, revealed, "Certain citizens have possession of a part of the military reservation at Point San Jose (Black Point) . . If the present Occupants are allowed to retain undisputed possession of this highly valuable property any longer, it may cost the government a large sum to dispossess them."
Called Fort Mason since 1882, the Post at Point San Jose is on Van Ness Avenue at Bay Street. Although its transportation depot functions were closed in 1964, its historic residences have been retained by Army, and later the National Park Service, and have been marked.
After the fort's artillery functions ended, it became quartermaster depot, then a supply and transportation center through 23 million tons of cargo and a million troops were deployed in World War II. In 1906 it was a refugee camp for victims of San Francisco earthquake. Hundreds were fed and housed. In a single night six babies were born in the camp.
Former Noncommissioned Officer Quarters
This page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West, published in 1965
History of Fort Mason
by Dan Sebby
Director and Curator, California State Military Museum
In 1797, the El Real Ejército de California (Royal Spanish Army of California) established a coastal defense artillery battery known as Bateria San Jose (Saint Joseph’s Battery) as a sub-post of El Castillo de San Joaquin (The Castle of Saint Joachim) which was located at the present site of the Fort Point National Historic Site. The mission of the battery was to protect the La Yerba Buena anchorage (today’s Aquatic Park area).

By 1806, the battery fell into disrepair due to a lack of maintenance. The Spanish Governor of Alta California (Upper California), José Joaquín de Arrillaga’s inspection report read, “There was not even a hut for the gunners and the guns were rendered useless by exposure”.

In 1821, under the terms of the Treaty of Cordova, which established a monarchy separate from that of Spain, Alta California became a province of the Mexican Empire. In 1823, the empire became a republic known as the United Mexican States (also known as the Republic of Mexico or United States of Mexico;

In 1835, in order to counter the perceived military and commercial threat from the Russian colony at Fort Ross, Mexican forces abandoned military installations in what is now San Francisco. At that time, Commandante-General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo edeployed these forces north to the new El Presidio de Sonoma

With the conquest in 1846 of the land now known as San Francisco by United States forces under Captain John C. Fremont, a survey was conducted to determine possible defensive works to protect the harbor. There is no record of the condition of the Bateria at the time of the American occupation, but the area was so overgrown with brush that it was called “Black Point.” Historical sources stated that the fortifications were allowed to deteriorate under the Mexican administration. However, the survey recognized the strategic importance of the Site, and the U.S. Army recommended that the point be reserved for future military use.

When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded Alta California to the United States of America in 1848, the military government of California began organizing civil government and institutions in preparation for eventual civilian rule. One of the first missions for the military administration was to develop a system in which private and public lands would be administered and what areas would be reserved for military and naval uses.

With the discovery of gold in Coloma, California, in 1848 and the influx of “49ers” into San Francisco, a great deal of strain was placed on the military government to secure the planned military reservations. Deserters from the U.S. Army and the large number of squatters looking for any vacant land to pitch a tent made it impossible for the local commanders to keep the military reservation secured. Occasionally, an officer with a squad of soldiers would evict the squatters only to have them return when the detail left.

On 6 November 1850, President Millard Fillmore issued a Presidential Order withdrawing from the public domain five parcels of land to be used for military purposes:
On 31 December 1851, President Fillmore issued another Presidential Order establishing the Point San Jose Military Reservation, separate from the Presidio of San Francisco. This order described the reservation as being all land within an 800-yard radius of the northern extremity of Point San Jose. This area consisted of 120.50 acres.

Despite the fact that Point San Jose was a military reservation, starting in 1853, civilians began moving onto it without challenge from military authorities and began treating it as private property. Several substantial private homes were built on the Site over a 10-year period. In 1859, John C. Fremont, now a wealthy businessman, former State Senator, and Republican Presidential candidate, bought the northernmost of the homes on a 12-acre lot from a local banker, Mark Brunigen, and moved there with his family. With the start of the Civil War in 1861, Fremont reentered the U.S. Army as a Major General.

Later that same year, General Fremont’s family moved from their fine home on Point San Jose to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri to be with the General, who was now commanding the U.S. Army’s Western Department.

By 1863, the military situation in the Far West had changed. A Confederate privateer was raiding the Union merchant fleet in the Pacific, and rumors that Southern sympathizers were organizing in San Francisco caused the U.S. Army to strengthen its defenses of San Francisco, including the occupation and fortification of Point San Jose. When the plans became public, there was an outcry from the residents of Site and neighboring San Franciscans. Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered that the Site be occupied immediately and that the legal formalities would be settled later.

The Corps of Engineers immediately set about constructing two 6-gun batteries. The West Battery mounted M-1861 10-inch Rodman smoothbore cannons and the East Battery mounted 42-pounder banded rifles. Each battery also had a covered powder magazine.

In the process of building the East Battery, the house belonging to General Fremont was razed. Four other homes were retained as officer’s quarters and three remain in use on the Site today, although they have been heavily modified, or in one case, moved (i.e., Building 2 was moved to its present location during the construction of Building 1).

During the 1860s and 1870s, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps built barracks, additional officer and noncommissioned officer quarters, and support buildings. Many of these buildings remain and are still in use today.

With the conclusion of the Civil War, many of the parties who were evicted from their homes in 1863 began filing suits against the Government. Most of these plaintiffs gave up, especially when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against one of the petitioners in 1867. By ruling in favor of the Government in the case of Grisar v. McDowell, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the Government’s title to the land based on the two Presidential Orders issued by President Fillmore.

Despite this ruling, the descendents of John C. Fremont continued to seek compensation for their loss through legislative means and the courts. The last attempt came in 1969 when the Fremont family filed suit against the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of the General Services Administration. The case was dismissed later that same year.

On 1 July 1870, as a result of an Act of Congress, the reservation was reduced to roughly its present boundaries. With this reduction, the Reservation measured 55.5 acres and fit into a parcel bounded by Van Ness Street to the east, Bay Street to the south, and Laguna Street to the west. This action was announced in War Department General Order 87, dated 19 July 1870.
On 25 November 1882, War Department General Order 133 redesignated Point San Jose Military Reservation as Fort Mason. This action was to honor Brevet Brigadier General Richard Barnes Mason, Commander of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons and the fifth military governor of California (1847–1849).

From the end of the Civil War until 1906, very little changed at Fort Mason. The post was garrisoned by several artillery, infantry, and engineer units, and served as the home for several of the Commanding Generals of the Department of California and the Pacific Division. Some of the most famous officers of the post-Civil War U.S. Army resided on the Site. Among the U.S. Army’s leaders who served at Fort Mason were Lieutenant General Phillip H. Sheridan (1883 and 1886), Major General Nelson A. Miles (1888–1890), Brigadier General William Shafter (1899–1901), Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur (1903–1905 and 1906–1907; his son, General Douglas MacArthur, also lived at the post in 1930), and Brigadier General Frederick Funston (1906–1908).

Unlike the Presidio of San Francisco and Angel Island, the Spanish-American War (1898) and Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902) had little effect on Fort Mason. An emergency battery was built to defend against a feared Spanish attack that mounted two 8-inch rifles. This battery was, for the most part, the extent of Fort Mason’s participation in the war.

In 1890, the Board of Fortifications, chaired by former Secretary of War William C. Endicott, recommended that three modern Coast Artillery batteries be built at Fort Mason. However, only one of these batteries was built in 1899 and named Battery Burnham in honor of Lieutenant Howard Burnham who was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. The battery was armed in 1900 with a single 8-inch breech loading rifle on a disappearing carriage. The battery remained in service until 1909 when it was disarmed. With the inactivation of Battery Burnham, Fort Mason’s role as a harbor defense installation ended after 46 years of service.

The next phase in the history of Fort Mason was caused not from an act of war, but an act of nature. At 5:15 a.m. on 18 April 1906, the San Francisco Earthquake struck, devastating the city. U.S. Army activities in downtown San Francisco, such as the headquarters for both the Department of California in the Phelan Building and the Pacific Division in the Grant Building, as well as numerous leased warehouses of the San Francisco General Depot, were destroyed by the earthquake.

With Major General Adolpus Greely, Commanding General of the Pacific Division, on leave, Brigadier General Frederick Funston, Commanding General of the Department of California and Acting Division Commander rushed to General Greely’s quarters on Fort Mason to establish a command post. General Funston, without authority from the War Department, mobilized over 1,400 federal troops from U.S. Army posts in the San Francisco area and throughout the West .

Fort Mason’s garrison, Companies C and D of the 1st Battalion of Engineers, immediately marched out of Fort Mason, under arms, to conduct anti-looting patrols and to secure the Hall of Justice, the United States Mint, and City Hall. The garrison returned the next day to conduct relief operations on the post.

On 20 April 1906, General Greely returned to San Francisco and assumed control of the U.S. Army’s relief operations from General Funston. General Greely continued to use his home as the command post throughout the emergency.

Although the U.S. Army had planned to consolidate logistical activities at Fort Mason since 1903, it took the earthquake—and the resulting destruction of the San Francisco General Depot’s leased facilities—to motivate the U.S. Army to move forward. On 12 June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation funding a new depot at Fort Mason.

Also in 1906, the Southern Pacific Railroad approached Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur, Commanding General of the U.S. Army’s Pacific Division, for permission to build a spur line to Fort Mason’s yet-to-be-built piers and a tunnel under the original garrison area. General MacArthur’s Quartermaster, Major Carroll A. Devol recommended approval of the proposal with the stipulation that other railroads would be allowed to use the line and that Southern Pacific would not charge the U.S. Army for switching charges. Major Devol asserted that the tunnel would help expedite shipments of materiel from San Francisco to U.S. Army units in the Departments of California, Colorado, and the Columbia as well as the western portion of the Department of the Dakotas. However, when General
Funston assumed command of the Division in 1907 from General MacArthur, he stopped all planning for the tunnel until Congress approved the project. The project was eventually completed in 1914 under the auspices of the California State Board of Harbor Commissioners.

As part of the program to build the new depot, the War Department acquired several tracts of submerged land in 1909 from private parties, including the widow of Major General John C. Fremont and one other person evicted from the post during the Civil War. Only one tract had to be acquired through condemnation proceedings, which were against Virginia Vanderbilt, a member of the powerful Vanderbilt shipping and railroad family.

With the property secured, the U.S. Army began building warehouses, shops, and three piers for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps’ Army Transport Service. Completed in 1912, the new San Francisco General Depot was opened on the lower portion of Fort Mason. The following year, the Site became the homeport for the troop and cargo ships of the Army Transport Service.

With completion of the depot, Fort Mason became the major transfer point for troops and materiel shipped to and from the Continental United States and the U.S. Army’s outposts located throughout the Pacific Ocean area. Soldiers transiting through Fort Mason would travel by a ferry to and from the Recruit and Replacement Depot at Fort McDowell on Angel Island. Fort Mason continued to perform this mission until the early 1960s.

World War I saw an increase in the amount of soldiers and materiel shipping through Fort Mason. This increased workload required additional “temporary” structures to be built. The San Francisco General Depot was also the primary logistical base supporting the American Expeditionary Force that supported the White Russians’ opposition to the Bolshevik Revolution in Siberia from 1919–1920. With the defeat of the White Russian Army and the collapse of the Siberian government, Allied forces were withdrawn from Eastern Russia. While the two American regiments were withdrawn to the Philippine Islands, photographic records at the NARA in College Park, Maryland showed the anti-Bolshevik Czech Legion was repatriated to Czechoslovakia through Fort Mason.

Between World Wars I and II, Fort Mason resumed its normal routine of supplying Pacific garrisons with soldiers and materiel. In 1932, the San Francisco General Depot was renamed the San Francisco Port of Embarkation (SFPE). The following year, several new officer family quarters on the upper portion of the Site were constructed. In 1934, Piers 2 and 3 were lengthened, and a new marine repair shop was built to service the vessels of the Army Transport Service.

With war becoming more and more inevitable in the early 1940s, the U.S. Army began building several new barracks as well as administrative buildings to support the expansion of the SFPE’s workload; Appendix H). On 8 December 1941, the Oakland Sub-Port (later Oakland Army Terminal and now Oakland Army Base) and Fort McDowell with its personnel replacement activities came under the operational control of the SFPE and became sub-posts of Fort Mason. In 1942, Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg and Camp Joseph T. Knight in Oakland became operational as sub-posts of Fort Mason. Despite the addition of new Ports of Embarkation in Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles, the SFPE and Fort Mason continued to function at full capacity throughout World War II. Also in 1942, the
transportation functions of the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps were transferred to the newly formed Transportation Corps.

With the ending of World War II in 1945, several of the wartime Ports of Embarkation were closed and their mission consolidated at SFPE. Although facilities at Fort McDowell were closed, the remainder of the SFPE remained busy with the return of troops from the China-Burma-India and Pacific Theaters of Operations as well as soldiers (and after 1947, airmen) re-garrisoning the Philippines and occupying Japan.

With the start of the Korean War in 1950, troopships were again leaving the docks of Fort Mason loaded with soldiers bound for combat. That same year, the Army Transport Service disbanded, and its ships transferred to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sea Transport Service. The tempo continued throughout the Korean War, although aircraft of the U.S. Air Force’s Military Air Transport Service (later Military Airlift Command and now Air Mobility Command) began supplanting troopships.

In 1955, the SFPE was replaced by the Transportation Terminal Command, Pacific which commanded all terminal operations in the Pacific with headquarters at Fort Mason. In 1959, Oakland Army Terminal was made a separate installation (i.e., no longer a sub-post of Fort Mason), reporting to the Headquarters of the Transportation Terminal Command.

In 1962, all embarkation and debarkation activities were moved to the more modern Oakland Army Terminal, and the lower portion of the post were declared excess to the needs of the U.S. Army. In 1964, the Headquarters of the Transportation Terminal Command, Pacific also moved to Oakland.

On 1 July 1966, the post was officially inactivated. Concurrent with this, the Oakland Army Terminal was redesignated as the Oakland Army Base. These changes were announced on 2 September 1966 in Department of the Army General Order 37. Despite this change, the upper post continued to operate as an administrative and family housing area for the Oakland Army Base. In 1968, the lower portion of the post was transferred from the Department of the Army to the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce (now U.S. Department of Transportation [DOT]) as a storage area.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Act in which all unused or underused federal properties in the San Francisco Bay Area would be transferred to the NPS of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On 1 April 1973, operational control of the upper portion of Fort Mason was transferred from the Military Traffic Management and Terminal Service at Oakland Army Base to the Headquarters, Sixth U.S. Army at the Presidio of San Francisco. With this transfer, the upper Fort Mason became a sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco. Concurrent with that, the NPS assumed management responsibilities of former Fort Mason.

In 1974, the Presidio of San Francisco transferred control of the eastern portion of the upper post to the NPS. However, under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of the Army and the NPS, that portion continued to operate as a sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco. U.S. Army families continued to live on the former Fort Mason as tenants under the provisions of the MOU until the drawdown of troops at the Presidio of San Francisco allowed for the gradual consolidation and eventual closing or relocation of all family housing on that and other U.S. Army installations.

The last U.S. Army activity on the former Fort Mason was its Officers Club in the historic McDowell Hall (Building 1). This facility, maintained by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program of the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, operated a restaurant, bar, and small overnight lodging facility until it was finally closed and transferred to the NPS in 2004.

Post at Point San Jose during the 1870's
As Post Point San Jose, and Fort Mason after 1882, this ground plan remains basically correct to modern times. An 1870 report said, ''The officers' quarters are five frame cottages of different sizes and plan, but all are comfortable and pleasantly situated on the sheltered brow, with a luxuriant flower garden around them. They were cottages of citizens before the point was taken up as a government post." It noted that above battery "are built two sets of company quarters, of which only one at the present time is occupied. They are each of wood, 90 by 30-1/2 by 13 feet . . furnished with a double row of bunks, two tiers high . . . two tables and four benches complete its furniture." Reservation included 67 acres with a small parade ground on the crown of the point. (Redrawn from McDowell report, 1879.)
 BK  Bakery  LAUN  Laundry
 COQ  Commanding Officers Quarters  ORD SGT Q  Ordnance Sergeant's Quarters
 CO ST  Commanding Officer's Stables  QM ST  Quartermaster Stables
GH  Guard House  OQ  Officer Quarters
 H Hospital  SH  Store House
 K  Kitchen  ST  Stable

"San Jose is a rocky point which, with an elevation of 80 feet, projects into the bay northward," reported surgeon in 1870. "It is steep and bare on its western face, less so on its eastern or sheltered face; and on both sides it falls away into low sand mounds." This 1865 era painting shows entire Point Officers' quarters are in foreground across road, headquarters is the long building with the porch across front.

Coastal Fortifications at Fort Mason

Quartermaster Docks
Quartermaster Docks
Before the Spanish American War, half of Fort Mason was sand dunes. As America's influence radiated across the Pacific - to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and China - the Army filled in a shallow cove and constructed three piers and four concrete warehouses.
Fort Mason became the Army's supply and transportation center for the Pacific.
On December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought America and Fort Mason into World War II. Fort Mason served as the headquarters for the San Francisco Port Embarkation (SFPOE) which funneled supplies and troops to the Pacific Theater of war Over 1 ½ million passengers and 23 million ship tons of cargo (one ship ton equally 40 cubic feet) left the SFPOE, Fort Mason was a scene of constant activity with buildings squeezed into every available space. Liberty Ships lined the piers as they were stuffed to capacity for their Pacific voyage. These same "ugly ducklings" brought home our soldiers and supplies at the end of the war. Today, the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien, docked at Pier 3, is a proud reminder of the past and is open to the general public.
Fort Mason's piers were also active through the Korean War and the early 1960's.
The National Park Service's Golden Gate National Recreation Area Headquarters building served as a hospital in 1902 and later as the Administrative Offices for the San Francisco Port of Embarkation
Known Units at Fort Mason
World War II
Headquarters, San Francisco Port of Embarkation
10th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Air Section, Port of Embarkation)
Portions of this page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West, published in 1965. Updated 2 March 2009.
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