Building in San Francisco's Presidio could be oldest in The City 

Recent archaeological findings have revealed four to six walls of the Presidio Officers’ Club could date back to 1776, which would make it the oldest building in San Francisco and perhaps the oldest in California — depending on your definition of “building.”

Currently under renovation, officials at the Presidio Trust took a first look at the original adobe under the current exterior walls of the Officers’ Club in late May, and experts have said they could be part of the original 1776 fort built by the Spanish army by way of Indian labor.

Additions to the building have taken place from its inception until 1972, and the current structure resembles little of the primitive fort that stood at the site originally. Add the adobe’s perishable nature to 235 years worth of earthquakes and storms, and you get a blurry version of history.

Randolph Delehanty, a historian for the Presidio Trust, said most available information points to those walls as actually being rebuilt versions dating between 1815 and the early 1820s. That’s important because San Francisco is also home to another, more recognized oldest building in the chapel at Mission San Francisco de Asis, the famed Mission Dolores.

The site of the mission also was established in 1776, but the chapel was rebuilt at its current site in 1791. Because of the surprisingly volatile world of historical superlatives, Mission Dolores curator Andrew Galvan makes sure to use qualifiers when he refers to the church.

“It’s the oldest standing intact building dedicated to Christian worship in the modern state of California,” Galvan said.

But it was unarguably the oldest intact building in San Francisco, until the actual age — and intactness — of the Presidio Officers’ Club arose.

Some officials at the Presidio Trust are comfortable claiming the Officers’ Club is older, based on the testing of the walls. Others with the trust, including renovation project manager Christina Wallace, scale it back a bit.

“There are original adobe walls that we believe date from as early as 1776,” Wallace said. “There’s a good chance those original adobe pieces were there.”

After the $15 million renovation of the site — set to be completed in fall 2012 — some of the adobe walls will be left exposed for new historical exhibits.

Galvan said he doesn’t want to bicker over which building is older, but he posited that walls alone can’t capture the entire character of a building as it was during its inception. He said Mission Dolores has that tangibility over the Officers’ Club.

“I am not going to lose sleep if they make these statements. Some people live in a fantasy land,” Galvan said. “You could say for sure that it’s the oldest colonial military example of an adobe structure in San Francisco.”


History-rich San Francisco

While officials from the Presidio Officers’ Club and Mission Dolores may disagree over which is the oldest building, there is no doubt of their historical significance.

Presidio Officers’ Club
- Site in continuous use since 1776 by the Spanish, Mexican and U.S. armies.
- 1812 earthquake destroyed part or most of the building, with adobe walls remaining from as early as 1776.
- Building was restored between 1815 and the early 1820s
- Major renovations took place in 1885, 1934, 1972 and now in 2011.
Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores)
- Site was founded in 1776 as the sixth mission in California by the Spanish military and priests settling the state and evangelizing to the local native Ohlone Indians.
- A thatch church was built in 1776, but the existing mission church was built in 1791.

Sources: Presidio Trust, Mission Dolores curator Andrew Galvan

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