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One of the best-kept secrets in the Presidio is in a modest brick building that used to be a stable for 102 Army mules and horses. Inside is an amazing trove of photographs, maps, building plans, and other historical treasures – about 5 million items documenting the history of the Presidio and other important historical sites within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This is the Park Archives and Records Center (PARC), and if you are a history buff, graduate student, or are just fascinated by old maps and photographs, you owe it to yourself to come spend a few hours – or days – exploring this place.
The PARC building houses the majority of objects held in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Museum Program, one of the biggest national park collections in the country. In total, the collection includes around 6.5 million objects related to the archaeology, natural history, culture and military heritage of lands touched by the park, including the Presidio, Alcatraz, Muir Woods, Fort Point, and dozens of other locations. The archives span over 200 years of history from the time of Spanish exploration and colonization of San Francisco to the present day, including an enormous collection of records transferred to the park by the US Army when it vacated the Presidio.
On a recent visit, Curator Amanda Williford, who has worked at the Archives since 2005, welcomed Inn at the Presidio General Manager Terry Haney to look through the collection and see some of the original documents related to historic Pershing Hall. Amanda carefully pulled out original blueprints, exquisite elevation drawings, and detailed records of every repair and renovation made to the building. Carefully preserved hand-drawn maps show how the Army planned and built the bachelor officers’ quarters and other buildings in and around Tennessee Hollow in the early 20th century. Terry was even able to request digital scans of some of the photographs and drawings. These archives enabled architects and designers to restore and preserve Pershing Hall’s original beauty when it was transformed into the Inn at the Presidio. In fact, these maps and documents have provided a solid foundation for all of the plans to restore and preserve the architecture, history, and natural landscapes of the Presidio and other properties in the GGNRA.
The archives are open to the public during walk-in hours on Monday from 1 to 4pm and Thursday from 10am to 1pm. You can call (415) 561-2808 or e-mail to make an appointment outside of those hours. Staff are on hand to help you find what you need, but you can also prepare for your visit by checking out online resources like the GGNRA Photo Gallery, the archives’ Finding Aids, and the GGNRA Special Collections Guide.