T H E P R E S I D I O Portraits of a Changing Landscape P H OTO G R A P H S BY C H A R I T Y VA R G A S
ISBN: 978-0-615-24792-2 $50.00 USA Since 1988 the Federal Government through its Base Realignment and Closure program (BRAC) closed 22 of California’s military installations, representing almost a quarter of all base closures nationwide. The government sold the land to municipalities and developers. Former bases have been redeveloped into suburban housing tracts, business parks, airports, and colleges; others sit vacant and polluted awaiting reuse.
Arguably the most successful of these transformations is the Presidio of San Francisco. A military post for over 200 years it sits on 1480 acres of the most beautiful land in the Bay Area. Always an open base, it has “belonged” to the people of San Francisco since it’s founding.
In 1998 when the US Army deemed it excess to needs it was to be added to Golden Gate National Recreation Area as part of a 1972 law establishing the largest urban national park. But legislators in 1994 wanted to sell the land to developers. After a tough congressional battle, the Presidio was handed over to the National Park Service. But the deal meant that the park would receive limited federal funding and none at all after 2012 - it would have to fund itself through the lease of its historic buildings.
Portraits of a Changing Landscape
P H OTO G R A P H S BY C H A R I T Y VA R G A S INTRODUCTION BY RANDOLPH DELEHANTY
For Jason, who makes all things possible.
I N T R O D U C TION BY R ANDOLPH DELEHANT Y, Ph.D.
Photographer Charity Vargas lives and works in the Presidio of San Francisco at a never-to-be-repeated time: the long moment of its transition from a historic army post into a new kind of national park. When the military folded their flag and left after two centuries of guarding the Golden Gate, the Presidio almost stopped breathing. It slipped into a kind of coma – though the trees and vines and grasses kept insistently encroaching on the now-silent batteries, sealed barracks, empty buildings and deserted roads.
Vargas came to live in the Presidio three years ago during this momentary pause in its long life. She started exploring the complex old post looking carefully and lovingly at its gentle sleep and slow but steady revival as a national park with a new civilian community living and working here. She has an eye for what it essential about the Presidio: the very American ordinariness of its military architecture and the strange “wildness” of its man-made forests. Many of her images put the two together in a new way, as a filigree of evocative shadows cast on the “screens” of plain white walls. They almost seem like photographs of photographs with the building walls the film on which the fugitive shadows are cast. Photography -- literally writing with light -- here becomes writing with shadows with the unseen light source behind us.
Another way that Vargas’ images are her own is her penchant for photographing buildings at night when light streams out of the buildings’ bright, revived interiors. There’s new life inside these resilient old walls, these pictures say. Vargas can make stark buildings glow like jack-o’-lanterns.
Other of her images have a cinematic quality even though they are completely still. Looking down her streets and across her lawns and into her overgrown forests you get the feeling that something is about to happen, but you don’t quite know what. It’s unusual for photography to convey such a sense of expectation.
Vargas prowls the Presidio looking for photographs. She likes the night because “everything drops away and things simplify.” Her aim is to make her Presidio photographs “look the way I feel about this place.” Often it’s something very small that makes her want to make a picture. Sometimes it takes her several attempts “to get it the way I want.”
Though Vargas’ photographs convey the classic look of black and white film, her technique is ultra contemporary. She first makes her images digitally in color and then converts them with software to look like black and white silver-nitrate film. She doesn’t manipulate her images in a darkroom but rather on a computer screen in a lit studio. It took her almost three years to perfect this technique that uses the latest technology to reach back to an older sensibility. As Vargas puts it, “I see in black and white. I like its depth and simplicity.”
Randolph Delehanty, Ph.D. Presidio of San Francisco August 2008
1. Late Night at the Internet Archive, 2006
2. Forestation, Morton Street, 2006
Preceding: 3. Thompson Reach, 2006 4. Moonrise at Sumner Hill, 2006 5. Old Letterman Hospital, 2007
6. The Glass Palace, 2007
7. Tree Shadow at Thornburgh, 2007
8. Protected Palms, 2006
9. Cherry Blossoms at MacArthur, 2007
10. The Restoration of Building No. 58, 2006
11. Fog at 1230, 2007
12. Trees at Quarry, 2006
13. Tree No. 2412, 2007
14. Turtle and Horses, 2007
Preceding: 15. Tree No. 450, 2007 16. Tree No. 701 (Felled), 2007 17.Tree Shadows at the Golden Gate Club, 2006
18. Building No. 1000, 2007
19. Wild Flowers and Pitch Canker, 2007
20. Forestation, Barnard Avenue, 2006
21. Before the Bottle Brush Blooms, 2006
22. Gorgas and Marshall, 2007
23. Building No. 1225, 2007
24. Acacia Flowers and Asphalt, 2008
Preceding: 25. Twin Palms, 2007 26. The Plague Labs, 2006 27. Trail at West Pacific, 2008
28. Altar View, Presidio Chapel, 2006
29. Tree No. 2063, 2007
Preceding: 30. Building No. 770, Night, 2007 31. Building No. 770, Day, 2007 32. DeRussyâ€™s Plot, 2007
Preceding: 33. Sentry Station, 2008 34. Battery East, 2007 35. Felling Goldsworthyâ€™s Trees, 2007
36. Fountain, 2006
37. Garages at Kobbe, 2006
38. Forestation, Lincoln Boulevard, 2007
39. Presidio Telecom, 2007
Preceding: 40. The Presidio Golf Course, 2006 41. Surgeonâ€™s Quarters, 2007 42. Road to El Polin, 2006
43. Building No. 1216, 2007
44. Three Trees, Rodriquez Street, 2006
45. 563 in the Rain, 2006
46. Fog at Letterman, 2006
47. Fog at the Parade Ground, 2007
48. Full Moon at Coast Headquarters, 2006
49. Rodriquez Street, 2007
50. Building No. T3, 2007
51. Building No. 37, 2007
52. The Presidio Chapel, 2006
Preceding: 53. Five Trees, Halleck Street, 2006 54. Shed at Appleton Street, 2007 55. Candlelight Tour of Fort Point, 2006
56. Trees Nos. 1001-1004, 2007
57. Bus Stop at Letterman, 2006
58. The Bay School, 2006
L I S T O F WOR K S 1.
Late Night at the Internet Archive, 2006 Building No. 116 1885 Sutler’s General Store 1995 The Internet Archive
Fog at 1230, 2007 Building No. 1230 1918 Warehouse 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Forestation, Morton Street, 2006 Portola and Liggett
Thompson Reach, 2006 2004 Army Landfill Site 6A 2005 Restored Wetlands
Trees at Quarry, 2006 Tennessee Hollow Riparian Corridor 1883 to 1907 Army Forestation 2002-Ongoing Water Shed Restoration and Reforestation
Moonrise at Sumner Hill, 2006 Presidio Terrace
Tree No. 2412, 2007 A Blue Atlas Cedar The Main Post
Old Letterman Hospital, 2007 Building No. 1014 1902 Letterman Hospital 1996 The Thoreau Center for Sustainability
Turtle and Horses, 2007 Army Playground Kobbe Terrace
The Glass Palace, 2007 Building No. 924 1921 Crissy Field Airfield Motor Pool 2008 Indoor Climbing Facility
Tree No. 450, 2007 A Monterrey Pine Portola and Liggett
Tree Shadow at Thornburgh, 2007 Building No. 1050 1918 Psychiatric Ward for Letterman General Hospital 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Tree No. 701 (Felled), 2007 A Monterrey Cypress Portola and Liggett
Protected Palms, 2006 Kobbe Terrace
Tree Shadows at the Golden Gate Club, 2006 Building No. 135 1949 Enlisted Men’s Service Club 2008 Event Space
Cherry Blossoms at MacArthur, 2007 Building Nos. 860A&B 1966 Army Family Housing 1998 Presidio Trust and Park Service Housing
Building No. 1000, 2007 1902 Officer’s Family Housing 2008 Office Space
The Restoration of Building No. 58, 2006 c. 1885 Officer’s Housing 2008 Leased Historic Housing
Forestation, Barnard Avenue, 2006 Blue Gum Eucalyptuses MacArthur and Quarry
Wild Flowers and Pitch Canker, 2007 Portola and Liggett
L I S T O F WOR K S 21.
Before the Bottle Brush Blooms, 2006 Building No. 988 1923 Guard House, Mine Depot 1992 Office, Fort Point National Historic Site
Gorgas and Marshall, 2007 Thornburgh District
Building No. 1225, 2007 1942 Post Exchange Storage 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Acacia Flowers and Asphalt, 2008 Public Health Service Hospital District
Twin Palms, 2007 Dragon Fly Creek 2005-Ongoing Habitat Restoration
The Plague Labs, 2006 Building No. 1818 1932 Laboratories, Marine Hospital 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Trail at West Pacific, 2008 Portola and Liggett Neighborhood
Altar View, Presidio Chapel, 2006 1862 The Chapel of Our Lady 1952 & 1970 Contemporary Renovations 2007 Event Space
Building No. 770, Night, 2007 1959 Non Commissioned Officer Housing 1996 Presidio Leased Housing
Tree No. 2063, 2007 A California Pepper Tree Funston District
Building No. 770, Day, 2007 1959 Non Commissioned Officer Housing 1996 Presidio Leased Housing
Sentry Station, 2008 Building No. 1472 1973 Sentry Station 2008 Naturally Camouflaged
35. 36. 37.
Felling Goldsworthy’s Trees, 2007 Arguello Historic Stand 1883 to 1907 Army Forestation 2003-Ongoing Reforestation
Forestation, Lincoln Boulevard, 2007 Monterrey Pines and Palms The Main Post
Presidio Telecom, 2007 Building No. 67 1919 Main Telephone Exchange 2008 Presidio Telecom
DeRussy’s Plot, 2007 c. 1885 Colonel Rene DeRussy’s House (Demolished) 2003 The Bay Trail
Battery East, 2007 1873 Earthwork Battery 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Fountain, 2006 Presidio Community Garden Kobbe Terrace Garages at Kobbe, 2006 Building No. 1325 1915-18 Garages, Officer’s Family Housing 2005 Garages, Leased Historic Housing
L I S T O F WOR K S 40.
The Presidio Golf Course, 2006 1895 The San Francisco Golf Club 1999 The Presidio Public Golf Course
Surgeon’s Quarters, 2007 Building No. 1811 1932 Family Housing, Public Health Service Hospital 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Road to El Polin, 2006 Tennessee Hollow Riparian Corridor 1883 to 1907 Army Forestation 2002-Ongoing Water Shed Restoration and Reforestation
Building No. 1216, 2007 1912 Enlisted Men’s Barracks 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Three Trees, Rodriquez Street, 2006 Portola and Liggett
563 in the Rain, 2006 Building No. 563 1903 Enlisted Men’s Barracks 2006 The Presidio Social Club
Fog at Letterman, 2006 Building No. 1100 1960 Letterman General Hospital (demolished) 2005 The Letterman Digital Arts Complex
Fog at the Parade Ground, 2007 The Main Post
Full Moon at Coast Headquarters, 2006 Building No. 1201 1912 Coast Artillery Headquarters 2008 Awaiting Restoration
Rodriquez Street, 2007 Portola and Liggett
Building T3 (Temporary), 2007 Building No. T3 1942 Enlisted Men’s Barracks (Temporary) 2008 The Presidio Historical Society
Building No. 37, 2007 1937 Administrative Offices 2008 Leased Office Space
The Presidio Chapel, 2006 1862 The Chapel of Our Lady 1952 & 1970 Modern Renovations 2007 Event Space
Five Trees, Halleck Street, 2006 2006 Young Trees 2008 Removed
Shed at Appleton Street, 2007 Ruckman Terrace
Candlelight Tour of Fort Point, 2006 1861 Military Fort 1970 National Historic Site
Trees Nos. 1001-1004, 2007 Monterrey Cypresses Presidio Terrace
Bus Stop at Letterman, 2006 Letterman Digital Arts Complex
The Bay School, 2006 Building No. 35 1912 Enlisted Men’s Barracks and Mess Hall 2005 The Bay School of San Francisco
Photographs copyright ÂŠ 2003-2008 Charity Vargas Introduction copyright ÂŠ 2008 by Randolph Delehanty, Ph. D. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages or reproduce images in a review. Photographs are available for exhibition, purchase, and licensing. www.charityvargas.com ISBN 978-0-615-24792-2 First Edition September 2008 Cover: The Bay School, 2006 Dedication: Cherry Blossoms at Letterman, 2007 Designed in California Printed and bound in South Korea
After years of planning and toxic clean up, the pace of transformation is accelerating. Since 2003 I have photographed this place and its changes. It is a complex landscape that feels familiar to me. I was raised in equal parts on an Air Force base near Canada, in the foothills of Sierra Nevada Mountains surrounded by old cedars and snow, and still later in the suburbs - surrounded by little.
The forests and military industrial architecture here do not seem at odds to me. Contrarily nature thrives alongside structures modified over many years for many uses. Some wait vacant on polluted grounds, yet still there is a resilience that permeates the land and these buildings. There is a feeling of tamed wildness about it, a secret garden in our city, in constant change, quiet, hopeful and continuing.
Charity Vargas, 2008 www.charityvargas.com
THE PRESIDIO Portraits of a Changing Landscape P H OTO G R A P H S BY C H A R I T Y VA R G A S
Published on Nov 11, 2008
In her photography book Photographer Charity Vargas captures the evolution of San Francisco’s Presidio from military base to Nation Park. E...