The Richmond and the Presidio
I was really excited about Day 5. I was looking forward to traipsing around the Presidio, an iconic San Francisco site I had never been to. And most of all, I was looking forward to getting up close and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge. But first up on Day 5 was San Francisco’s Richmond District. As the Richmond is way out in the western wilds of San Francisco, I was not very familiar with the neighborhood. I set out in the morning across the city by bus with my friend Francisco. We were quite impressed with the Richmond’s sacred spaces.
Holy Virgin Cathedral
I bet you weren’t expecting to find a grand Russian Orthodox cathedral in San Francisco. I surely hadn’t been. In the context of an American city, coming upon such a sight is somewhat surprising. And wait till you see the inside!
The San Francisco Columbarium
I never knew that a columbarium is a place where ashes of the deceased are stored. Did you?
Congregation Emanu-El was founded in 1850 by a group of primarily Bavarian Jews. These were the Jews we learned about on Day 1 who had come to San Francisco in the Gold Rush and observed the first Jewish services in San Francisco. Only congregants are allowed in the temple on Saturdays for services, so Francisco and I returned later on a weekday to get a tour.
The Presidio/Golden Gate
For over 200 years, the Presidio of San Francisco was a military installation presiding over 1,500 acres of some of San Francisco’s most prime real estate. It was first established by the Spanish in 1776. Today it is a National Park Service site and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The Officers’ Club
Francisco and I hiked across the Presidio grounds along the Ecology Trail to the Presidio Officers’ Club. The Officers’ Club competes with Mission Dolores for the designation of San Francisco’s most historic building. (The Presidio and the mission were both established in 1776.) The Officers’ Club was built in the ’30s, but it incorporates structural elements of the original Spanish fort. (I think that fact gives Mission Dolores the edge.) No longer serving the military elite, the Officers’ Club is now a museum and cultural center.
The Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is located immediately adjacent to the Presidio, at the very western edge of the Marina District. To me, it’s one of the strangest sights in San Francisco because it seems so entirely out of context. It was originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition.
The north shore of the Presidio was marshland until it was developed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition. In the ’20s, it was redeveloped as Crissy Airfield, a major military aviation center. Now, like the rest of the Presidio, it’s open for enjoyment to everyone.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Across the street from Crissy Field, I picked up a rental bike for what was the first ever bike ride on one of my sightseeing adventures. I specifically rented the bike to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. (Francisco wasn’t interested in 2-wheeled transportation, so we parted ways after the Palace of Fine Art.) But the first stop on my ride was at Fort Point National Historic Site at the very tip of the San Francisco Peninsula.
The Golden Gate Bridge
You might have guessed that I’m enamored with the Golden Gate Bridge. Who can blame me? I love bridges to begin with. They can be so graceful. And when it comes to elegance, no other bridge can come close to the GGB. And now, for the first time, I was going to ride a bike across it!
By the way, did you know that the Golden Gate is the name for the strait that connects San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean? I had assumed that the Golden Gate was a reference to the gold that made San Francisco rich. But the name predates the Gold Rush. I guess it is beauty that gives the Golden Gate its preciousness.
I’d driven over the Golden Gate Bridge many times over the previous 30 years. But I never really appreciated its length till I rode a bike over it. When it opened in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, at 1.7 miles. It kept that distinction until 1964, when the longer Verrazano-Narrow Bridge in New York opened. No matter, it still is and always will be the world’s most beautiful piece of engineering.
For a very long time, building a bridge across the Golden Gate was considered impossible. The water was too deep and too treacherous, the wind was too strong, and the fog was too thick. All of these conditions would make construction very hazardous. By the ’30s, technology had caught up. And so had demand.
After I dropped off my bike, I hopped on the free Presidio shuttle bus and rode across the Presidio’s vast grounds. After a short hike, I hit the beach!
One word: Wow!
[Factual information is primarily gathered from Wikipedia, so you know it must be true.]