by Laura Langlois
When walking into the Presidio Officers’ Club in San Francisco for my graduate internship, I feel ease. From the expansive, elegant Moraga Hall to the right of the entrance, to the classrooms decorated with student art projects on the right, to the person welcoming you, the atmosphere is friendly and calm. I chose to be a graduate intern at this small, newly opened history museum in San Francisco due to my personal connection with the Presidio as a military base. For me, being in the Presidio is a way to connect to my family’s past. My father was in the army during the Vietnam War and passed through the Presidio. I want to be able to share this hidden gem and its history with the public.
Over the summer I have worked with Presidio Trust Historian Barbara Berglund, the Presidio Trust Historian and other members of the Heritage Program Exhibition Team on several different projects. My first project has been to work with a team to produce docent-led tours for the Officers’ Club. This involves planning and facilitating workshops to develop tours with current docents in the workshops. Second, I am working with the Barbara to research and develop interpretive signage for several projects in the Presidio that include the landscapes being exposed by the Doyle Drive and Parklands projects. This allows me to develop my skills in historical research, writing, design, and interpretation.
The Presidio Officer’s Club is only a small entity of the Presidio Trust. The former army base was closed in 1994 and the Presidio was turned over to the National Park Service. The Presidio Trust was formed in 1996 with the approval of Congress to raise the money to preserve it. It took the Presidio Trust fifteen years to raise the money and since 2013 the Trust has remained self-sufficient.
The Presidio Officers’ Club opened in October 2014 and has become a popular destination. All public programming events are free and booked to capacity ahead of time: visitors now bring their own chairs to the evening events in order to have a seat. Programs range from lectures and films to live music to a book club to free art projects for children and families. There are also volunteering opportunities around the Presidio, guided nature hikes, and docent tours.
Many people spend most of their time in the Presidio Heritage Gallery. Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a large museum exhibition design firm based in New York City, worked with the Presidio Trust on the design of its main exhibition gallery. The gallery features many interactive exhibits that engage visitors. Visitors are able to touch and feel display items, and listen through headsets in the gallery. In the gallery you can hear the Native American Ohlone language and touch one of the Spanish cannons that overtook San Francisco. The public has embraced the gallery space and has left much positive feedback.
Like me, a significant number of the visitors to the Presidio Officers Club have a direct connection to the park as a former army base. Most days that I am there, I meet a visitor who is a war veteran. Many visitors talk about their experience and how happy they are that the base was saved because it means that their contributions to the military won’t be forgotten.
For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.