At San Francisco's Presidio, a bold adaptive reuse project has reshaped the Public Health Service Hospital, clipping the two ungainly wings that were added to the 80 year-old structure in the 1950s. Rechristened the Presidio Landmark, the renovated structure now houses luxury apartments.
With 433 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, the Presidio, a unit of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a treasure trove of interesting historical buildings. One of the interesting old structures, the Public Health Service Hospital (PHSH), was constructed in 1931 at the north end of 15th Avenue near Mountain Lake on the Presidio's southern border. The hospital, which was built on the site of the old U.S. Marine Hospital (1875), was carried on the Presidio's books as "Building 1801." It was, and still is, the Presidio's largest historic building.
In the 1950s the seven-story hospital building was augmented with two large wings, bringing its capacity to 480 beds. The wings were of form-follows-function design, protruding from the front of the building like a matched set of big boxes.
The hospital was closed in 1981 after half a century of service. From 1981 to 1988 the old PHSH building was occupied by the Defense Language Institute (DLI), except for a section of the sixth floor that was used by the now-defunct Letterman Army Medical Center (LAMC) for medical research.¬ Both DLI and LAMC vacated the building by 1989, and it then sat empty for two decades. Finally, in the mid-2000s an ambitious redevelopment of the Public Health Service District (PHSD) got underway and a new future for the building began to take shape.
Owners of nearby single-family homes had long complained about the appearance of the PHSH. While the original 1930s-era structure was deemed to be architecturally interesting, these and other critics insisted that the two wings added to the structure in the 1950s were so big and boxy that they blocked the view and were completely out of synch with their surroundings. Many called the wings ugly, and some even described them as "brutish."
The original proposal for redeveloping the Public Health Service District would have left the old hospital building's wings in place as a cost-cutting measure. However, a more radical approach evolved. The project's architectural firm, Perkins + Wall, decided that the wings had to go, and so the redevelopment contractor, Forest City, lopped them off in 2009. The demolition of the wings restored the PHSH building to a close approximation of its 1930s appearance; see the bottom picture in the accompanying photos.
The seven-story buff-colored structure, renamed the Presidio Landmark, now houses 154 luxury apartments. The apartments are on the pricey side, with rents starting at $2,125 a month for a 550 square foot, one-bedroom unit . Rentals for the two-bedroom units (up to 1,500 sq, ft.) top out a lot higher than that. This is, after all, San Francisco.
The redeveloped Public Health Service District will also sport seven small townhouses as well as a very large lawn and pathways connecting to the Presidio trail system. Events celebrating the project's completion will take place in late summer or early fall.
Postscript: The Public Health Service District was one of the first "green" neighborhoods to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Neighborhood Development program.