San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center isn’t just the site of New Relic’s second annual technology and user conference, it’s also a historic waterfront landmark that has hosted everything from harbor defense batteries to a haute cuisine vegetarian restaurant and a futuristic robot bar (no, really). Not to mention plenty of high-profile technology events and over-the-top “only in San Francisco” parties over the years.
Fort Mason’s historic past
A military base established by the Spanish in 1776, the “Post at Point San Jose,” was taken over by the United States when California became a state in 1850. It was re-activated as a military installation in 1863 amid worries of a possible Confederate attack (which never came). After the Civil War, Fort Mason became the US Army’s West Coast HQ. Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the three piers and four warehouses that you see today were completed by 1912.
The US Army’s San Francisco Port of Embarkation was essential to support the building of Panama Canal, and during World War II, Fort Mason shipped out more than 1.6 million troops and over 23.5 million tons of equipment and supplies. Made obsolete by air transport, the port was closed and the base decommissioned in the 1960s. 1977 saw the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which included Fort Mason to become the country’s first urban national park, and the site became a National Historic Landmark in 1985.
(If you have time, check it our for yourself. The Fort Mason Center History Tour: Gateway to the Pacific (PDF) offers a self-guided tour of Fort Mason’s history.)
Fort Mason in transition
As the first military base converted to civilian use, Fort Mason has become a model for adaptive re-use of such sites. The 1,200-acre site located between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge now hosts special events and resident organizations, including several music and theater programs, museums, art and music schools, a bookstore, a youth hostel, bars and restaurants, and more.
Fort Mason today
FutureStack14 attendees will be pretty busy (see schedule here) but if you can spare a few minutes, here are some highlights of things to check out on the 1,200-acre site.
- Greens Restaurant—This venerable vegetarian restaurant garnishes its happy vegetables and delicious wine with an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge
- The Interval at the Long Now Foundation: Bar Café & Museum—Have coffee or let the Bespoke Gin Robot create you a unique cocktail amidst other mechanical wonders (a 10,000 year clock, for example) and Brian Eno’s ambient painting and music.
- Off the Grid—The City’s premier gathering of food trucks, with music and beverages, every Friday night. It’s like lunch at FutureStack14, only with longer lines and more people.
- The Mexican Museum—In association with The Smithsonian, “the Mexican Museum voices the complexity and richness of Latino art throughout the Americas.”
- SF MOMA Artists Gallery—an outstanding selection of contemporary art by Northern California artists available for sale or rental.
- The Outdoor Exploratorium—Cool outdoor science exhibits and artworks. Dotted along the waterfront.
- Special Events—Check out the Magic Theater, Thursday night poetry readings, and many more.