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The first cemetery at the Presidio, used by the governments of Spain and Mexico, was located to the east of the National Cemetery, adjacent to today's Parade Ground (see sign just north of the Visitor Center). Although this cemetery was never used to inter American dead, not long after the United States assumed control of the military post, the Army established a post cemetery on the current site of the National Cemetery. The first known American burial at this location occurred in 1854. In 1873, marble and other durable stone materials replaced the wooden headstones previously used by the military. After a petition to the War Department by Presidio commander Lt. Col. George P. Andrews, in 1884 General Orders 133 established "a part of the reservation at the Presidio, including the post cemetery be known as the San Francisco National Cemetery." Originally only 9.5 acres, it was placed under the control of the Quartermaster General's office. It was the first National Cemetery placed on the West Coast. The cemetery experienced a great increase in both interments and acreage over the next fifty years. It also sported a number of architectural changes. In 1915, a concrete rostrum was built to hold official services, and in 1921 the Quartermaster Department built a mortuary chapel on the premises (currently the cemetery office--see map). During a five-year improvement plan, finished in 1929, the Army remodeled the lodge (the building just beyond the office) to conform to the Mission Revival type prevalent throughout the Presidio. The Army also constructed a concrete garage and tool house in the same architectural style. One of the later additions led, in 1928, to a repositioning of the cemetery walls and the resetting of the old main entrance, which had existed since the establishment of the National Cemetery, to the west entrance. The current main entrance dates back to 1931. The final expansion to the cemetery occurred in 1932, giving it the current size of 28.34 acres. There was a serious effort to again increase the cemetery in 1961, but the outcry over possible environmental damage was so great that the Army decided against the plan, and in 1973 the cemetery officially closed to new interments, except in reserved gravesites.

Situated in the northern center of the Presidio, the San Francisco National Cemetery offers a breathtaking final resting place for the nation's military veterans and their families. Framed by monumental trees, particularly Monterey Cypress, the cemetery combines the elements of the natural and the built environment. It rests on a slope overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and the rolling terrain accentuates the splendid views of Angel Island and the Marin Headlands directly across the bay, Alcatraz Island to the right and the Golden Gate Bridge to the left. The Department of Veteran's Affairs attends to all of the gardening at the cemetery as well as the cleaning of tombstones.

September 2008

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