Bike, walk, or take a tour of San Francisco’s newly renovated Presidio
Just inside the 15th Avenue Gate of the Presidio of San Francisco, in the lower level of Arion Press, our tour guide has to shout over the noise. A clanging type-making machine spits out newly formed letters and lines them up in orderly rows. Down the hall, bulky letterpresses stand ready to fold these words into sheets; in another room, the pages are sewn into bindings.
.Largely handmade from start to finish, Arion’s extraordinary books include Andrew Jackson Grayson’s Birds of the Pacific Slope, as well as a Seamus Heaney book illustrated by Sol LeWitt. Our guide opens one of Arion’s best-known works, a copy of Moby Dick illustrated with wood engravings by artist Barry Moser. “This is quite a collaboration,” she says.It’s a surprise to find the press―an educational institute, bookmaker, publisher, printer, and typefoundry all rolled into one―in the Presidio, a former military post better known for its bayside views. But with its richly layered history and spectacular location, this army post-turned-national park is full of discoveries, especially right now.The Presidio is an anomaly. The post has been under Spanish, Mexican, and American rule and had a role in every U.S. military conflict of the 20th century. Charged to become financially self-sufficient by 2013, the park is rolling through uncharted territory. With 1,100 residents living in rehabilitated military housing, new businesses such as the huge Sports Basement store, and the much-discussed Lucasfilm digital center under construction, this is a national park like no other. It balances those developments with a mandate to preserve the post’s architectural character, endangered species, and open space, making it an experiment in urban harmony, set in the city’s prettiest corner.And in Arion Press’s light-filled gallery overlooking Mountain Lake Park―where explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and his party camped in 1776 as they established the beginnings of San Francisco―it seems that all of the Presidio is today, in our guide’s words, quite a collaboration.