Swinerton In the News

San Francisco: November 15, 2018

Beautiful memories of the Presidio’s beautiful Burger King

It’s a strange comment on a changing San Francisco that one can feel nostalgic about the demolition of a former fast food joint. But there it is.

The Presidio Burger King — perhaps one of the most beautiful BK’s in existence— will be demolished Thursday.

Of course, the old Presidio Observation Post hasn’t been a Burger King in two decades. And when the building finally comes down, a beautiful 14-acre park will spring up in its place above the recently constructed Doyle Drive Tunnels. The $100 million Tunnel Tops Project, as its called, will unfurl a new green space for all San Franciscans to enjoy.

Still, I can’t help but feel wistful.

I grew up a stone’s throw from the Presidio in the Cow Hollow and spent (probably too many) days begging my parents to take me to that Presidio Burger King, which was open from 1989 to 1996. This was back when the Presidio was still a military base: Cannons fired every day at 5 p.m., soldiers marched the parade grounds, and Letterman Army Hospital — now the Letterman Digital Arts Center — loomed tall above the Palace of Fine Arts.

The Observation Post was built in 1968 as a cafeteria for Presidio personnel but operated at a net loss, so the Army and Air Force Exchange Service invited Burger King to parachute in and take over. It opened its doors on April 27, 1989, just 20 days after my third birthday.

But besides rose-tinted spectacles, why so much love for a Burger King? It’s the view, folks, the view.

The Post featured large, arched windows with a spectacular glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, perhaps the best such view of any restaurant in The City. For a few measly bucks, a family could grab a few burgers and enjoy the Bay’s splendor in a clean cafeteria built in a style harkening back to the Presidio’s earliest days as a military outpost. My parents took my younger brother and me there frequently.

Through the fog of memory, I can picture my father, Joe Bill Rodriguez, bearded, upbeat, only somewhat tall and sporting a portly figure like the one I have now, sitting us by those gracefully arched windows and excitedly pointing to the small army of sailboats on the briny blue. He died in 1997, when I was 11 years old.

So when I heard the Post would be demolished, I wanted to stand there one last time. Thankfully, the Presidio Trust agreed to a tour.

I brought my mother, Joy Fitzgerald, along so she could help jog my memory.

Mom and I showed up at the Observation Post Friday at about 9 a.m., donned our jackets and hard hats and were led into the old Post by Presidio Trust spokesperson Lisa Petrie, Swinerton Builders Project Manager Elizabeth Messana, and Larry Thomas, also from Swinerton. They painted us a picture of the Tunnel Tops’ future.

Standing in what used to be the main dining hall of the old Burger King, Petrie said, “this will be the highest point in the project, what they call a cliff walk. It’ll be a beautiful, beautiful new path. You’ll see the marsh, the bridge, and the Bay.”

The site will feature specially designed overlooks positioned perfectly for an Alcatraz view, or a Golden Gate Bridge ponder. Project renderings of the West Lawn show a long green space for kite flying and picnics. A Cliff Walk for park-goers to walk along the edge of the small cliff to take in the waterfront will be bordered by native plants, which will also feature heavily in the Tunnel Tops’ numerous gardens. A “playscape” will include naturalistic playgrounds built for kids.

We walked toward the windows, and that’s when I tore open the paper bag I had been carrying. Yes, dear readers, I brought a Burger King chicken sandwich and fries for one last munch by the water. I honestly think this is the most indulgent thing I’ve ever done for my column. Hashtag no regrets.

My mom munched on some fries as I bit into a BK Tendergrill, a close analog to my old standby sandwich as a kid, the BK Broiler. As the aroma of the chicken, tomatoes and lettuce hit my nostrils, a wave of memories rushed back. Seems like it spurred my mom, too.

“We had so much fun looking over your schoolwork, all the pictures you and Jon would draw,” she told me. Where dirty blue carpet now stretched she recalled the terracotta tiles, and reminded me of those long mirrors across the walls that once reflected that grand view back to us, the same one my dad once sat near to point out the boats.

Turns out, that very spot will feature one of the new overlooks, replete with benches, Petrie told us.

Not all change is bad, I thought to myself as I took one last gander. With the building gone, that same view will open up for all to enjoy, for free.

No fries required.

The Presidio Trust has invited the public to come to watch the demolition of the national park’s former military Observation Post building, and gather for refreshments beginning at 8:30 a.m. and lasting throughout the day.

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