By now, most commuters in the Bay Area are familiar with the tunnels and level roadway that replaced the elevated Doyle Drive roadway built in 1936 to connect the Presidio with the Golden Gate Bridge. The trouble was, that connection did not allow some of the most spectacular vistas in San Francisco to be visible from the Presidio's main grounds.
One might wonder, well, don’t the tunnels on the new roadway also obscure the view? Yes, for the cars going through, but not for the visitors who will enjoy 14 acres of parkland that will be created atop the Main Post tunnels (north and south) closest to the Marina. Now designed and ready to be landscaped, the new park will offer scenic overlooks, paths, gardens, and a community plaza, a campfire circle, and picnic grounds on the top and an interactive “playscape” for kids beneath.
The colloquial name for the Presidio Parkland Project is descriptive and playful: The Tunnel Tops.
The creative team is led by principal landscape designer James Corner and his James Corner Field Operations firm. They designed New York City’s High Line, a 1.5-mile pathway on a former railway bed 30 feet above the city streets and ending at the former West Side Rail Yard. It has been a big hit for residents and international visitors alike since it was finished in 2014, turning an industrial infrastructure into a public green space with 360-degree movie-set-like views of Manhattan’s skyline and waterways. Field Operations has another project under way now under Miami’s Metrorail. It also has a playful name: The Underline.
As Corner says of the Tunnel Tops project, "This is a culturally and environmentally intense project. Everybody who lives in San Francisco is enormously attached to this piece of land [the Presidio and Crissy Field]. We want to create an environment people have passion for. We are actually trying to design something that is exceptionally restrained, while amplifying the views and vistas and the experience of being in and around the Bay.” In a video interview, he added, “Landscape is something personally experienced, almost subconsciously. … The Tunnel Tops will be a platform for great vistas and linkages to be made.”
The chief linkage is
between Crissy Field and the Main Post of the Presidio, and this linkage won’t
only be visual; it will be walkable!
As you might imagine, there is quite a team working on the project. Before construction of the tunnels, the seeds and plants at the sites were collected. They have been nurtured in a nursery run by the Presidio Trust, so we can look forward to native dune strawberries, wild irises, European fan palms, aloes, among other native plants, at 35 feet!
The Tunnel Tops project is expected to be completed by 2021. But the construction crews and landscapers are already at work. Ninety percent of its cost (projected at $100 million) will be borne by contributions from private citizens and organizations. The project has backing from S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Fisher Family, and the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, among others. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's wife, Lynne Benioff, who sits on the board of the Presidio Trust, is leading the Tunnel Tops fundraising with long-time parks donor Mark Buell.
The public-private partnership making it all possible is led by:
James Corner, Principal, James Corner Field Operations
Craig Middleton, Executive Director, Presidio Trust
Greg Moore, President and CEO, The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Frank Dean, General Superintendent, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Michael Boland, Chief Planning, Projects, and Programs Officer, Presidio Trust
Photos -- Top: Simulation of parkland atop the tunnels; Middle: Imagining the views from the new parkland; Bottom: The tunnel parks are directly above the Crissy Field Lagoon in this enhanced photo.