Farewell Presidio Burger King, We Hardly Knew Ye

Spectators reminisced during the demolition of the beloved fast-food joint that will make way for a major park restoring the Presidio's nature for the first time since 1915.

Excavation crews begin demolishing the former Presidio Burger King to make room for the new Tunnel Tops project on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

In 13 brief years, the Presidio Burger King, with its expansive views of the bay, left an indelible mark on wistful San Franciscans that has resurfaced leading up to a public demolition on Thursday.

Many who had ties to the Presidio itself gathered as spectators to honor the past of, well, whoppers, and look toward its future as part of the Tunnel Tops, a $100 million project that will yield a 14-acre park upon the completed fundraising phase.  

Burger King’s day-long demolition is but a sacrifice to turn the Presidio in a public place that restores its natural habitat for the first time in more than 100 years, with the intention of bringing in both Bay Area youth and visitors worldwide. (Fans of the High Line in New York may have even more to look forward to, as its lead designer, James Corner Field Operations, will be part of the project.) 

Jean Fraser, CEO of the Presidio Trust, and Greg Moore, President and CEO of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, react as they watch the demolition. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

When the park opens in 2021, Tom Williams can count himself as one of the few who has seen the site in many of its forms. For four short months, due to what he calls his poor work ethic as a teenager with his first job, he worked for the Burger King as it transitioned and when it opened to large crowds — and under the rigid leadership of the military before it turned into a franchise.

“It was an awesome place to work,” says Williams, who worked there with a few classmates from nearby George Washington High School. “It was really serene.”

Alas, the Burger King closed in 2002, ceding the throne of fast-food-with-a-view to the Taco Bell in Pacifica. The Goldman Foundation eventually took up the office but the Presidio Trust turned it into event space when they vacated in 2005. Williams, already the facilities manager, returned to the building of his first job that would produce additional warm memories.

Recollections of the Burger King often come from families who lived at the Presidio post when it was a military post. The building first opened in 1968 as an Observation Outpost that functioned as a cafeteria, which lost too much money to stay open.

“I remember when the new commissary and the Burger King were built, what a view from the inside of the Burger King!” wrote Karen Knight, who lived at the post from 1986-1990, for the National Park Service.

That view so cherished by San Franciscans lucky enough to eat greasy fries while looking at the Golden Gate Bridge will soon be open to the public, which didn’t have great accessibility to the Presidio. Plus, the wild character of the Presidio will be restored for the first time since 1915, when it was filled in for Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

“Fundamentally, what the Tunnel Tops are going to do is knit back together this magnificent park that was torn asunder,” Jean Fraser, Presidio Trust CEO, tells SF Weekly. “This where we’re really reclaiming the land.” 

This story has been updated with the accurate closing date of Burger King provided by the Presidio Trust.

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