Hikers today could easily miss what was once an impressive military stronghold overlooking the entrance to the Golden Gate, but where a few fortifications now stand obscured by trees, Fort Miley once covered 54 acres with an unobstructed view of the sea.
Built as part of the late 19th-century Endicott series of fortifications that included the batteries at the Marin Headlands and elsewhere in the Bay Area, Fort Miley stood as the city’s first line of defense, with guns overlooking the entrance to the bay through the end of WWII.
Before the Army could build on this strategically located corner of the city, however, it first had to requisition the land from its current owners: an enormous cemetery dating to the Gold Rush that covered the entirety of the northwestern corner of the city.
Since 1868, the Golden Gate Cemetery (aka City Cemetery) sprawled across the northwestern corner of San Francisco, with tens of thousands of burials divided into tidy ethnic and cultural subdivisions. Through some wrangling, the federal government finally obtained rights to the land in 1891, and the bodies were.... well, the bodies were supposed to be moved. However, in 1993 when the Palace of the Legion of Honor began digging for new construction, they quickly discovered hundreds of bodies and coffins, lending credibility to theories that nothing more than headstones had ever been moved from the cemetery.
Building of the fort began in 1898 and continued the following year with the installation of two 12-inch Buffington-Crozier disappearing guns. A third 12-inch gun was added in 1903.
In 1900 the fort was officially renamed Fort Miley after Lieutenant Colonel John D. Miley, who had served in San Francisco and oversaw the installation of the original guns, and who had died in the Philippines the prior year.
Most of what was once the fort and related military buildings were removed in the 1930s to make way for the enormous Veterans Administration Hospital. However, due to the outbreak of WWII the guns of Fort Miley were not removed until the mid 1940s.
Today only the empty gun batteries and one lone building remain of the original Fort Miley, now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Land’s End. The grounds are open to walkers and picnickers, although the once-sweeping view from the batteries is now hidden behind a forest of trees, the result of a massive planting effort kicked off in 1933.
Know Before You Go
Fort Miley Military Reservation is located on Point Lobos bordered by Clement St. and Lincoln Park between 40th to 48th Avenues.