Presidio Trust’s Annual Redmond Kernan Lecture on Thursday: Michael Corbett on the Story of the Port of San Francisco

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Presidio of San Francisco (November 15, 2011) — Historian and author Michael Corbett recounts the rarely told story of the Port of San Francisco in the Presidio Trust’s annual Redmond Kernan Lecture Thursday, November 17 at 7pm at the Golden Gate Club. Admission is free.

Corbett uses historic images to trace the physical development of the port and its central role in San Francisco’s growth and prosperity from the 19th century to World War II. The port’s familiar piers and warehouses, created through monumental works of engineering, are now some of the most desirable urban real estate in the United States. Corbett not only chronicles the heyday of the port as a flourishing hub of shipping and commerce, but places it in a contemporary context as well.

Port City: The History and Transformation of the Port of San Francisco, 1848-2010.

Before his talk, Corbett will be signing copies of his latest book, Port City: The History and Transformation of the Port of San Francisco, 1848-2010, which was released in February. An independent architectural historian who has been writing about San Francisco since 1973, Corbett has authored several books including Splendid Survivors: San Francisco’s Downtown Architectural Heritage (1979), the influential survey that formed the basis of the downtown plan and remains a standard reference on San Francisco architecture.

The lecture, Fundamental San Francisco: The Creation of the Port and the Development of the City, is the last in the inaugural season of the Presidio Trust’s new series, Contemporary Historians at the Presidio: Voices and Views. The series, which features some of the nation’s pre-eminent historians, explores a wide range of issues, some of which are specific to the Presidio, and others which delve into larger themes in American and world history that help put the Presidio’s extraordinary past into context as a former military post and now an innovative national park.

The Redmond Kernan Lecture is presented annually by the Presidio Trust. It honors the late Redmond Kernan, a former Army officer and long-time Presidio advocate. This year’s lecture, Fundamental San Francisco: The Creation of the Port and the Development of the City, takes place Thursday, November 17 at 7pm at the Golden Gate Club, 135 Fisher Loop in the Presidio, and will be preceded by a book signing at 6:30pm. Admission is free.

The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to oversee the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park site located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio was established in 1776 by Spain and is the birthplace of San Francisco. In 1846, it became a United States Army post and eventually was the headquarters for the 13 U S Army forts that encircled San Francisco Bay and that today make up the heart of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Presidio was named a National Historic Landmark District in 1962 and it became a national park site in 1994. Today, more than 8,000 people live and work in the park, setting this park apart from other national park sites.”

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New Book Chronicles the Rich History of San Francisco’s Waterfront

SAN FRANCISCO—On February 1, 2011, the nonprofit San Francisco Architectural Heritage will celebrate the port of San Francisco with the release of its new book, Port City: The History and Transformation of the Port of San Francisco, 1848-2010. Authored by Michael Corbett, Port City is the first book to tell the comprehensive—and largely unknown—story of San Francisco’s port, which played a central role in the development of the city.

“Port City attempts to look at the whole history of the port, rather than at specific eras or themes and it selects those aspects of theport’s history that created the twentieth-century port, much of which survives,” said Corbett.

The book not only chronicles the heyday of the port as a flourishing nexus of shipping and commerce, it also puts this story in today’s context. An introduction by Heritage’s executive director Mike Buhler and Jay Turnbull, past president of Heritage, addresses the current challenges and opportunities for historic preservation, development, urban design, and architecture along the waterfront.

“The waterfront boasts one of the richest and most compelling collections of historic resources anywhere in the city,” said Buhler. “Port City will advance Heritage’s ongoing mission to increase community awareness of and involvement in historic preservation, planning, and urban design. With San Francisco selected as the host city for the America’s Cup in 2013, there will be major implications for the city’s waterfront.”

A foreword by Monique Moyer, executive director of the Port of San Francisco, discusses the revival of San Francisco’s waterfront, including the Port-Heritage partnership that resulted in the creation of the Port of San Francisco Embarcadero Historic District, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

“The San Francisco waterfront has undergone a transformation that centers on a renewed appreciation of its significant maritime historic resources,” said Moyer. “The creation of the Embarcadero Historic District ensures that these unique structures will be preserved for future generations.”

For most of its history, the port had a significant impact on the daily lives of a substantial portion of San Francisco’s population. In addition to the sailors, longshoremen and others who worked along the waterfront, workers in factories, warehouses and offices were employed jobs that directly depended on and had regular contact with the port. Port City looks at the geography of these connections to illuminate the role of the port in the city’s life and details the planning, infrastructure, and engineering of the port.

To celebrate the release of Port City, and to increase public awareness of the waterfront’s history and significance, Heritage and partner organizations will host several upcoming events, with more to come.

  • Book launch and panel discussion at the California Historical Society, Tues., March 22, 6 p.m.

Reception and panel discussion moderated by Jasper Rubin with panelists Michael Corbett, Tim Kelley

Chris VerPlanck, and Mike Buhler.

  • AIA/SF lecture with Mike Buhler and Michael Corbett, Thurs., March 31, 6 p.m.

Reception and presentation with Mike Buhler and Michael Corbett on the history and transformation of the port as part of AIA San Francisco’s lecture series.

  • Soiree 2011, Sat., April 9, 6:30 p.m.

Heritage’s annual black-tie fundraiser at historic Pier 35, the Port’s Cruise Terminal.

  • SPUR Lunchtime Forum, Wed., May 11, 12:30 p.m.

Presentation by Mike Buhler and Michael Corbett at the SPUR Urban Center.

Port City is lavishly illustrated with more than 300 historical photos, drawings, maps, and new color photos commissioned especially for the book. The hardback book is 11 ¼ x 10 ¼, 248 pages, and has eight chapters. The book can be purchased for $65 ($52 for Heritage members) on our website or at Book Passage in the Ferry Building, William Stout Architectural Books, and at Pier 1, the Port of San Francisco. Visit to read excerpts, view a photo slideshow, and for event information.

About the author

Michael R. Corbett is a celebrated architectural historian and author who has researched and written about San Francisco since 1973. He is the author of Splendid Survivors: San Francisco’s Downtown Architectural Heritage (1979), the survey that formed the basis of the Downtown Plan and remains a standard reference on architecture in the city.  Michael was also the principal author of the Port’s Embarcadero Historic District nomination report, which was the inspiration for this book.

About San Francisco Architectural Heritage

Charged to preserve and enhance San Francisco’s unique architectural and cultural identity, Heritage works to manage change over time through proactive advocacy efforts and educational programming. Heritage is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) membership organization and the owner and operator of the 1886 Haas-Lilienthal House. Two-thousand-eleven marks Heritage’s 40th anniversary and the 125th birthday of the Haas-Lilienthal House. For more information about Heritage, visit

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