In San Francisco’s Presidio — the city’s oldest neighborhood — the former military Burger King building is not exactly an icon of history. It wasn’t built by the Spanish. It contains no historic artifacts. So probably very few will shed tears when it’s ceremoniously ripped down on Thursday.
“We’re going to knock it down and have a bit of a party,” grinned Michael Boland, the Presidio Trust’s Chief of Park Development.
The Presidio Trust is inviting the public out Thursday morning at 9 a.m. for a ceremonial wrecking ball party — which unlike one of those dramatic building implosions — will probably drag-on throughout the better part of a day.
Back in its glory days back before the military post was turned into a national park, this particular Burger King boasted some of the most spectacular views of any fast food joint anywhere. From a row of windows, patrons could dine on a Whopper while checking out the whopper of all views spanning from the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco’s skyline.
“Every time you walk in these rooms it’s just ‘wow!’” said former Burger King employee Tom Williams, now in charge of the Presidio Trust’s rental facilities, which includes his former place of employment.
Williams was in high school when he and a group of pals scored jobs in the soon-to-open fast food franchise on the then-active Army base. He endured two months of fast food basic training before the business finally opened.
“I was the burger guy,” Williams said. “I was the fry guy.”
Williams said a bar ran along the bank of windows looking out on the bay. He recalled watching boats sail by, whales breaching beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and the fog riding in.
“It was a great experience,” Williams said.
Unlike most building demolitions in San Francisco these days — there are no condos or office buildings set to take over the site which sits just North of the Presidio’s historic parade ground. The building is simply coming down for the very reason it was popular in the first place — the views.
The Presidio Trust is demolishing the building, which was mostly recently used for rentals, to open the views from the Presidio grounds out to the bay. Boland describes it as the symbolic kickoff for the project that will cover the newly built Doyle Drive twin traffic tunnels with a park connecting the Presidio to the bay.
“For the first time in about 80 years,” Boland said, “you’ll be able to walk unimpeded from the birthplace of San Francisco all the way down to the northern waterfront.”
The new park will have four observation decks, including one at Burger King site, several children’s playgrounds, picnic areas and educational facilities. Work on the project will begin next year and is scheduled for completion in 2021. Boland sees the demolition of the building as the watershed moment for the transformation.
“It’s also I think really an important symbolic moment,” Boland said, “because it will reveal the view of the Golden Gate to the public in a way they haven’t really had it in a long time and I think help people see the potential of this project.”
On Thursday, as the wrecking ball batters away at the building — opening up spectacular views that have been covered for decades, Williams may be the only one feeling a bit nostalgic — in a way most wouldn’t feel for their first fast food job.
“It’s bittersweet,” Williams said. “I’m bummed in a way because it’s got so much history.”