Presidio opening new visitor's center in old jail building

Patriotic bunting and big signs at the Presidio's building #210 signal the grand opening of the first high-tech visitor's center on the north end of the Main Post parade ground, adjacent to the bus terminal.

The Presidio is holding a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday with House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and a community grand opening this Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. to welcome people to the old building that underwent a $5 million renovation.

The Presidio, with its sweeping views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, has transitioned from a former Army post iinto a National Park destination that attracts locals and tourists from around the world. Getting around the 1,500 acre park, though, can be difficult, as well as getting information on the vast offerings and events by tenant businesses, the Presidio Trust, the National Parks Service and the Golden Gate Conservancy.

"I do have a hard time finding where things are and I don't know if it's the signage," said Lia Deatherage who was visiting from Oregon.

"Every time we take a walk, somebody stops us and asks us directions, because people get confused in the Presidio," said Cat Carr, who says she was one of the first Presidio residents when the land was transferred from the U.S. Army.

National Park Service spokesman Nathan Hale Sargent gave KTVU a tour.

"The first thing you'll see is the topographical map," he said pointing to a large round map of the park.

The center has educational displays showing all the Presidio has to offer.A large screen lists daily attractions and free events and touch screens show the Presidio's current attractions and history.

"There's history of the main post. There's natural landscape restoration and preservation taking place in the southern wilds. There's world class recreational opportunities in Crissy Fields. And of course some of the best views in the country of the Golden Gate," he said.

The building dates from 1900 and now welcomes visitors in what used to be a most unwelcome place, the Army jail.

Bars on the windows have been left in place and lines on the floor indicate the locations of the old jail cells.

"I think it's really exicting because  I think it's going to help people discover the Presidio again and realize how much there is here for them to enjoy." said Eric Blind, The Presidio Trust, Director of Heritage Programs.

Blind says the new center helps educate visitors about all of the Presido's offerings.

"Some amazing views, historic buildings, rare plants, everything you could think of. And here you get a sense of how that all gets stitched together," Blind said, "It's like a village inside a city."

"Even people who have lived and grown up in San Francisco the Presidio is kind of foreign territory because being a military base for so long, it people didn't come here. So it's actually new for a lot of people who have lived here all their lives," said Marc Kasky, a longtime San Francisco Presidio resident.

The new visitor's center will be tied in with the National Parks Service mobile app and will be open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.