Presidio Historical Association

Mission

The mission of the Presidio Historical Association is to promote understanding and preservation of the history of the Presidio of San Francisco as reflected in its structures, sites, stories and people.

Featured Fun

For San Francisco History Days 2020, the Presidio Historical Association is screening a movie made in the presidio and providing a lecture.

Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 10:00AM – (Virtual) History of the Presidio of San Francisco

Join Robert Cherny, Professor Emeritus of San Francisco State University, for a lecture on the history of the Presidio of San Francisco.

This Event is Free but Pre-Registration is Required.

Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 3:00PM – (Virtual) Film Screening: “Jane’s Declaration of Independence”

Join us for an exclusive live screening of the film “Jane’s Declaration of Independence,” which you can read a review of below.

After years of work and renovation, the Presidio Theatre was finally completed last fall. Though designed as a children’s theatre, the venue can also show movies and in October “Jane’s Declaration of Independence” was screened there.

The recently rediscovered 1915 two reeler (approximately 20 minutes) is the earliest known film photographed in the Presidio. Shot at Fort Scott and nearby, the silent movie has been described as a feminist story with a strong woman protagonist. I expected a soap opera of some kind, in an army setting.

In fact, “Jane’s Declaration of Independence” is a carefully crafted piece of promotion. It is designed to build US support for the military in general, and for participation in World War 1 in particular. In 1915, as you may recall, while the Great War engulfed Europe, America remained on the sidelines. The public retained a strong isolationist sentiment and were generally opposed to involvement; Congress, however, and branches of the military favored participation and had even begun to prepare.

page1image9856

Former President Theodore Roosevelt visited San Francisco’s Pan-Pacific International Exhibition in July 1915, and weighed in. In a lecture entitled ‘Peace and War,’ he articulated an imperialistic stance, shared by many in government, declaring: “I’m heartily sick of this bleating, wheedling, simpering cry of peace at any price. Standing pat in pink tights, like an angel of peace, and beseeching that no one say anything to offend those men over there is all very pretty, but what if they come from over there to offend us with guns?”

With war clouds looming as a backdrop, the film’s story centers around Jane, who wants to marry an army colonel. Her family opposes the union and would prefer she take up with a doctor friend. In a climatic scene in a living room, Jane becomes infuriated at her father and points at a painting of George Washington and argues how Americans won the Revolutionary War. She next gestures at a Civil War picture on the wall. The film then depicts battle scenes from that conflict (filmed at the Presidio), with canons in the woods and men in Union and Confederate uniforms.

Jane concludes by stating the military made the country what it is, fought for freedom and preserved the union, so her Dad ought to support it. Dad is convinced, more or less, but wants to meet the colonel.

We see the colonel leading military exercises at Fort Scott in an extended sequence (the producers apparently trying to milk the location). Jane joins him at his house afterward. Dad talks to the colonel, likes him and in the end Jane and the colonel marry with his blessing.

The exteriors were done at the Presidio, while all interior scenes were shot in Los Angeles. What is striking is how little has changed. The Fort Scott sequence, in particular, looks like it was photographed yesterday. The buildings are exactly the same. The only difference, perhaps, is the grass then was neatly trimmed and resembled a football field. I believe it was a regularly used parade ground. Today the field is untidy.

Exteriors of officer’s living quarters were filmed in nearby residences, and also look identical today. The nearby forests used for battle scenes are instantly recognizable to anybody who has driven through the Presidio. The only missing element is a small log cabin 100 yards south of Fort Scott, which appears in a brief scene. This longer exists.

page3image544

The film was restored digitally by artists in Ireland. Some badly deteriorated footage has been vastly improved by the touch up. Live music was provided by a local group. Technically, the movie looks very good and is an excellent historical record.

Incidentally, the Presidio Theatre itself, shuttered since 1994, has been beautifully restored in a swanky, art deco style. The wall lettering in various sections is art deco, the carpet has a 1930s motif, and the new seats are as plush as at any multiplex. There are historical pictures — one of Bob Hope as an usher there — that add some color, with a box office in front and a concessions stand inside (but no popcorn yet). This apparently has all cost millions, but the Presidio did not foot the bill. The sponsor was Peggy Haas, a descendant of Levi Strauss. It should be a terrific showcase.

This Event is Free but Pre-Registration is Required.