Marin Headlands – Fort Barry


Before 1900, San Francisco’s coastal defenses were concentrated abreast, and just inside, the current day location of the Golden Gate Bridge, which spans from Fort Point to Lime Point. This is the narrowest part of the Golden Gate Straight. As the Endicott period defenses arrived in the late 1890s, breech-loading, rifled guns enhanced the accuracy and extended the range of shore batteries and ships alike. This circumstance called for new gun batteries to protect the entrance the Golden Gate Straight. Thus was born Ft. Barry on Point Bonita, the seaward extremity of the Marin Headlands side of the straight.

Fort Barry 1928 and 2014

Views of Fort Barry from 1928 (courtesy of John Martini) and 2014. The earlier view was taken from a higher altitude than my kite view. Still, the comparison is interesting.

Point Bonita must have seemed a lonely outpost back in the day. Lighthouse keepers had occupied the point since the first lighthouse was established in 1855. The area also hosted dairy ranchers and the brave souls who manned the 1899 Coast Guard lifeboat facility. Then came the flurry of construction to build Fort Barry’s gun emplacements starting with Battery Mendell (1901) followed by Battery Alexander (1902), Battery Smith-Guthrie (1904), Battery Samuel Rathbone (1905) and Battery Patrick O’Rorke (1905). Construction of post facilities followed and by 1907 Fort Barry had a complex of Colonial Style headquarters, barracks, officer’s quarters, fire station and hospital sited along the perimeter of a horseshoe-shaped parade ground. The post was thoughtfully situated on the leeward side of Point Bonita’s hills and trees were planted to provide further protection from wind. Perhaps they benefitted from the accumulated wisdom of the lighthouse keepers.

Marin Headlands - Fort Barry

Fort Barry.

Fort Barry was active through World War I, went fallow between 1922 and 1939, and then became quite active again during World War II. After a brief post-war stint as a Nike Missile base, Fort Barry waned again before assuming its new life as parkland in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (1972).

Marin Headlands - Fort Barry

A panorama of the entire valley.

The Fort Barry post buildings are now home to several public enterprises. Chief among them is the Headlands Center for the Arts, which occupies the old four-story barracks, portions of the officer’s quarters, and Building 960 (the Quartermaster’s depot.) My previous attempts to photograph the Fort Barry Post complex were thwarted by the very landscape features intended to protect the fort grounds from strong Pacific winds. Trees and topography conspired with power lines to make this a difficult subject. On this occasion I decided to fly from a Conzelman Road turnout near the hill summit and this strategy has produced my first views of the post site.

Marin Headlands - Fort Barry

A view toward Rodeo Lagoon.

If you are interested in Ft. Barry, the National Park Service has put together a lovely, informative brochure describing a walking tour of the grounds – it is well worth a look. For my part, here is a set of images from the session that I have posted to Flickr:


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