The Sacred Thread of Yoga

Fort Mason

Fort MasonThe Sacred Thread of Yoga Festival will take place in Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. Now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and a National Historic Landmark, it at one time served as the fishing grounds for the native Ohlone American Indians. Their name Ohlone means 'people who live at the edge of the world', and the Fort Mason area was to them an example of the natural bounty of their sacred home. They and other Native Americans lived in the natural paradise for approximately seven millennia, in villages scattered along the shoreline and in the interior valleys. Then in the fall of 1769, Sergeant Jose Ortega, led a scouting party to the East Bay, with Captain Pedro Fages leading follow-up expeditions in 1770 and 1772. The De Anza Expedition came to the Bay Area four years later bringing 193 soldiers, padres, and civilians to establish the first Spanish settlement. For the Spanish, the first Europeans to conquer the area, Fort Mason was one of the farthest outposts of their empire. Franciscan padres worked hard to attract local Indians to their missions to be baptized as Christians, and to be given training in the Spanish way of life. In 1797 the Spanish established the Batteria San Jose but their claimed possessions in the area were not really defensible. The Spanish missions took over the best areas, and by 1810, the few remaining Indians had abandoned their villages to live in the missions—where many died of a variety of diseases, the imposed change in diet, and various other ailments consequent upon the living conditions. The Spanish military left the territory in 1821. Mexico had won its eleven-year war of independence from Spain.

The incoming Mexican authorities originally intended to secularize the missions and to return most of the land to the Indians. This, however, was never implemented, and the Church continued to control the missions and Indians for the next 15 years. When Mission San Jose was closed down in 1836, its extensive agricultural and cattle grazing lands were granted to powerful and wealthy Mexican families. By 1846 the United States had seized control of California and was determined to protect the rich resources of the surrounding bay from foreign invaders. The Fort Mason area was claimed as federal land, but the government did not have the resources to enforce its territorial rights. In 1848-49 the first real major migration into America’s new Territory got under way when some 40,000 men came to San Francisco by sea on their way to seek their fortunes in the goldfields. These late 19th century adventurers and settlers of the San Francisco Gold Rush called the area 'Black Point'. They took it over and started developing the land. But they had to battle a federal government that regarded them as little more than squatters and wanted to evict them to establish its rights and law and order in a restless area. Ships and wagon trains poured in with yet more settlers, and cities such as Oakland, Martinez, Alameda and Berkeley sprang rapidly into existence. Some magnificent homes were built in the Fort Mason/Black Point area, which was regarded as prime land, but only three homes from that era now remain on site.

President Fillmore eventually designated Point San Jose -- now Upper Fort Mason -- as a military reservation with oversight duties for safeguarding the geographic and economic importance of San Francisco Bay and all the valuable cargo being chartered through it. In 1882 it was named Fort Mason after Richard Barnes Mason, a former military governor of California. The piers and sheds that make up Lower Fort Mason -- and where this Festival will be held -- date from 1912 and were originally used to store army supplies, as well as for the docking of army transport ships. With these piers and the associated railroad, Fort Mason became a strategically important harbor and a logistical and transport hub for US military operations throughout the Pacific. In World War II, Fort Mason was the headquarters of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation and the crown jewel of a network of shipping facilities spreading across the Bay Area and the West Coast. Its port moved 1,647,174 passengers and 23,589,472 tons into the Pacific. This was two-thirds of all the troops and over half of all Army cargo that passed through the country's West Coast ports. It continued to play an important role through until the Korean War. In 1955 the name 'San Francisco Port of Embarkation' was changed to 'the U.S. Army Transportation Terminal Command Pacific', and by 1965 that Command had shifted its headquarters over to the Oakland Army Base. At this point, Fort Mason fell into disuse and disrepair.

In the 1970s a far-sighted collective of of grassroots organizers began a campaign, and the National Park Service took over the administration of the site as a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Fort Mason was then transformed into a base, housed in the Fort Mason Center, for a diverse collection of influential non-profit organizations and associated cultural activities. Fort Mason is now a collection of parks and gardens blended with late nineteenth and early twentieth century structures. Some of the old officer buildings in Upper Fort Mason are still used by the Army, but some are rented out for public use. One of them has become a youth hostel. Fort Mason Center hosted the 2008 YouTube Live Festival, the first of its kind, and the Slow Food Festival along with a host of other cultural, dance, and artistic festivals and events. The thirteen acre waterfront site hosts over 35 nonprofit organizations, three museums, six theaters, a College and an Arts Campus and hosts over 15,000 events annually bringing in over 1.5 million visitors. The last parts of the original San Francisco Bay shoreline have also now been preserved and a path that follows the harbor edge gives magnificent views northwards past Alcatraz Island, and eastwards to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Further information available from: The Fort Mason History Walk || Fort Mason Historic District || Wikipedia Article on Fort Mason

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