In the spring of 1776, after a 900 mile journey from what is now Mexico, Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and his soldiers came upon Mountain Lake. They were searching for a suitable location for a northern settlement and found the lake an ideal location. It offered abundant water and pasture land, grazing deer, and one of the finest harbors in the world. They broke ground half a mile from the lake and called the settlement the Presidio.
The landscape, on which the early explorers settled, has undergone radical changes over the last two centuries. De Anza found sand dunes covering nearly all of the area that became the Sunset, Richmond, and Golden Gate Park. And today, Mountain Lake’s cypresses and Monterey pines tower over the green slip of land that the Captain described as lacking a single tree.
Decades passed and San Francisco grew. The dunes were paved over as residents built houses and planted trees. The western pond turtles and California red-legged frogs native to the area disappeared, due, some say, to food shortages during the Gold Rush of 1849. The lake suffered further damage in the 1930s when the MacArthur Tunnel was built, and dirt and rock from the construction were dumped into the lake. Subsequently, nitrogen and phosphate run-off from the Presidio golf course has polluted the waters. And four years ago, local favorite Myrtle the Swan had to be moved to another lake, after having almost died from lead poisoning.