Locating Starfleet Buildings in San Francisco
by Bernd Schneider and Drew Stewart
We can see Starfleet's buildings in and around San Francisco in all series except for TOS and in some of the TOS movies. Since many of the shots also show real-world references such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the cityscape, other landmarks and topological features, it is interesting to try to locate these buildings on a map of the real San Francisco Bay.
Furthermore, as we have snapshots of the Bay Area at different times, it may be possible to outline a coarse history of Starfleet's buildings and sites. Considering that the locations of specific Starfleet facilities such as most obviously Starfleet Headquarters are subject to vary whenever new matte paintings or CGI effects are created and, on the other hand, sometimes an existing image is re-used for a different facility, a chronology may help to make the relocations more plausible.
The Starfleet facilities that can be seen on Star Trek Enterprise are all concentrated on the northern shore of the Golden Gate, east of the bridge.
Starfleet Command building, 2143-2155
The building of 22nd century Earth Starfleet Command is located northeast of the Golden Gate Bridge, on the northern shore of the small Horseshoe Bay. We can first see the building in which Admiral Forrest's office is located from the outside in ENT: "First Flight", in the year 2143. The line of vision is to the south, along the characteristic scarp at the northern bridge head with the supporting wall for the road. The building is still the very same more than ten years later in "Home" (2154) and "Demons" (2155). Both episodes use unmodified stock footage from "First Flight".
In the 22nd century the area of the Presidio (the site of some future Starfleet buildings) at the opposite shore of the Golden Gate is apparently only sparsely populated. There are no recognizable large buildings, neither on the shore nor in the hills.
Another shot that appears in "The Expanse" (at night) and in "Home" (at daylight) supposedly shows the same Starfleet Command building as above, as also indicated by the flat domes closer to the shore that are clearly the same too. If this is true, we are looking in southeastern direction, at the small hill range on the eastern shore of Horseshoe Bay. On the other hand, the remote shore appears to be at least one kilometer away, while the Horseshoe Bay measures at most some 500m across. And the hills on the other side are just a few meters high in reality. Overall, Horseshoe Bay is far less impressive in reality. In any case there are settlements alongside that whole bay, as the lights at night indicate.
In a different interpretation, the building from "The Expanse" and "Home" is not the same, and is not located at Horseshoe Bay. A tall shoreline more than one kilometer away across a bay or lagoon can be found in Bolinas, looking back at Stinson Bay. This is on the sea side of Marin County, 20 kilometers northwest of Horseshoe Bay. On the other hand, there is no obvious reason why Forrest's office and the conference room should be so far apart, yet in buildings that look identical.
Starfleet Command building, 2155
The building of Starfleet Command also shows up in ENT: "Terra Prime", here as a long-range scan from Mars, as Paxton has chosen it as a target. This building, however, does not resemble the familiar one from the other episodes.
All Starfleet facilities that we see in the TOS movies are located at the northern shore of the Golden Gate, west of the bridge. The only exception is the tram station in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture".
Starfleet tram station, 2271
In "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" we can see how Admiral Kirk's air tram, coming from some location at the northern shore of the Golden Gate east of the bridge, arrives at a station located some 300 meters east of the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, atop the hill range in the Presidio. The reverse angle of the bridge as seen from inside the station confirms this location. Strictly speaking, the tram station doesn't have to be a Starfleet Installation. In fact, there is a big Federation emblem on the floor, and it is well possible that another organization takes care of public transportation in 2271.
On a side note, the former roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge itself is covered with thick plates or tubes in both versions of the first Trek movie, perhaps a part of some sort of an antigrav or maglev transportation system (that may have become obsolete because of the new free flying air tram system?). This addition will be removed until the 24th century.
For Robert Wise's Director's Cut of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" an entirely new air tram sequence was created. The shuttle now approaches from some point west of the bridge. But most obviously the air tram station is now located directly beside the southern bridge head, hovering above Fort Point.
Also, San Francisco has more and taller buildings in the Director's Cut.
Kirk's apartment, 2285
While it probably isn't a Starfleet building itself, the location of Admiral Kirk's apartment in the city center of San Francisco indicates that the air tram in TMP didn't come from his apartment, although it is quite possible that he moved in the 14 years between the two movies.
On a perhaps more interesting note, Kirk is staring out of the window in "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan", in the direction of Starfleet Academy (former Earth Starfleet Headquarters), pondering about his age. On the right side of the screen cap we can see plenty of lights in Marin County on the other side of the bay, obviously meant to represent Sausalito.
Federation Council building, 2271-2286
In "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" (2286) there is a shot of the exterior of the Federation Council building. We can recognize the city at the opposite shore on the other side of the bridge, which puts the Council building on the northern shore, west of the bridge. The most likely exact location is in a small valley a bit less than one kilometer to the west. On the left side of the screen capture we can make out a part of the hill that is directly at the western side of the northern bridge head, the site of the Starfleet Headquarters in 2286.
The Federation Council complex has to be the same one that is visible left of the bridge from the reverse angle in the already mentioned air tram scene from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (2271).
Starfleet Headquarters building, 2286-2293
The control room of Starfleet Command in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" (whose glass window gets smashed) is located close to the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge (we can see a bit of the city in the background between Admiral Cartwright and the crewman), in an elevated position above the roadbed of the bridge.
We don't see this building from the outside in the movie. But obviously someone remembered its supposed location correctly when an exterior shot of Starfleet Headquarters at night was created for "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country". It is not certain looking at the according screen caps from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", but is is possible that the building doesn't yet exist as of 2271.
There is an error in the shot from "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country", however. In reality there is no such high hill on the right side of the bridge, which would be east of the bridge on the northern shore. As we already know, on this side the road runs alongside a scarp and the view from the 22nd century Starfleet Command is not obstructed by such a hill. The image was manipulated more extensively than just the addition of the new building. Actually, the high hill right of the bridge with the lone tree on the top should be located on the left side. The real image was horizontally flipped, and a new hill was created along with the building.
In the three 24th century series TNG, DS9 and Voyager it seems that most Starfleet facilities can be found northeast of the bridge.
Starfleet Academy, 2368-2377
The first time that we can see Starfleet Academy is in TNG: "First Duty" (note the flag at half-mast because of the death of one cadet in the shuttle accident). In the real world the building that we look at is the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. The footage of the real location was supplemented with new upper stories and embedded into a matte painting with additional buildings and with the Golden Gate Bridge, placing this part of the Starfleet Academy campus area in the area of Horseshoe Bay, perhaps 200m northeast of the site of the former 21st century Earth Starfleet Command. Note that it looks like the bridge is somewhat farther away from the camera than in the shots from Enterprise, while the line of vision is the same.
Starfleet Academy appears again in VOY: "In the Flesh", here as a simulation created by Species 8472, including a member of the alien species as Boothby and presumably precise enough that Chakotay wouldn't notice the difference if he were not aware that everything was recreated on a huge space station. On the other hand, while the real year is 2377, everyone in this simulation without exception is running around in the old-style Starfleet uniforms as they were retired in 2373. It is possible that single Starfleet officers on Earth, notably admirals, may still wear the old style four years later. But certainly not everyone. So the only possible conclusion is that Species 8472 based their simulation on outdated records from Voyager's computer.
Another inaccuracy is that the building in "In the Flesh" and its immediate surrounding is very similar but evidently not the same as in TNG: "The First Duty". Since the data the simulation is based on probably dates back to 2371, we wouldn't expect the area to change that much in only three years since 2368. Still it looks like the "Tillman Plant" was heavily modified and some of the surrounding buildings demolished (and rather not destroyed in the Breen attack that would occur as late as in 2375). Well, the Golden Gate Bridge appears to be closer in "In the Flesh", actually just as close as in the Enterprise episodes. It is well possible that this is another part of Starfleet Academy, one that was built on the site of the former Earth Starfleet Command or is located very close to it, presupposing that the historical building in which the Federation was effectively forged would never be knocked down just because it isn't needed any longer.
On a different note, we can notice many highrises in San Francisco on the opposite shore, in an area where they obviously didn't exist in the 22nd century and may have been covered by the building on the left in "The First Duty". Considering that the cityscape of San Francisco varies considerably between the 22nd and the 24th century --let alone "Star Trek (2009)"--, at least this trend is consistent.
Starfleet Headquarters building, 2364 and 2372
The unchanged footage of the Council building west of the bridge appears in TNG: "Conspiracy", here serving as the Starfleet Headquarters. It looks like the Federation Council has moved to another building or building complex (although the Federation emblem and lettering is still in place), or Starfleet Headquarters temporarily uses some of the Federation's facilities.
The footage appears once again as Starfleet Headquarters in VOY: "Non Sequitur", set in 2372.
Starfleet Headquarters building, 2372
The building consisting of the already mentioned Tillman Water Reclamation Plant as a base and a ribbed and curved upper part (a model, actually) is the perhaps most prominent visualization of Starfleet Headquarters, although it appeared in just one episode, DS9: "Homefront". As opposed to all previous versions of Starfleet Command or Headquarters, its site is definitely near the southern shore of the Golden Gate, in the area of the Presidio. We are looking at the Golden Gate Bridge from a slightly elevated position and not from the waterfront as in "Star Trek (2009)" (see below). The photo of the bridge used in this shot was probably taken from Doyle Drive, just northwest of the National Cemetery. But it was inserted into the background of the matte at a small scale, to insinuate that the bridge is at a longer distance, so overall the matte may not correspond with a possible real camera position. The 24th century building may be found somewhere on or southeast of the present-day cemetery, although in reality the view of the bridge from there is currently obstructed.
The fairly symmetrical Golden Gate Bridge being the only point of reference, we could still claim the actual site is on the opposite side near the Federation Council, only somewhat more to the west. However, this alternative area is nowhere as low and flat in reality as it looks on the image, and it seems very unlikely that Starfleet would level the hills at the entrance to the bay so much to obtain a large building ground there (and additionally an unobstructed panoramic view).
On a side note, the stone garden at Starfleet Headquarters in "Homefront" is exactly the same as the one at Starfleet Academy in "In the Flesh", the obvious reason being that it is the actual surrounding of the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.
In "Paradise Lost", the second part of the double feature, we can see what is supposedly meant to be Starfleet Headquarters at night. But in the night shot the upper stories of the building are missing. What we see is just the Tillman building without additions. In an in-universe explanation we could ignore that the upper stories are missing. Or we could be looking at any other building of Starfleet, perhaps the one of Starfleet Headquarters that would be destroyed in the Breen attack three years later (see below, 2375) and whose architecture is at least similar.
Also in "Paradise Lost", we can see a bridge through a window in a building of Starfleet Headquarters. We previously thought that it was the Golden Gate Bridge, but the shot in which Sisko is talking to a Red Squad cadet reveals the bridge pier. It is actually the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and it would look like this from a tall building located on the Embarcadero or on the foot of Telegraph Hill. Today, looking from the vicinity of Coit Tower would give us this view of the bridge, and the photo used for the background was probably taken from there, but Coit Tower is too far away for the scale at which the bridge appears.
Starfleet Headquarters building, 2375
In DS9: "The Changing Face of Evil" we can see another shot of a building very similar to Starfleet Academy from nearly the same angle as later in "In the Flesh" and Star Trek Enterprise. While Martok speaks of "Starfleet Headquarters" and Sisko adds that he had a lot of friends in those buildings after looking at the monitor showing the aftermath of the Breen attack, it is well possible that the news footage actually shows Starfleet Academy. Considering that it was a large-scale attack on more than just one building (considering the damage on the bridge and the smoke in the city), it is only plausible that Starfleet Academy was hit just as well. On the other hand, the emblem that is visible on the ground is the one of Starfleet Command, not of Starfleet Academy.
The destroyed building in the foreground looks like it is yet another one on or near the Starfleet Academy campus. Most obviously it is much closer to the shore than any of the other ones, including those of 22nd century Starfleet Command. On the other hand, the later produced shot of the Academy for "In the Flesh" (2377, data from 2371) rather follows the lines of the building and its surroundings in "The Changing Face of Evil" (2375) than those of "The First Duty" (2368). Perhaps it was transferred from the Academy to Starfleet Command prior to its destruction?
"The Changing Face of Evil" too shows us shiny new tall buildings on the hill tops of San Francisco, albeit different ones than later in "In the Flesh".
Starfleet apartments, 2377
Stock footage of the night shot of the Starfleet Headquarters building from 2286-2293 are used in VOY: "In the Flesh". Here it appears that the building now houses apartments for Starfleet officers (again presupposing that the simulation created by Species 8472 is accurate).
The same footage also appears in VOY: "Non Sequitur", but as a generic building in San Francisco without any relevance to the story.
Starfleet Communications, 2376-2404
We see the exterior of Starfleet Communications in VOY: "Pathfinder" and once again in VOY: "Endgame". This building is apparently located in the city center of San Francisco. In the real world the building was created using parts of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.
Starfleet Medical, 2404
Just for the sake of completeness, and technically already in the 25th century, "Endgame" also shows us a facility of Starfleet Medical. There is no clue as to where this building is located. The real building that the matte is based on is the Kaiser Baldwin Park Medical Center in Baldwin Park, California.
In the new universe of "Star Trek (2009)" we can see an alternate Starfleet Academy.
Starfleet Academy (alt.), 2258
We can see Starfleet Academy on two occasions in "Star Trek (2009)", before Kirk's Kobayashi Maru test and once again when Nero's drilling begins in San Francisco Bay. The particular building or the complete campus of this timeline is located on the shore of the Presidio, not far away from the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The first shot of the bridge (Kirk meets McCoy prior to the Kobayashi Maru test) is taken from a point halfway between the former air field and Fort Point. On the other hand, we also see a pan in the opposite direction, where we can spot the present-day Transamerica Pyramid, perhaps 1 or 2 kilometers away, amidst many much taller buildings some of which must be more than 2 kilometers high. The direction of the building is roughly correct, but the real Transamerica Pyramid is located about 4km from the airfield. Moreover, in order to be able to see the building from there the way it is possible in the movie, and not just the very tip, it would require to lower Russian Hill, one of the most prominent parts of San Francisco, almost to sea level! Since the movie doesn't get the topology of the city right, perhaps we should assume that the location on the airfield is right, rather than the sight of the Transamerica Building. Perhaps it is a replica of the original building that was erected on the other side of Russian Hill? In "Star Trek Into Darkness" we can see the Transamerica Pyramid again, this time about in the right place and orientation, and not dwarfed by the surrounding buildings.
The second scene (drill scene) is meant to show the same building, as the staircase and the railing is identical. Yet, it must be from a location about one kilometer to the east, at the opposite end of the airfield, as indicated by the distance and the viewing angle of the bridge. Well, perhaps there is another building with similar stairs in this place. It also looks like the shoreline in the second shot is not the real one as of 2008. It is as if the former air field was carved out to a bay.
Starfleet building (alt.), 2259
In "Star Trek Into Darkness" we can see a building identified as "Starfleet Headquarters". It is kilometers away from the Golden Gate Bridge. The shot of the bridge must have been taken from some point northeast of the city center. Another Starfleet building located on the shore of San Francisco Bay looks like it is much closer to the bridge.
Jorge Almeida produced various graphics for "Star Trek Into Darkness", among them a plan of the Starfleet Headquarters complex. The plan can be seen when Kirk and Spock enter their building for their appointment with Pike at the beginning of the film. According to the plan, the building complex is apparently located in the San Francisco city center, although the shot from the outside is the one that indicates that the location should be more to the northeast. Anyway, we can see that the 2nd Street is adjacent to the building complex. Since Khan's intention was to hit Starfleet Headquarters at the end of the film, we may want to follow the crash path of the Vengeance. The ship smashes Alcatraz and comes to a stop before it reaches the Transamerica Pyramid. 2nd Street lies in the extrapolated path, so it looks like Starfleet Headquarters (or at least a part thereof) is located south of Market Street (the northern end of 2nd Street). In other words, the Headquarters, Khan's main target, remains unscathed.
Star Trek Discovery shows a similar San Francisco as in the classic Prime Universe.
Starfleet Headquarters, 2257 (reimagined)
"Such Sweet Sorrow II" shows a view of the Golden Gate Bridge (with very odd solar panels) from San Francisco towards Marin County. We can see several buildings in the hills. The Horseshoe Bay is a bit reminiscent of Star Trek Enterprise. We can see that the room where Tyler is debriefed is probably located in one of the buildings of the Horseshoe Bay site. We can see a cityscape (and not hills with buildings on the top) on the other side of the bridge.
Our map shows that there are basically six sites with Starfleet buildings around San Francisco Bay that we know of, three on the north shore and three on the south shore of the Golden Gate.
The particular facilities that are most frequently shown or referred to are Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Headquarters (or Starfleet Command). The location of Starfleet Academy at Horseshoe Bay remains somewhat consistent, although we may not always be looking at the very same buildings. Only in the alternate universe of "Star Trek (2009)" parts of the Academy or the whole institution seem to have moved to the Presidio.
Regarding Starfleet Headquarters, it was originally located at Horseshoe Bay at the time of Earth Starfleet. At some later date, it looks like a new building was erected on top of the hills almost directly beside the Golden Gate Bridge. This one can be seen in two of the TOS movies. The former site at Horseshoe Bay may have been incorporated into Starfleet Academy, but it is possible that some parts of Starfleet Headquarters are still located there, as seen in DS9: "The Changing Face of Evil". By 2372 the headquarters appears to have moved to the Presidio. At least its most prominent building is located here, the one of DS9: "Homefront".
Re-Used Planet Sets - different planet surfaces that are amazingly alike
Re-Uses of the Vasquez Rocks Location - observations about Star Trek's most famous filming location
Most screen caps are taken from TrekCore; locations were identified with the help of Google Street View. Special thanks to Jörg Hillebrand for additional references, to Michael Minnick for corrections, to Patrick W. Noland for the hint about the Baldwin Park Medical Center, to Alexander for the research on Starfleet Headquarters in the 2nd Street in "Star Trek Into Darkness", to Brian Castro for fixing an observation in "Paradise Lost" and to Adrian Quince for suggesting a possible alternative location of the buildings in the 22nd century.