Build it meaningfully.

The case studies below demonstrate how we bring the “story” of a development to its modern presentation.

The Story:

The San Francisco Presidio, home to the native Ohlone and later layers of Spanish exploration, US military occupation, urban residences, and National Park, each phase of life has contributed to the evolution of this coastal land known as the ‘Golden Gate’. The San Francisco Presidio has been and is a place of hospitality, healing, and beauty. The former Public Health Service Hospital originally built in 1932 and the largest historic structure in the Presidio was restored in 2010 to become 154 LEED Gold status residences with 37 different floorplans. This new development is anchored to its history through subtle details such as a warming by the fireplace with a blanket and cup of hot cocoa just as the Spanish explorers had requested upon their arrival in 1775 and the restored original merchant marine anchor and cadeuceus symbols framing the historic portico.

This project exemplifies how our research can benefit a project at any stage of development. In this case Xsense became engaged with the Presidio Landmark after the initial architectural plans had been drafted and re-construction was well under way. When the developers realized they had untapped historic resources and wanted a deeper connection to it, Xsense came on board and gave the marketing and operations team a guidebook filled with opportunities to connect the future development to the living legacy of the historic Presidio.


A variety of sources including published materials, periodicals, the internet, personal interviews with former Presidio families and hospital personnel, Ohlone descendants, Presidio Trust historian, site visits, and collaboration with knowledgeable local authorities from historic museums and art guilds.

Findings and Recommendations:

All of our findings and research were compiled into a book which is given to everyone involved in the project.

To download the full exploration [pdf] click here.


Connection to nature at the Presidio and the legacy of health and wellness from the former merchant marine hospital lives today in the Presidio Landmark in which residents have access to bike trails, sauna, and a private yoga studio. The Presidio Landmark logo was inspired by the eucalyptus pod. Eucalyptus which was introduced to the Presidio by the military planting efforts of 1886-1910 is known to restore balance and increase vitality. One will find modern Kohler fixtures in the Belles just as they used in the original hospital’s hydrotherapy room.

In true spirit, a portion of rent helps keep the National Park in all of its splendor. A concept taken from the country’s first public health care initiative, where 20 cents was deducted from the monthly wage of each merchant seaman in order to build hospitals and finance medical care. The Presidio Trust encourages the residences to take an active role in the preservation and continuation of the Presidio by taking part in archeological digs, forest and tree care, gardening, habitat restoration, landscape maintenance, or trail building.

The historic restoration reintroduces original materials such as terra cotta and Indiana limestone. Nearly 700 historic wood windows were restored, and 20,000 custom match bricks replaced. The traditional institutional green was reintroduced in a fun and modern way.

Developer: Forest City
Authenticity: Xsense
Landscape Architect: CMG Landscape Architecture
Architect: Perkins + Will
Historic Architect: Page & Turnbull
Interior Designer: Shopworks
Graphic Designer: Gensler

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The Story:

Just outside Brentwood, in Contra Costa County, this Shea Homes development was part of John Marsh,s original 38,000 acre Ranch Los Meganos. John Marsh, born and raised in Salem, MA, had a lifelong passion for learning, teaching and adventure. He was dismissed from Harvard medical school twice for throwing cannon balls from his second floor room and cracking the steps at Hollis Hall and nearly killing one of his professors. ‘Riots with cannonballs’ became commonplace on campus, much to the dismay of Harvard president Kirkland, whose brilliant solution was to ‘take the devil out of the young men’ by introducing Harvard Athletics.

Upon arrival to California, Marsh hired the Native Miwoks who reportedly enjoyed the views of the sacred Mountain Diablo to work his land. Marsh;s most significant legacy was his role in helping pioneers move west. The first group of pioneers arrived at his ranch at the end of the California Trail in 1841. Many parties followed and John, now married to Abby, designed the new Marsh House to welcome this constant stream of visitors who needed to find footing in California. The new home was designed to welcome large groups of people on the ground floor while the upstairs was the family home. The San Francisco Chronicle described this home among the most magnificent in California, ‘a blend of an Italian Villa and an English Manor.’

Abby was equally intellectual and an avid reader, although she kept busy with the fruit orchards, dairy cows, and flower gardens. She would stop and rest under the Alder Tree by the creek and every day she would invite the Miwok ladies over for peppermint tea. Their little daughter Alice was everyone’s joy at the ranch. The Miwok believed her to be fairy-like.

Trilogy by Shea Homes plans were for an active adult community with focus on health, wellness and learning, with a deep connection to the Marsh House. The house is currently under renovation and is a main focal point when entering the community and the view from the clubhouse.


A variety of sources including working with the Friends of John Marsh historical society, the Contra Costa County Historical Society, the Bancroft library where many of Marsh’s letters are filed, local community stakeholders, Harvard University’s research library and historic records, scholars of John Marsh, published materials, periodicals, the internet, personal interviews with descendants of John Marsh, scholars of the Miwok people, site visits, and collaboration with knowledgeable local authorities from historic museums and local John Marsh aficionados.

Findings and Recommendations:

John Marsh had dreams for California and his ranch was a gateway he opened to many to fulfill these dreams. The Trilogy Vineyards project exemplifies how John Marsh might have taken these dreams into the 21st century.

To download full exploration [pdf], click here.


Connection to the place and its historic roots provided rich materials for land planners, architects, street and venue names, venue concepts, as well as sales and marketing approaches.

Street names:

California Trail: although the original California Trail used to end at Marsh’s rancho, it has been re-routed to Sutter’s Fort. A marker at the entrance to the Vineyards club symbolizes this historic place.

Healing Rock Court: the Native Miwok used the rocks, which once covered the site, for healing in sweat lodges.

Sacred Mountain Lane: the view of Mount Diablo from the Vineyards is significant and was important to the Miwok people who lived in a village next to the Marsh adobe.


Club Los Meganos: meaning sand dunes, is now the name of the club based on original name of Noriego’s and Marsh’s rancho.

Sawa Spa: meaning ‘rock’ in the Miwok language, this word connects back to the Native American’s use of the site’s rocks in their sweat lodge ceremonies; the original spa’s concept included a rock sauna, an over-sized warm rock from the site in the center of the spa for everyone to touch, woven baskets throughout the facility and woven lounge chairs in the spa lounge, just beside the rock fireplace.

Cafe de Oro: connecting back to the lore of John Marsh’s buried gold treasure, this restaurant is as warm and welcoming as the Marsh House would have been as it received the pioneers after their long trip over the Sierras. Marsh’s $40,000 worth of gold was never found. It is believed to be buried here. The gold flakes on the chocolate cannon ball truffles refer back to this legend.

Helak Grand Living Room: meaning ‘warmth’ in the Miwok language, this expansive living room is the heart of the clubhouse and would have been the modern interpretation of the first floor of the original Marsh House, a place designed entirely for welcoming weary travelers and entertaining in grand style.

Abby’s Gourmet Studio: Abby was the first woman on the rancho; she was instrumental in introducing the finer things in life: butter, cheeses, fruits and flowers. The gourmet studio was created in her honor and continues on with the tradition in enjoying life in grand style.

The Delta Athletic Club: John Marsh’s encounters with cannon balls at Harvard College, inspired President Kirkland to create a program that would ‘take the devil out of the young men’.  This is how Harvard Athletics was created. The shape of Harvard’s fitness lawn and the interior of the original Harvard gym inspired the Delta Athletic Club.

John Marsh Library: modeled after John and Abby’s one-room adobe building, where reading by the light of the fireplace was an everyday experience this space has been lovingly recreated with all the modern comforts John Marsh would have appreciated.

Mount Diablo Events Center: this grand ballroom and indoor/outdoor reception area showcases the most dramatic views of the areas Sacred Mountain, a view that was preserved and honored, just as the Native Americas had.

Warm Rock Tea Garden: this lovely outdoor sitting area among peppermint plants was connected in honor and remembrance of Abby and her friendship to the Miwok women. Every day she invited the Miwok ladies to mint tea at her humble adobe, a truly Victorian tradition. Today, this tradition continues outside the spa on the warm rocks that covered the site.

Sales Experience:

Special emphasis was given to the sales experience. Sales started years before any of the clubhouse was ready for use and the story of this magnificent place had to be told, in a multi-sensory fashion, as potential buyers go through the typical sales experience.

Site Rocks: the importance of the site rocks, their meaning to the Native Americans and healing, was shared with the sales team; the rocks were used heavily in the storytelling about the site. Sales people even engraved home buyers’ names onto rocks as welcoming gifts. The rock leads naturally into the story of the spa, the warm rock tea garden and the use of this natural rock around the site.

Chocolate Cannon Balls: Rustic wooden boxes with dark chocolate cannon ball truffles and gold flakes are an offering during the sales experience, connecting naturally to John Marsh’s story and the Delta Athletic Club; the gold flakes on the cannon balls connect to the lore about the buried gold and Cafe de Oro.

Developer: Shea Homes
Authencity: Xsense
Landscape Architect: Wallace Group
Architect: Williams + Paddon
Interior Design: Design Lines
Residential Architecture: Bassenian Lagoni Architects

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