Friday, December 21, 2007


The very modern contemporary art museum proposed for the Presidio of San Francisco National Historic Landmark District viewed from in front of an 1890's barracks at the intersection of Sheridan and Montgomery Streets looking toward the 1776 "El Presidio." (Officers Club.) Is this the right building at the right place in a national historic landmark?

Despite official words of welcome for the 100,000 square foot art museum by Presidio Trust officials and the Mayor, and the premature praise of some newspapers, it is becoming clear that the proposal for an out of place, oversized, inappropriately designed art museum on the Presidio is not going to be a "slam dunk." The National Historic Preservation Act calls for a formal consultation process that includes representation from the Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Officer and the Presidio Historical Association. The first meeting of this group recognized many difficulties with the art museum proposal as it stands now and with the hurried process that an environmental review is scheduled to take. The protected status of the Presidio as  one of fewer than 2,500 National Historic Landmark Districts in the nation brings close scrutiny when a proposed action, such as the art museum, would have severe adverse effects on the national landmark. We also are encouraged by public opposition to this project that has been expressed in letters to the Trust and by e-mails to the newspapers that have reported on the art museum. The weight of public opinion is leading to an atmosphere in which - just perhaps- reason will prevail and a redesigned art museum would be located elsewhere on the Presidio, while a suitably designed history center might be established somewhere near Main Post. That would be a win-win situation for everyone, including the public that a national park is meant to serve and the values the park represents.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Public Letters on the Presidio's Future

The comment period closes today for letters or e-mails to the Presidio Trust concerning several proposed projects on the historic Main Post. These letters are for the public to tell the Trust what must be studied in a proposed Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This SEIS is supposed to make it possible to build an 80,000 square foot hotel and a 100,000 square foot contemporary art museum within 200 yards of each other, the flagpole, and the 1776 El Presidio (Officers Club).

The letters range from the highly detailed and technical submission by the Presidio Historical Association to individual angry comments against any construction at all.

Thank you, Everyone, who sent in e-mails and letters. We have not seen them, unless you sent them to us. Within a day, we will post some on this blog and invite you to post yours as comments. Also, ask questions that you think all would like to have answered, and we will do our best to answer them.

Watch this space for some sample letters and e-mails.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Over at the San Francisco Chronicle blog, SFgate, look for the comments on John King's article yesterday. 210 posts last time that I looked. Most see a big airport looking building as out of place in the historical park district, but would like to see it elsewhere in the Presidio.

The organization proposing a more fitting history center is at

Take a look there at an alternative to the mega museum in that location..

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monstrous Art Museum in a National Historic Landmark and National Park???

The image of the proposed Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio was revealed in a well orchestrated demonstration of Establishment support at a meeting on December 3. We will post those images here or on as soon as we get them. In short, the 100,000 square foot structure would overwhelm the site. It would have three to four times the size of any nearby building. It would change the identity of the Presidio from a National Historic Landmark into an office park of old buildings where that big art museum is. The 220 years of history would be overwhelmed in visitors' perceptions.

The Presidio Association responded with a proposal for a history center half the size, with much less bulk, sensitive to the surroundings and environmentally advanced. It would have an inviting open layout and the latest exhibition design, all to present four themes: Completion of America's Westward Expansion, America on the Pacific Rim. Changing Peoples and Cultures, and From Here to Where.

In the tightly controlled meeting, assertions were made with much enthusiasm how a contemporary art museum would "revitalize" the old Presidio and bring the public to it, thereby making it a great national park. Somehow the logic escaped me that a museum that had nothing to do with the values of a National Park could make a great park. The Historical Association presented the case for a modern, well thought out and appropriate history center that could accomplish "revitalizing" the Presidio as a park better. This assertion was simply not acknowledged. We cited the British Columbia Museum in Victoria which draws over 1,000,000 visitors a year. The chief tourist attraction in San Francisco is not MOMA; it is Fisherman's Wharf, with 12 million visitors a year. Alcatraz alone attracts 1.4 million and many more turned away. There is no question that the issue of attracting crowds is wrongly put: the first issue is what is the carrying capacity of the Presidio to handle large numbers of visitors. After all, the Disney Museum claims to bring in 400,000 a year (highly unlikely, in my judgment, but what do I know?) How many succesful mueums can the Presidio have before it is unable to receive any more the visitor?

The crowd last night was packed with speakers brought in by the art museum sponsors, from Mayor Newsome and two MOMA directors, through many art dealers and board members with Mr. Fisher at MOMA, to several architects who sang the praises of this completely overscaled, inappropriate museum proposal that showed no sensitivity to the site.

This begins a long process of hearings and regulatory processes. The art museum proposal obviously has very major adverse effects on the integrity of a national historic landmark district. That fact triggers a lot of regulatory standards and guidelines. Unfortunately, the way the Presidio Trust Law is written, it manages a national park, but does not report to the Park Service, that has the responsibility for preserving national landmarks. Instead, it reports directly to a congressional subcommittee.

In this regulatory morass, THE PUBLIC MUST BE HEARD again and again.

More later. NEXT STEP: get in your letter dealing with the scope of what you want studied on Main Post of the Historic Presidio.
Your ideas on the fast schedule of this process, scope, and alternatives to present in the E.I.S. are important.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Critical Meeting Monday, Dec 3, 6:30 p.m., Officers Club

Okay, folks, you have been great. 27 spoke at the November 28 meeting. NO ONE spoke against, and many spoke for, a history museum on the Main Parade grounds of the Presidio.

Now, we are on the home stretch: yet another meeting is on Monday to learn about, compare, and get your comments of the merits or problems of a contemporary art museum and/or a history center proposed for the Parade Ground - where the nonhistoric bowling alley is now. You will make up your own mind, but think of which proposal fits the site best and will be less intrusive into the historic landscape. Consider which offers the greatest public benefit to the broadest cross-section of park visitors. Ask yourself which best fills the purposes of a unique National Historic Landmark District, a fully paid for contemporary art museum, or the History Center at the Golden Gate that will take years to negotiate and find the necessary donors.

Whatever your decision, it should not be based on financial gain for the Presidio Trust. This particular location is too central to the historic district for mere commercial exploitation. A large insitution at the proposed site will dramatically affect the "integrity" of the entire historic heart of the Presidio. A decison based on financial expediency now cannot be undone. This choice will shape the Presidio's identity as a national park forever.

I think that there are other, more suitable and better sites for a large contemporary art museum on the Presidio.

Your grumbling, your concerns, will make no difference unless you show up and speak. A well financed and influential personal project can overwhelm a silent public. The only remaining chance to input will be a letter to the Presidio Trust by December 15.

See you there Monday evening!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Public Meeting November 28: Your Ideas Count

The public has a chance to influence the future of the historic Presidio of San Francisco. Be at the Officers Club on Main Post near the flagpole at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 28. Come with your ideas on what you would like to see happen on Main Post: what alternatives do you want the Presidio Trust to Study? What has not worked out in the old plans for Main Post? How do we make the central area of the Presidio National Historic Landmark District into a great National Park for all the people?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

NEWS! History Center Proposed for Presidio

Take a look at the vision for a "History Center at the Golden Gate" on the website of the Presidio Historical Association,

You remember that a contemporary art museum is planned by a wealthy art collector for the heart of the Presidio's historic Main Post? Lots of questions from the public about that, but the art museum comes with all the money and political clout needed to make it happen. Now, a group of people who have supported history at the Presidio ever since they opened Fort Point to the public over 50 years ago have stepped forward with a museum proposal for the Presidio's Main Post that makes a lot of sense. It sure looks good for the ordinary public who national parks are meant for. The big rub? These Presidio fans have no money. It will take the Presidio Trust, the Park Service, and wealthy donors to make this vision for an American History museum at the Presidio into a reality.

At the least, this proposal for a public history presentation on the 230 year old Presidio seems more fitting that an art museum or Disney Family Museum. But money talks, and money builds museums - even in a National Park.

You can make your feelings know about this idea of a history museum in the location planned for a contemporary art museum by a letter to Museum Scoping, Compliance Officer, Presidio Trust, PO Box 29052, San Francisco, CA 94129 or e-mail

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Victory for History at the Presidio UPDATED Nov. 1

Thanks to your strong public statements concerning the planning process for a contemporary art museum in the heart of the historic Presidio, the Presidio Trust has announced that it will expand the scope of its environmental impact study. The planning will be expanded in scope annd allow more time. This is a truly important new development that will allow the public to thoughtfully suggest what the future of Main Post area should be.

Here is the new schedule:

NOVEMBER 28 6:30 PM, Officers Club - Public meeting to hear comments on the proposed scope of the new EIS for Main Post. This meeting replaces to one previously scheduled for November 21.

DECEMBER 15 - Written comments on the scope of the new study about Main are due to the Presidio Trust, ATTN: Compliance Officer, P.O. Box 29052, San Francisco, CA 94129.

Meanwhile, the process for submiting proposals for "cultural institutions" continues. The Presidio Historical Association will submit a proposal for the "History Center at the Golden Gate." Watch this blog for an exciting announcement soon.

Above all, congratulations to you, the public, for showing up in force to convince the Presidio Trust that serious planning is needed: no more big projects rushed through without lots of public scrutiny and responsible input. Your comments revived historical values and the priority for public uses in planning at the Presidio.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Letters Concerning the Scope of Review for an Art Museum

Here are two letters to the Presidio Trust to recommend the scope of the environmental review concerning the proposed 100,000 square foot art museum. They will go into the record. Names have been deleted. What are your comments on these letters?

RE: Comments on Proposed EIS for a “Public Museum at the Presidio - Main Post”

Dear Mr. Pelka,
In response to the September 24, 2007 public meeting and the August 8, 2007 Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS, I submit the following comments regarding the construction of a museum in the Presidio’s Main Post.

I am delighted that the Presidio is at long last entertaining the notion of a museum. Historic interpretation of this unique National Historic Landmark District has been glaringly absent for many years. While the “Notice of Intent” does not specify the contents of the proposed museum, the Presidio Trust has repeatedly and publicly endorsed the construction of a contemporary art museum to be donated by the Fishers. Given that the Notice of Intent is dated August 8, 2007, the same day as the news conference announcing the Fishers’ donation, I would venture to say that the Presidio has already decided what kind of museum will be constructed.

Regardless, let’s pretend that no decisions have been made. The NEPA (National Environment Protection Act) process, after all, exists to assist federal agencies in making well-informed decisions. Under NEPA the Presidio Trust must consider the potential environmental impacts of a range of alternatives, including “no action” and the “preferred alternative.” Potential alternatives could be:

o contemporary art museum at the southern boundary of the main parade ground
o contemporary art museum elsewhere in the presidio in existing structures
o historic museum at the southern boundary of the main parade ground
o historic museum in existing structures at the main post
o no action

Each alternative must receive equal or “comparable” analysis (40 CFR 1502.14) so perhaps the end result will recognize the benefits of having both a contemporary AND an historic museum in the Presidio. In these early stages, however, the Presidio is pitting historic versus contemporary. While there is virtually no money available for an historic museum, there is $16 million for a contemporary museum – ready to break ground in August 2008!

The Presidio is certainly large enough to have BOTH an historic and a contemporary museum. The real question hinges on siting: Do you insert a modern museum in the center of the most historic part of the Presidio, or do you put an historic museum in the core of its subject matter? A contemporary museum, totally unrelated to the Presidio, would be unaffected by its location elsewhere in the Presidio; but an historic museum outside of the heart of the historic landmark district would be sadly out of context. Freed from the constraints of the Main Post, the contemporary museum could have significantly more design options and could easily rid itself of parking, historic, and cumulative impact issues.

The proposed location of a newly constructed museum at the southern boundary of the Main Parade ground is rife with significant environmental issues: parking, historic resources, site lines, and transportation. Alone, any one of these issues could complicate the proposed museum, but when considered with the growing list of other Main Post projects (Main Parade Ground, Lodging, Doyle Drive, Building 100, etc.), the cumulative impacts are insurmountable. Project by project, the Presidio drifts away from its 2002 Presidio Trust Management Plan (PTMP) and examines each project individually, discounting the amalgamated effects. The PTMP is obsolete and must be revisited, complete with a NEPA review of the revised plan.

In summary, I support a contemporary museum in a different location, preferably in an existing building. I urge the Presidio to develop a fully integrated historic interpretive plan radiating from a museum in the Main Post. And I advise the Presidio Trust to prepare a new Management Plan to address the cumulative impacts of the myriad of proposed projects in and around the Main Post.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposed undertaking and I look forward to following its development

Another letter:

1. These comments are submitted in response to the announcement dated August 23 asking for comments concerning the scope of an E.I.S. for new construction of a 100,000 square foot museum at the Presidio.

2. The scoping must take place within the context of the Presidio of San Francisco being a National Historic Landmark District. It must comply with the standards of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes (National Park Service, 1996), related Department of the Interior publications, and NEPA.

3. The Trust is reminded of the Congressional Findings in the Trust Act:

The Congress finds that—
(1) the Presidio, located amidst the incomparable scenic splendor of the Golden Gate, is one of America’s great natural historic sites;
(2) the Presidio was the oldest continuously operating military post in the Nation dating from 1776, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962;
(3) preservation of the cultural and historic integrity of the Presidio for public use recognizes its significant role in the history of the United States;

These basic principles have been echoed in numerous publications by the Presidio Trust, and the Trust has generally acted responsibly under financial constraints to carry out its strictly architectural preservation responsibilities. It has not, however, succeeded in responding to the Congressional directive intent in the phase, “FOR PUBLIC USE” in the context of cultural and historic integrity. The National Association of Public Administration report also highlighted the absence of normal functions for public and educational use of the portion of the Presidio under Trust management.

Therefore, the scope of the forthcoming E.I.S for a cultural institution must evaluate the effects of various proposals on the Trust’s compliance with meeting the Congressional intent for “public use” in the context of cultural and historic integrity.

4. The area proposed for primary consideration for a cultural Institution lies at the “head” of the Main Parade Ground, even though this area is excluded from the Main Parade Ground Environmental Assessment by designation of Sheridan Avenue as a boundary. This results in an irrational separation of the Main Parade Ground proposal and the museum proposal. One project flows into the other. Parking, public access, and cultural landscape integrity concerns are the same. Visitor experiences will be combined. The same preposterous segmentation and sequencing of environmental reviews applies to the lodging proposal currently under review by the Trust. The Presidio Trust is required avoid segmented and sequential reviews.

5. Recently completed and proposed projects in the Main Past of the Presidio and the magnitude of new construction in the proposed cultural institution, lodging, and Main Parade Ground proposals, as well as the long delayed realization of Building 102 as a visitor’s center, require review and updating of the Main Post District Concept and Guidance of the PTMP. This should fall out easily from a comprehensive E.I.S of Main Post in the context of the proposed major cultural institution, lodging plan, Main Parade plan, transit center, etc. Until this is done, it is inadequate to argue that detailed accommodation of the proposed public museum environmental review can be “tiered” directly from the Presidio Trust Management Plan. A “tiering” approach should be avoided in the scope of the new EIS.

6.The very few possible sites for major construction of a new cultural institution on the Presidio are precious. Each should be evaluated for its best use in terms of the public. A mistake in allocation one of these few locations for new construction cannot be undone. Alternative sites should be evaluated for various proposals for cultural institutions, including consideration of traffic, effect on cultural landscape integrity, and effectiveness in enhancing widespread public use by the general public, rather than a specific segment of the public, in the context of cultural and historical integrity, environmental education, or other public purposes normally served by a National Park.

The combination of major proposals concerning the Main Post District presently before the Trust may lead to the historic heart of the National Historic Landmark District becoming a truly public park offering pleasant visitor experiences and education relevant to the historic landmark to a large and diverse public. Unfortunately, these proposals could cumulatively make the Main Post into a preserve of unrelated private schools, foundations, and private museums, such as the Disney Family Museum and the proposed contemporary art collection, none of which have relevance to a National Park nor to a National Historic Landmark District. The scope of the forthcoming E.I.S. should be inclusive enough to respond to this challenge. Failure would mean the failure of Main Post as a National Park.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Written comments from the public are very important in the environmental review procedures that must be done prior to any large new construction in an historic district. The previous post on this blog has the address and details for you to take action.

In your letter, we suggest that you ask yourself:

Is a contemporary art museum a compatible "cultural institution" for the Presidio's historic setting?

Is new construction larger than the Museum of Modern Art and more than twice as large as any nearby building possible at the Presidio without destroying its distinguishing historic character?

Will the review process include consideration of other current or proposed actions around Main Post, such as hotel lodging, a promenade down the length of the Main Parade Ground, eliminating parking from the large Main Parade Ground, the Walt Disney Museum, and finally establishing the long-delayed permanent Park Service Visitors Center? All these will be importantly affected by a large art museum close by.

Should there be a comprehensive review of all changes around the Main Post, past, current and proposed? (There is no specific plan for the most sensitive historical area of the Presidio other than general platitudes in the Presidio Trust Implementation Plan of several years ago.)

Are other locations on the Presidio being considered for the proposed contemporary art museum?

How "public" will the proposed privately funded and directed art museum be? Will governance of the museum be responsive to public input and interests, as is appropriate for a National Park? What will be the mechanism for public input and influence concerning the proposed art museum?

Are alternative uses being considered for the proposed art museum location at the head of the parade ground, near the flag pole and historic Spanish Presidio? This is the most central, visible, and character defining location on the Main Post. Shouldn’t alternatives other than a contemporary art museum be considered for this site, if there is to be any new construction there at all?
Add other matters that concern you most for inclusion in the environmental review.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Looking at the Law and the Presidio of San Francisco

A quick look at environmental law tells me that there will be times for the public to comment on proposals such as the 100,000 square foot new contemporary art museum building next to the flagpole and a short distance from the original Spanish headquarters. New construction in a National Historic Landmark District is not desirable under preservation guidelines, especially if its purposes have no relationship to the history of the place. Looks like quite a controversy is brewing. Anyone interested, look at the Cultural Landscape Foundation site for information on all this. PresidioPal

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Modern Art Museum in a National Historic Landmark District?

Why is a 100,000 square foot modern art museum being planned for 50 yards from the flag pole and the spot where General Pershing's family perished in a fire while he was away in Mexico fighting Pancho VIlla? (Oh, you forgot that chapter of American-Mexican relations?) It will be about 100 yards from the archeological remains of the first Spanish Presido (1776). The humongous museum will dominate the parade ground and contrast sharply with the historic architecture all around it.

Don't get me wrong, I think that a better site should be found for this important collection of modern art on the Presidio, but not in the historic heart of this remarkable place.

And while I am at it, have you visited a museum on the Presidio to learn about its history or even glanced into a useful visitors center? Of course not, after ten years of leasing the Presidio to commercial and private interests, there is no museum to let the public know about this place that is a remarkable National Historic Landmark District.

What do you think? What should be done?