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.