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.

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