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.