Monday, March 8, 2010


So, what's going on now in the long-lasting struggle over the Presidio: will the 230 year old historic site become a great national park for all the people, or will it become an office and arts park for the few? The struggle is taking place in two arenas.

One, a formal federal process requires consultation about plans to build a commercial Larkspur Hotel near the Spanish El Presidio and the U.S. flagpole of the historic site. Most recently, two leading agencies in the consultation, the National Park Service and the State Historic Preservation Officer have sent detailed objections to the Presidio Trust concerning procedures and mishandling of information. The core concern is that the review of the hotel is taking place without the larger context of what is planned where being brought up to date. The last update on the larger plan (draft Main Post Update) was February, 2009. That plan included the monstrous modern art museum idea that the Trust supported. Removing it from the picture - thanks to your public opposition- changes the game, so the hotel plan is being evaluated in a vacuum. Both the Park Service and the Historic Preservation Officer, the chief "deciders,"have stated that they will not agree to any hotel without having a full plan for the heart of the Presidio - the historic Main Post. Key to this is having a firm location and plan for a Park Service Visitors Center. It has to be a valuable service for the public to expand their appreciation of the park, and it cannot be located near a commercial hotel. We strongly support the official agencies that are insisting upon a complete plan before any decisions will be approved.

The second arena of the struggle for the Presidio's future is with the Board of Directors of the Presidio Trust. Some of them see the Main Post as a development opportunity, a place for buildings to increase income. Others see it as an opportunity to satisfy their personal interest in contemporary art. Recently, the "Goldsworthy Spire" appeared. Soon, there will be ten more "art installations" on the Presidio. These could be interesting, but art of any kind has to be very carefully weighed against the distraction it will cause from the natural and historic values of the park itself. There isn't modern art at Yosemite Falls or Gettysburg for good reason. Google "Goldsworthy Spire" to see what I am talking about. Under pressure to justify the defunct modern art museum, the Trust promised to make the former Hispanic headquarters that became the Officer's Club into a "heritage center." To date, there is nothing to say what that means. The Park Service and Trust are talking, but the Trust does not have a qualified person on its staff to credibly lead such an effort. We don't know if the Trust Board has its heart in paying for a "heritage center."

The members of the Trust Board of Directors can make the right things happen to benefit the public, or they can continue to pursue ideas that damage the park and leave the Presidio's historic stories unknown to visitors. That will be decided this year. The new Board President, Nancy Bechtle, has a lot of experience leading the Symphony. Can that talent be shifted to serve the broad public that visits national parks?

Thanks for recent comments. Some have provided useful information. Others are answered on the web sites of the Presidio Historical Association or the National Park Service. Watch this blog for updates.