Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Update

Well, it seems a summer lull has set in at the Presidio. That is not quite so. Let's go over items one by one.

After the three year war over the Main Post Plan that started with a humongous glistening white contemporary art museum in the middle of the National Historic Landmark, the Park Service, State Historical Preservation Officer and some local groups signed off on a Programmatic Agreement to implement the Plan after the art museum was removed and the hotel was reduced from 40 feet to 30 feet in height and broken into 14 separate (but partly connected) structures. We were glad to see a "Heritage Center" in the former Officers Club.

Presidio Brat wrote to ask what objections we had about changes to the old movie theater. Let's put it into perspective. That place is one of the last remaining mostly unchanged movie houses on a military post in the WW II style. It echoes the very plain but wildly popular movies houses on Army posts everywhere. Millions of soldiers found brief respite from their duties far from home. On the other hand, it should not sit empty and unused, and a one screen small bare theater is not financially sustainable. Does the solution have to be a modern annex that is larger than the historic theater itself? And does the blank wall of this annex have to push out to the curb of a key entrance street to Main Post? This is one reason that the Historical Association did not sign the Programmatic Agreement. We feel that the effect is too adverse to historic integrity. The details of design for the theater and the hotel are being worked out between the Trust, Park Service and State Historic Preservation Officer, with several local organizations participating as consulting parties. Presidio Pal's opinion is that the theater will need redesign and that the hotel in its reduced form will not be commercially feasible.

Credit is due to the Trust for bringing in high powered experts to visualize what is possible for a visitors center and the Heritage Center. The final report of these meetings was inspiring. In my view it was unlimited visioning of what might happen. Those visions are not what will happen in the real world of budgets and turf wars between the Trust and the Park Service. The sessions raise the bar for planning, which is great. We recognize that the Heritage Center idea has gained momentum with the Trust, but we remember that its origins were as a bone thrown to historical interests in hopes we would go away when the art museum was going to be built. Happily, some Trust Board members now genuinely appreciate and support the need for a public display that explains the Presidio's heritage. The Park Service remains saddled with a large brick barracks at 102 Montgomery for a visitors center, but there are better locations for that. Neither the Park Service nor the Trust wants to become committed to the costs of setting up and running an elaborate visitors center. There should be some details on the combined visitors center and the Heritage Center this fall. If this is important to you, let your thoughts be known now. These should be magnets for the public to visit and learn of America's past found at the Presidio.

What's up with Fort Point? Once it was well visited part of the Presidio with lots of activities. It was pretty much shut down during work on the bridge. Now it is open only part time. Another casualty of federal budget cuts; or mismanagement of the funds resources that are available; or temporarily harmed by the Doyle Drive mess?

Also, take a short hike to El Polin Springs to see what the archeologists are uncovering there. Hats off to the Trust archeology staff.

Finally, the summer isn't all that dull. The Trust has presented a Mid-Crissy Field Plan for comment. The idea is to have another tenant for the large building that Sports Basement is in. Preferred use is some form of museum. Strictly my guess is that the Trust has had inquiries from a museum-like activity, commercial or not. They are specific to the point of suggesting changes to the building. There also is thought to add on outbuildings to expand the environmental center. The old Post Exchange building across the lot from Sports Basement will be removed. At first look, the plan does not appear objectionable. The mid-Crissy area will be disrupted by Doyle, has the Crissy Marsh and includes non-historic buildings. It's historic integrity is pretty much kaput as it is. We will see what the plan means for the area.

As always, vigilance by those who care makes all the difference at the Presidio.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What's Going On This Summer?

One area of activity over the summer will be for the details of the recently approved Main Post Plan to be hammered out in the Programmatic Agrement process. Following nearly three years of disputes concerning a contemporary art museum, a hotel and shaping the future purposes of the Main Post of the Presidio, in February the Presidio Trust Board approved its plan. It also approved a "Programmatic Agreement," which is a formal contract that lays out what has to be done for historic preservation as the Trust moves to implement its plan. The key actors for doing that are the State Historic Preservation Officer and the National Park Service. They are joined by less influential but very important public and neighborhood groups. They are hammering out the detailed rules and procedures that the Trust must follow as it acts on the approved plan. What will the buildings or additions actually look like? The Programmatic Agreement process led to great improvements in the Lucasfilm buildings, for example. The Presidio Historical Association has chosen not to sign the Programmatic Agreement because that signature would mean that we agree that the Presidio Trust has met its legal obligations to minimize damage to the National Historic Landmark. We do not.

A second set of activities is centered on creating a visitors center and a Heritage Center, places where park visitors can go to find out why the Presidio is a valuable national park and what it offers to the public. The result of a series of workshops about the visitors center will be presented at the log cabin (in Fort Scott near the small chapel) at six o'clock, May 31. The visitors center concept, place and financing all remain pretty muddled. Lots of public concern and pushing will help to ensure that the bureaucratic and conceptual problems that exist are finally overcome. After all, where else is there a national park that has not had a real visitors center for ten years?

A third problem that the Trust faces is action by Congress to eliminate funding for the Presidio Trust. That was expected in 2013, so these cuts move the cutoff date forward by two years. Frankly, the Trust remains in good financial shape. It is the Park Service that is hurting. Trust budget cuts should not weaken commitments to create the Heritage Center in the Officers Club, nor will they materially harm historic preservation projects. "Greening" of Main Parade is underway. The Trust received an additional five million dollars in 2010 for the Heritage Center and six million dollars more than its original request to the federal government for other projects. The expected budget for 2011 was cut eight million, but in the past two years the Trust received over sixty million dollars for the Doyle Drive destruction of historic properties. Normal income from rentals has softened only slightly. The federal budget cuts can be absorbed by the Presidio Trust without missing a thing.

The Trust is rehabilitating the remaining Montgomery Street Barracks with its own funds, rather than rely on tenants. We understand that there will be a temporary visitors center in building 205, next to the Disney Family Museum. A business school is eyeing that building to lease. The Trust has pledged to use the ground floor of these historic buildings for "public purposes." That sounds like a deliberately misleading term for tee shirt shops and snack bars.

Finally, the Concours d'Elegance that was held successfully the past two years will not be on the Presidio in 2011. All the construction work prevents that from happening.

Please, attend meetings and keep your interests known by e-mailing, phoning or writing to the Presidio Trust and the National Park Service.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Trust Board of Directors Approves Plan to Harm the Presidio's Historical Integrity

The Presidio Trust Directors approved a Record of Decision on February 23 to go ahead with the plan that it has been boosting contrary to 3,000 public comments that emphasized revealing the Presidio's history, not building a commercial hotel for golf tours and convention goers. The approved plan will increase demolition of historic buildings and increase new construction in the National Historic Landmark's heart, the Main Post, above the levels set in the 2002 Trust Plan. The chief feature of the new plan is a 100 plus room hotel including 70,000 square feet of new construction.

The Trust's own documents report that the plan will harm the historic integrity of the Historic Landmark. And why? What logical reason does the Trust give to harm the Landmark that law requires it to protect? The best it can come up with as an explanation is a statement that the hotel will "fulfill the longstanding goal to make the Main Post the heart of the park." Let's think about that. A commercial hotel defines the "heart" of a national historic landmark and a national park? They've got to be kidding.

Elsewhere, the Trust documents identify the Main Post as already being the "heart of the Presidio." The TRust cannot create that "heart" (whatever that means) by demolition an intrusive new construction. The Record of Decision undermines its own argument with illogical statements and vague definitions. It is a seriously flawed document.

The Record of Decision is the final step in the official Environmental Impact Statement process. Will public outrage continue to make sure this is not the final step in building a hotel in the center of the Presidio? Ask the 3000 people who wrote letters or spoke against the plan.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Congress Acts to Cut 15 Million Dollars from the Presidio

Today, February 17, the House of Representatives voted to cut 15 million dollars that was expected by the Presidio Trust. There are chances for this money to be restored later, but presidiopal thinks that is unlikely. Congresswoman Pelosi fought to keep the money for the Presidio by pointing out that it was to be the last appropriated funds for the park under the arrangement of the Trust Act. The principal effect of this cut most likely will be to defer rehabilitating some historic structures. In effect, this cut moves the date for the Presidio to be financially self-sufficient, as the Trust Act requires, from 2013 to 2012.

It remains to be seen if the Trust will use this cut in federal funds as an excuse to build commercial activities on the Presidio such as the proposed hotel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Presidio Brat commented to this blog to ask why presidiopal and others object so strongly to the proposed hotel in the center of Main Post and to the expansion of the Post Theater to be larger than the original historic structure.

First, let me be clear: our objections are not from off the tops of our heads. They are not NIMBY, as the Trust believes. We have professional historical architects to advise us. We have studied the Secretary of the Interior's Standards that describe preferred treatments for historic properties. We have consulted Park Service experts. We recognize that the Trust Act requires the Trust to protect the historic integrity of National Historic Landmarks.

The central concept that guides us is "historic integrity." There are technical definitions, but the best way to understand it is to ask if a person from the past were to visit the place today, would he recognize the key features of the Presidio? If a contemporary visitor comes to the Presidio, will she see the outline of the past?

The measure for how historic integrity is eroded overtime is "cumulative effects." By the Trust's own analysis and the analysis of the Park Service, the theater expansion and the hotel add to adverse cumulative effects on historic integrity. When these are added to Doyle Drive Construction, the removal of dozens of historic buildings on Crissy and elsewhere, rerouting roads, conversion of buildings to commercial purposes and building the LucasFilm Center, then presidiopal believes that these cumulative effects do indeed harm historic integrity and make it more difficult to understand the history of the Presidio. They begin to interfere with understanding and enjoying the "sense of place" that is so important to a historic park. If the Fisher art museum had been built as the Trust proposed, that would have moved cumulative effects beyond the tipping point. The Park Service warned that the National Historic Landmark status to the Presidio would be in question. Every demolition or new construction brings the Presidio closer to that tipping point. There must be compelling reasons for such actions.

We do not oppose all new construction. We suggested alternate locations for a hotel, but the Trust prematurely announced its chosen location by inviting developers to make proposals for their chosen site, not considering realistic alternative. We suggested that the theater could be rehabilitated and expanded, but not so much that the addition is larger than the historic building and not so that the addition juts out prominently to curbside on a major entry road to the Main Post. The Trust tells us that the theater then would not be commercially feasible. So?

New construction in a National Historic Landmark District is the "least preferable" option according to the Secretary of the Interior. If new construction must happen and it has an adverse effect, then there has to be a compelling reason for it. Is any reason for the hotel compelling? You tell me.

A light hand and deep understanding of how to protect historic integrity are vital for any new construction in a National Historic Landmark. In the present case, that light hand and delicate understanding by the Trust are missing.


The Presidio Trust Board meeting on February 7 contained no surprises. Once again, those who value the Presidio, especially its Main Post, as the most significant National Historic Landmark District on the West Coast came to speak against the Trust's construction "steamroller". The Trust continues to advocate a fourteen building hotel and a "modern wing" (really a whole new building) next to the historic theater. And it refuses to consider placing a Visitors Center and/or Museum at that location. And once again, there was no immediate response from the Trust. ( The manager of the Presidio Golf Club was in favor of a hotel, but did not state any reason why the hotel should be placed in the center of Main Post where it most damages the historic district, as compared with any other Presidio location where it would not. )

A decision in the form of a “record of decision” on the environmental impact statement could come in a "week or so". We have no reason to believe that the Trust will change its ill advised course after its continuous three year campaign advocating both the hotel and until recently, the monstrous contemporary art museum. The Trust hotel is not supported by any of the major public groups in the city or the nation. After the Fisher family's withdrawal of the Museum, the Trust has continued spending its “own” - and really your- federal dollars promoting a fourteen building hotel in the Main Post. It is a project which in the eyes of everyone but the single-minded Trust, promises to be a major financial loser and waste of federal money, as well as diminishing the historic experience in the Main Post.

On a slightly more positive note, planning by the Trust, the Park Service and the Golden Gate Park Conservancy to establish a real NPS Visitors Center on Main Post is getting underway. After ten years of having none, it bewilders me why they have not even decided where this new visitors center will be, and why they refuse to even consider the most logical location, which happens to be site chosen for the hotel?

Construction and rehabilitation of the Officers Club, which contains portions of an early Spanish Presidio building, has begun. Part of that building is supposed to house a 13,000 square foot “Heritage Center” to be established by the Trust. To our knowledge, no expert or public planning for the use of such a center has begun, even though the building is now undergoing remodeling for that purpose. The Trust recently has agreed that the content of the Heritage Center should be designed in cooperation with the Park Service. This is a point that the Presidio Historical Association has urged. Progress!

It is bewildering that there is no coordinated plan for interpretation of Main Post. If a central plan is not completed promptly to express a vision for how a park visitor is to enjoy and understand the historic resources of the Presidio and their implications for the nation, then the time and money now being spent on specific projects such as the Heritage Center and the visitors center will result only in a hodgepodge of unrelated visitor experiences. We may miss a one-time opportunity to achieve a great historical park that reveals its obscured history to the public by a coherent set of exhibits and educational programs that a coordinated by a central vision for visitors' experiences of history.

Stay tuned for an analysis of any “Record of Decision” on the Main Post Plans.


Thanks for your dedication to making the Presidio the unique historic park that it could be. Presidiopal

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 7 Trust Public Board Meeting- BE HEARD!

Come at 6:30 P.M., February 7, to the Golden Gate Club (near the Presidio National Cemetery) to join your voice with the many who will speak their minds to the governing board of the Presidio.

The awful mess in Egypt is inspiring. People who care, who have little individual power, have banded together to make history. In our small corner of the world at the Presidio, we will have a chance to make our voices heard. Recently, there have been many indications that the Trust will not listen. It will bull ahead with its misguided plans and public misinformation. The Trust Board, composed of unelected appointees who really report to no one, is poised to approve 70,000 square feet of new construction for a commercial hotel in the historic center of the Presidio. There also will be a modern addition to the historic Post Theater that is larger than the historic building itself. The public is told this construction is necessary to "restore the heart of the Presidio" or "enhance the visitor experience." The Main Post is "the heart of the Presidio." What visitors? Conference goers and golfers?

The Trust is throwing a bone to the public in the form of a promised "Heritage Center" to be located in one-third of the El Presidio headquarters, the former Officers Club. Is this real? There is no plan for what to do with those 13,000 square feet, no plan to fund a "Heritage Center" and no expertise on the Trust staff for museums or educational displays. Over 3,000 public comments over the past three years have asked for more history at the Presidio. There has not been a real visitors center for nearly ten years in this, a national park.

Only the passion of the public or the protection of the courts will thwart Trust plans that make no sense and have no understandable reason. Why would the Trust that is responsible in law for protecting the Presidio National Historic Landmark knowingly take actions that would damage the historic integrity of the Landmark? That's what the Park Service and its own reports say that it is planning to do. Demand answers that satisfy you. Be there.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


The Presidio Trust has announced a new date, February 7 at 6:30 P.M., at the Golden Gate Club for its delayed Public Board Meeting. This should be some love fest... not. We do not know if the Trust will have already approved building the hotel and doubling the size of the theater on Main Post prior to this meeting. Will we get to tell them what we think after their decision, or will they really listen to the public's ideas and suggestions before they act? If they do pay attention, it is because they might be waking up to the damage a hotel would do to the historic site. They also should be realizing that the Main Post Update is filled with violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. They know now that the public does not want the Plan, but seem intent to approve it. Facts and details are for the little people on the staff to work out.

And what about the Trust's declared passion to create centers to welcome and orient park visitors? For ten years there has not been more than a bookstore in the Officers Club for the public. Sure, there is a promise to have a 13,000 square foot Heritage Center in the Officers Club along with other activities such as an "event space." (A place to charge people to use the room.) Ask what this new "Heritage Center" will be. Ask if there is a qualified person on the Trust staff to lead such a Center. Ask why an agreement signed months ago to have a visitors center has not resulted at least in a plan.

For those of you who have really read the foot high stack of documents over the past two and a half years, state informed ideas and use quotes if you can to strengthen your objections.

However it goes, there will be a hot time in the old town on February 7. Be there! Speak out!