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.

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