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.