The Presidio Strikes Back

As George Lucas' tech-focused art museum duels with history and nature museums for a key spot on Crissy Field, the Presidio Trust considers going big and allowing all three

courtesy rendering

On the coast of San Francisco's national park, the Presidio, a battle is underway that may define what this unique place is really about.

Is the Presidio a historically significant natural area with a heritage worth celebrating and protecting? Or is the Presidio just the last great piece of undeveloped land in San Francisco, with the added benefit of being outside the jurisdiction of city regulators and taxes? Maybe it's both.

The embattled parcel that could illuminate those questions is a 15-minute walk east from the Golden Gate Bridge, just off the beach of Crissy Field, which now houses Sports Basement. Once a slab of concrete and now a bustling waterfront teeming with bicyclists and joggers, it seems almost too beautiful and prosperous a place for a sporting goods store to be housed.

That may be why, a year ago, the powerful people who preside over the Presidio asked for a bevy of museum proposals to replace Sports Basement and its building.

For months, three teams with multi-million-dollar museum proposals hotly competed to rent the soon-to-be vacant property: an institute devoted to sustainability, an interactive science museum based around Presidio history, and a museum housing the extensive art collection of filmmaker George Lucas, the wealthy creator of the Star Wars empire.

Decisions made behind closed doors will seal the deal in the next few weeks and the winning pitch may shape the future of the Presidio. And like the Highlander, there can be only one. At least, that was the original thought.

Ultimately the decision won't rest in the hands of the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, or any other elected official. For better or for worse, decision-making in the Presidio is entrusted to a seven-person "trust," mostly appointed by the president of the United States: the Presidio Trust.

"I think, at times, you think that we all know what we're doing," Presidio Trust President Nancy Bechtle, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008, told a crowd of hundreds at an Oct. 24 public meeting about the museum decision. "I don't think that any of us have made up our minds on anything yet."

But if recent reports from the San Francisco Chronicle are to be believed, the Trust is pushing to please everyone and disappoint no one. Citing anonymous sources, longtime media bromance Matier and Ross reported last week that the Presidio Trust was leaning towards Lucas' museum proposal while feeling out alternative sites for the remaining projects.

Presidio Trust spokesperson Dana Polk admitted they were putting out feelers. "We don't have specific sites identified, we're just speaking to the teams to see if they are willing to consider other options," she told the Guardian.

For a stretch of land that has moved slowly to bring in new development, each one a laborious and controversial process, the idea of allowing a trilogy of museums could have blockbuster implications for the Presidio and its tony surrounding neighborhoods.

As many advocates from different sides of the debate have said, any major development there could make the Presidio that much denser: bringing more cars, more tourists, and more San Franciscans to the remote northwestern corner of the city that many residents seem to ignore.

More than 400,000 annual visitors would flock to Crissy Field under any of the existing plans, while multiple proposals could more than double that. The two lead proposals, Lucas' art museum and the Presidio Exchange, tell a tale of two Presidios. One is an interactive museum that celebrates the history of the natural setting of the park around it, and the other celebrates the digital history of the surrounding Bay Area.

It's techies versus naturalists.


They wanted the city to run the most valuable piece of undeveloped land in the nation, even though the city cannot even run a real transit system or fix the streets.

Common sense prevailed and instead it is run by a trust who understand the Presidio must be self-sustaining financially. It has since proved to be a sensitive and successful blend of recreation and development, and I trust the trustees to continue that deft act far more than I trust anyone associated with the city to pull that off.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

Amen! Take a look at our own GG Park, it's windmills, the marina, Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower, neighborhood playgrounds and city trees and streets. The management of these facilities by Park and Rec is an embarrassment to the city and all its managers should be fired.

The windmills in GG Park were restored with private funds after decades of neglect by Park and Rec and were to be maintained by the city. The windmills and the PFA were restored with private funds and were to be maintained by the city. They fell apart again. Once more the PFA was restored with private funds and is supposed to maintained by the city.

The city street trees were "gifted" to the property owners upon whose property they are planted, whether they agreed or not, because the city can't maintain them. The recently planted street median trees are an unsightly mess along Portola and Van Ness because of lack of maintenance.

God help us if the city were permitted to maintain the Presidio! It took them 25+ years to get it together to rebuild the marina after years do letting it rot!

Long live the Presidio Trust!

Posted by Irene Kaus on Nov. 19, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

It's basically the same people managing "our" parks and the Presidio. In the case of GG Park, the city allows private capital to come in and use the facilities for their own private benefit whenever they want to. In the case of the Presidio, it was just given over to private capital entirely.

But for what it's worth, I like all those other places you mentioned better than the Presidio. Maybe that's because there's nothing there anymore for ordinary people to do, which is what happens when you turn a national park over to private capital. Incidentally, the federal government runs the national park system, not the city. And generally they do a great job of it (barring Republican shutdowns and such).

I do, however, agree that Phil Ginsburg should be fired.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 20, 2013 @ 8:59 pm

acceptable to you.

People like you are like that.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2013 @ 9:01 am

otherwise all such projects should be nixed....

it should be part of the projects and proposals for public access to the presidio via the F-Line trolley on the old Pan American Exhibition Line...... all the way out to the end of Chrissy Field.

(Im for the PX) if we need to vote for one

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2013 @ 7:58 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2013 @ 9:02 am

San Francisco needs housing more than it needs another art museum.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Nov. 20, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

That's where Starfleet Academy is supposed to go.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 20, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

So there will be no housing built there. Rent control also doesn't apply in the Presidio - it's a dream.

Posted by The Goebblin Love Child of Smaug on Nov. 20, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

rentals so lefties love them.

I cannot think of another NP that has people permanently living in it.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2013 @ 9:03 am

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