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 (and Minutes of the September 27, 2007, Board of Directors’ & Members Meeting)

NEXT MEETING:   THURSDAY, OCTOBER  25, 2007, 3:30 - 6:30PM: Presidio Historical Association Offices, 2nd Building on Funston Street (cross Street Lincoln) directly across the Street from the YMCA, Presidio of San Francisco.   Street parking available and at the gym.  Guests and prospective new members are welcome.  Please bring refreshments for our reception that follows our  meeting.

We will begin our meeting at 3:30 PM with a short walk in the Presidio to view first-hand the proposed sites of the Hotel and the Fisher Museum on the Main Post/Parade Grounds. Gary Widman will lead this tour.

President’s Message - John J. Hodges:

"Why are cultural museums important? OK, so they draw visitors and keep people entertained, but what else do they do? Consider the following:
Many years ago I slipped through Checkpoint Charlie and entered East Berlin before the wall fell. I was accompanied by a German fellow who worked for me at the time and we drove all over the place until the shear grayness and weight of the place began to give us the creeps. It was not a fun outing and I will never forget it. Dull fifties architecture dominated as though time stood still and history was erased.
I likewise had a memorable experience once in Leningrad, or Saint Petersburg as it is now called. Sue and I were being given a presentation by a government guide about the great Peter and Paul Cathedral. The sad part was the guide was still using an old communist rationale about the Church and how religion had suppressed the people. The socialist experiment was a stunning failure and, a waste!. And yet it was still being pitched to visitors by guides and just plain folks who had no way of knowing they were still being "spun." You see after a few years the Russian people had no way of knowing their past except for the stage-managed history. They had lost their heritage. The great art collections of the Czars were kept open all during these bleak times, but the history of the people was, shall we say 'interpreted' for them by the state. There were no true history museums.

"We have scores of local museums in California. There are 23 in Sacramento alone for example. And there are wonderful history or heritage museums in the Bay Area. Just this week I was asked to comment on the San Mateo County History Museum (CHC Award in 2005) for purposes of a new funding campaign. I sent the Museum President the following quote for his brochure:
'We are fortunate in the Greater Bay Area to have wonderful museums. However most of these focus on global subjects or international art. The San Mateo County History Museum has filled an important need by focusing on American folklore and cultural heritage. Artifacts, exhibits, and legends are on display that keep history alive and retell the stories of the West. In terms of topical approach, design, content, and overall execution within a restored historic building, it is the best county museum in California!'

"And last week I sent the following letter at the request of the CHC Board to the Presidio leadership:
'Re: Public Art Museum, Main Post Parade Ground
Dear Mr. Middleton, Mr. Pelka, Presidio Trust Board:
Ladies and Gentlemen, this letter will be short and to the point.

  1. Several letters from responsible organizations have been reviewed by the California Heritage Council concerning the museum topic. It should be as clear to you as it is us that the Trust is on the wrong path.
  2. No one is in disagreement that the gracious gift of the Fisher collection would be a boon to the Presidio.
  3. All are in clear opposition to a Parade Ground location for a new building for an art collection.
  4. Most organizations simply do not understand why you are fast tracking certain projects as this one, yet find obstacles for other obvious projects such as a history museum?

"CHC is the oldest architectural preservation organization in California. And at the most recent Board meeting many questions were asked about the Trust Board and its intent.

  • What are the terms of the Fisher gift?
  • Is it a gift to the Trust, or a separate business enterprise with admission revenue going to another legal organization?
  • What are the traffic implications?
  • What are the specific powers of the Trust Board as given by the enabling legislation and what allows the Board to invoke 'sweetheart" deals with some while forcing other projects through various studies with predetermined dead ends?

"Thus, a Board resolution was made on September 27 and I was asked to convey it to you and to focus subsequent publicity on this project and the Presidio Trust Board through our web site as follows:  'Motion of the CHC Board: CHC is in favor of the Fisher art collection as an attraction at the Presidio, however the parade ground is not the right venue and alternative sites should be considered and part of the public process. The parade ground should be kept as open space and major new construction should not be allowed to detract from the historic character of the Presidio. The precise terms and conditions of this Museum should be disclosed to the public and to date, have not been. CHC reaffirms the primary museum mission for the Presidio should be a museum articulating the history and cultural heritage of the west and the Presidio's role in that story. This should be the Presidio Trust Boards first responsibility among competing projects.'

"Ladies and gentlemen, think smart about your jobs and responsibilities. The people are simply asking for balance. Approve a history museum and an art museum together. Make sure all public art projects are a public process and not secret deals. And for the sake of all of us, site all new buildings, whether hotels or endowed gifts, in appropriate places."

Regards, John Hodges, President

In a small book about the Presidio, author Robert Bowen writes:
"On the east wall of the Presidio's post chapel overlooking San Francisco Bay there is a large mural (painted in 1935) illustrating the early history of the Presidio. It depicts Ohlone hunters who originally used the land. A padre and a soldier present the cross and sword. Tragic romance is depicted by 15 year old Concepcion Arguello holding the hand of the dashing Nikolai Rezanov, chamberlain to the Russian Czar. A scout, miner, and blue-coated Army officer represent the arrival of the Americans at the Presidio."

And of course the Army left in 1994 after having never fired a shot in anger. But at issue today is now will the Trust tour guides tell the 218 year old Presidio story in the future? Better than the brain-washed guide in Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg? I honestly do not know

Thoughts from Board Chair, Gary WidmanWHAT THE PRESIDIO COULD HAVE BEEN:

"Imagine a San Francisco resident in the mid-90s, (perhaps you) on hearing for the first time that the Presidio was to be a National Park, under a law emphasizing the Park’s history.  With the central post then declared a National Historic Landmark, you could reasonably imagine your new historic park, - something rare in the West. The new National Park explaining our history would not be located in Washington, D.C., New England or the Eastern seaboard, where most such parks are now found.  This one would be for the West, where, in comparison, it was so urgently needed.  You might have thought about what the Presidio Park could become!

"Imagine the current Presidio Officers Club, with its parking area replaced by a reconstructed walled patio, bringing to life the original El Presidio building of the 1700s.   The flag of the nation, “New Spain” would be flying, and the visitor could sense the past, looking out at the same bay and sky, and understanding the military and other reasons why Spain wanted a presidio and a settlement in this special place.  (After all, if the State of California could reconstruct forts at Ft. Ross and Sacramento, why wouldn’t the US, want to do that much for the more important site in San Francisco?)
"You could imagine a History Center showing how the Presidio looked in its different eras, and explaining what happened here, and who walked this post.  It could present the story of El Presidio, after Mexico expelled Spain, and undertook to set up a more modern country.  Visitors could learn how Alta California, as part of a new Mexico, changed from the days of  “New Spain”.  One could learn of the conflicts with Russia crowding in from the North Bay, and taking otters on the North side of the Bay, out of reach of the Presidio’s rowboats. One could learn about the achievements of the Arguello family, the first governor under Mexico, his daughter’s role as the first teacher and first nun in California.  One might learn about the achievements of the Vallejo family, the General’s decision to temporarily move troops to Sonoma, the Bear Flag rebellion involving the cannons still standing in front of the Officer’s Club, and about the General’s later becoming a leader in the new country of the United States, serving in the new California state legislature.

"Schoolchildren could see exhibits explaining how the US military ruled “California” , (then including what are now several western states) for several years after the US war with Mexico. They could learn about the Gold Rush, the immigration of “outsiders” from the East and Chinese from the West in the Gold Rush.  They could learn of the political and social push and pull of the South and the North, before California was finally admitted as a free state.  They could learn about the people who served in the Presidio, and what they did in the Civil War; - Sherman, Sheridan, Halleck, Johnston and Letterman for example.  They could learn about Letterman’s establishing the first army-wide medical service and his evacuation of tens of thousands of wounded from Antietam and Gettysburg into the private hospitals of the North.

"Visitors might have been challenged to sort out the good and the bad, the far-sighted and the short-sighted perspectives on the Mexican War and the War in the Philippines.  They might have learned about another Presidio officer, General Pershing, and what he did for the US and the world in World War I.  

"A visitor could have learned about the controversies involving aviation leading up to World War II, about Pearl Harbor, the progress and results of that War in the US and in Asia.  They might have learned about the removal of Japanese-Americans to internment camps, and the sacrifices by their sons who fought and died for the country who sent their parents to those camps. One could have learned learn about those soldiers, families and leaders in WWII who were at the Presidio, such as Arnold and Stilwell, to name two of the officers.

"A visitor in the Presidio that-could-have-been would have learned much about the successes and failures of different political positions and of different views of the military. He or she would have learned about the interweaving of different cultures in the West, about why the West is different from the East and how the West, and the Presidio of San Francisco helped shape the nation that the US is today.  The visitor, whether a local schoolchild, or a an international tourist, depending on the scope of the Presidio’s museum and historic presentations would have learned much about the US past. And as a result of visiting here, he or she could have become a more understanding, tolerant and knowledgeable citizen, both of the US and of the world. 

"But those dreams of what the Presidio might have been are about to end. The reality is that neither the Park Service nor the Presidio Trust have, to date, done those things.  They did raise funds for preserving the Presidio’s natural habitat, but so far have raised none for enhancing the minds and understanding of those children, SF residents, (forty percent of them foreign-born) citizens or visitors who, on reading the news of a  new national park, and a historic district at the Presidio in the 90s, thought they would finally enjoy a national historic park in the West. 

"Both organizations will offer reasons for this failure.  Some of those explanations are based in the reduced levels of funding of the Park Service, failure of the two organizations to agree on even basic steps for historic interpretation and education, a perceived priority to preserve the Presidio’s ecosystems by the Park Service and a priority for raising income levels by the Presidio Trust.

"But some of those reasons lost much of their persuasiveness when the Presidio Trust’s income levels rose to the point that its legislative goal appeared to be either achieved or in sight.   The National Academy for Public Adm. report to Congress advised the Trust to adopt a greater role in presenting the history of the area, or face revised legislation.  The SF Chronicle’s architecture editor, and a former member of the Trust, (who also happened to be a former UC Chancellor, and head of the Smithsonian Institution) all advised the Trust to step up to its public responsibilities rather than to continue giving its highest priority to increased income. 

"But the most telling reason that the Presidio Historic Park that-might-have-been is increasingly unlikely to happen is that the Trust has never made an enforceable plan for its most sensitive central post Historic Landmark District that included any restoration of the El Presidio or any provision for a History Center or Museum.  On the contrary, the Trust last week announced that it had selected a developer for a major hotel in that most sensitive historic area.  In recent weeks, it also announced its great pleasure at the offer of a local family, and former Trust Director, to construct a new Museum of Contemporary Art displaying that family’s collection, also in the heart of the National Historic Landmark District.. Whether the Trust has the will to protect the central Historic District against these incursions of high-rent hotels and a contemporary art museum appears increasingly doubtful, despite nearly unanimous opposition by the general public to the main post location of the hotel and art museum in public hearings. 

"Those early dreams of a national historic park are now almost history themselves, unless the Presidio Trust makes an abrupt about-face and recognizes, as so many have tried to tell it, (so far unsuccessfully) that it has Congressionally mandated responsibilities to the public uses of the Park, as well as a mandate to make the park financially self-sufficient. 

"And unfortunately, those commentators who in the beginning years of the Park were so negative on the Presidio Trust as a public institution, going on in the press about how the public’s needs would be sacrificed to the wishes of the powerful and to the pressure to develop, may soon be proven absolutely, conclusively right.   After a San Francisco experience that puts hotels and an art museum into the area’s most sensitive historic district, it appears highly unlikely that any future community, or any future Congress, would adopt a “Presidio Trust” type of solution for a future base closure.  That is another tragic consequence of the Trust’s current course of action, because a Trust-type of institution which was more responsive to the public’s needs could have been so valuable in blending the needs of the public for historic and natural preservation and interpretation with the economic realities of contemporary government budgets and urban life."

(NOTE:   The Presidio Historical Association, of which the author is President, is preparing a proposal for a History Center at the Golden Gate, to be submitted into the Presidio Trust’s RFP process, in the hope that the Trust will see in the proposal an opportunity to better serve the public’s needs.) 

Minutes of the September 27, 2007, Board of Directors and Members’ Meeting: The meeting began at 4:00 PM at the San Francisco home of Board Members, Ted and Dorothy Kitt.  President John Hodges presiding. 
Directors present: Conchita and William Applegate; William Fries II, John Hodges, Dorothy Kitt, Herb Konkoff, Chris and Adele Layton, Mai Kai Lee; Jules Levaggi, Yusuf, Clair Collins Skall, Dianne Rowe, Susan Walima, Lynn Armstrong Winkel. Excused: Winchell Hayward, Redmond Kernan, Adrienne Myers, Betty Ann Prien, Gary Widman.

Presidio Update - Fisher Museum:   After discussion, the following major concerns and questions from CHC to the Trust were formulated:

  1. Terms of the gift by Fisher: Is it a gift to the Trust or a commercial enterprise.   How will the Trust benefit; how will Fisher benefit?
  2. What about traffic and parking? The Main Parade ground will be off limits to parking. They stated at the public meeting that there will be cull-de-sacs of parking behind buildings. Rather vague.
  3. What are the specific powers of the Trust Board as given by the original enabling legislation – The Presidio Trust Implementation Plan (PTIP document available from the Presidio Trust).

Motion by our Board: CHC is in favor of the Fisher contemporary art collection as an attraction at the Presidio, however, the parade ground is not the right venue and alternative sites should be considered and part of the public process. The parade ground should be kept as open space and major new construction should not be allowed as it will detract from the character of the Presidio. The precise terms and conditions of this Museum should be disclosed to the public and, to date, have not.  Pres. Hodges will draft a letter to the Trust.

Awards Committee: The following members volunteered to be on the committee:  Conchita and Bill Applegate; Tony Aquirre; Betsy Dohrmann; Christopher Layton; Jules Levaggi; Betty Ann Prien; Dianne Rowe; John Hodges, ex-officio.  Anyone else that wishes to be a member should contact Dianne Rowe.

December 4, 2007 Commonwealth Club Event: CHC is a partner in this event with the Commonwealth Club and thank Conchita and Bill Applegate for making the arrangements.  The evening is as follows:  5:30 - 6:00 PM Wine Reception; 6:00 - 7:00 PM presentation by Daryl Sattui, owner of V. Sattui Winery and Castello Di Amorosa:  Every Child Dreams of Building a Castle; Daryl Sattui Built a Real One and a Wine Business Too!

Daryl Sattui owns a successful winery in the Napa Valley, and he carries on the tradition and love of the land given to him by his father. The father’s dream of a major wine organization is now complemented by the son’s vision of a “knock-out architectural tour de force” blending art, history, wine, and old-world building crafts and traditions. The result is Castello di Amorosa located in Calistoga.  It is a 107 room, 121,000 square foot medieval castle complete with drawbridge, battle towers made with ancient imported Italian stone and brick crafted with authentic attention to detail. The ironwork, the woodwork, the frescoes are museum quality and the medieval architecture is to scale and authentic. We will hear first hand from Daryl the story of the odyssey of conceiving and building the most amazing “new/old” building in California.  An introduction will be given by John Hodges describing the work of CHC.

CALENDAR OF FUTURE MEETINGS & EVENTS (Please mark your calendar):
Tuesday, Nov. 13:            6:30 PM: Presidio Trust Public Board of Directors Meeting. Golden Gate Club.
Thursday, Nov. 15:            6:30 PM: Presidio Officers’ Club, Photo Exhibit on World War II mobilization. Lecture by Renee Klish of the Army Museum.
Thursday, Nov. 29:            4:00 PM: CHC Board of Directors & Membership Meeting.  Location pending.
Thursday, Dec.6:            Thursday 6:00 PM: CHC Annual Holiday Dinner, Old Presidio Golf Club







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