California Heritage Council

FEBRUARY, 2008, NEWSLETTER

BOARD OF DIRECTORS and MEMBERS’ MEETING

NEXT MEETING: THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 2008, 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM: AT THE OFFICE OF BOARD MEMBER, MARSHA CALEGARI, 3681 SACRAMENTO STREET, SAN FRANCISCO. Street parking available. Guests and prospective new members are welcome. Please bring refreshments for our reception that follows our meeting.


President’s Message - John J. Hodges:

There are several issues that need to be addressed in this newsletter.

First, this month's meeting is being canceled due to scheduling problems of more than several of the officer board members. Our next general meeting will be the last Thursday in March, which is March 27.

I also want to bring to your attention that the Annual Awards Dinner is scheduled for June 26th, 2008. Please make your diary notations and plans to attend.

It seems that no CHC newsletter would be complete without our latest comments on the misadventures of the art museum proposed for the Presidio. What a shame it is to waste so much time and energy on what is a magnificent and gracious gesture on the part of Don and Doris Fischer. But common sense and our charter of historic preservation require us to continue.

Our principle beef remains the siting and contemporary nature of the building, and not its contents. I was astonished to read in the February issue of "Northside San Francisco" newspaper an interview with Fischer.

In the interview, Fischer is asked "how do you answer critics who say the design of the museum doesn't work in the Presidio with its historic military-type structures?" Fischer gives a rather lengthy answer, commenting on good aspects and bad aspects of the Presidio architecture and summarizes that "while there is a tremendous amount of variation throughout the Presidio, those buildings were designed of their time. Our museum will be of its time, so we feel that it will fit in very nicely."

This is the most ridiculous statement I have yet heard about the positioning of architecture so that it is compatible and thematically correct with the existing buildings in the historic park and specifically, the Main Parade Ground area.

If you look at the artist renderings that Fischer and the Trust have been presenting, no one in their right mind feels that the structures "might work", or "fit in".

So much of the Presidio is identified by the abundant, deep green landscape, and the beautiful red brick structures and the terra cotta tile roofs. This building blockhouse in gleaming white in appearance is completely out of phase with its surroundings. Moreover, if you look carefully at the artist renderings, you will see some public art poised around the building. The most prominent piece appears to be an orange construction of steel beams approximately 35 feet high, not unlike the grotesque steel beam sculpture in front of the Legion of Honor.

We in CHC have warned on several occasions of the danger of unapproved "public art." For example, there is a giant bow and arrow on the Embarcadero directly in front of the Bay Bridge, and I have no idea how it got there.

You see, public art intrudes without apology on nature's beautiful vistas, and you have no control over whether you see it or not. You can't look around it, and so whether you approve of it or not is not the issue. The issue is that it begins to control the space and how you see it.

Once more, we remind our gentle readers that the Andy Goldsworthy monumental log structure is still on top of the ridge in the Presidio, waiting to be erected, and Don Fischer has gone on record as stating he would like to see public art all over the Presidio. To the point, I happen to like this artist.

But who is judging what we see and what we get?

Again, we wish to thank the Fischers for their funding and gracious gesture, but we must conclude that something is out of control with this project.

Just as the art critics would say, "we can determine what the general public needs or should see as 'public art'" some persons, and perhaps persons unknown, are saying "trust me; we know what the Presidio needs and what a building should look like."

Consider this example. Spanning the Bay is the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio and the Trust have perhaps the largest, most beautiful, most photographed, piece of public art in the world at their very fingertips. The saga of the building of that art deco bridge is worthy of a history museum of its own. Why can't the Trust understand that it is surrounded by history and stories waiting to be told? Start with the Bridge!

All of the civic groups working with these projects are beginning to wonder about basic trust. All relationships depend on trust, and yet the words "trust me" are dangerous words.

Trust must be earned; it cannot be demanded. Too often, those who demand our trust do so to quiet opposition or to stifle cross-examination.

Unsupervised, they act in their own self-interest while stating pieties of the greater good they claim to serve.

Constraining self-interest in the public sphere, whether public art, public land, or the public's interests, poses a never-ending challenge.

The museum should simply be relocated to the magnificent shoreline near Crissy Field. A modern building ala Bilbao or as grand as the Sydney Opera House would look beautiful there and would soon become (along with its noble partner, the Golden Gate Bridge) the most photographed monument in San Francisco.


CALENDAR OF FUTURE MEETINGS & EVENTS

(Please mark your calendar):

Thursday, Feb. 28: 4:00PM: CHC Board of Directors and Members Meeting. Location to be announced.

Thursday, March 27: 4:00 PM: CHC Board of Directors and Members Meeting. Location to be announced.

Thursday, April 24: 4:00 PM: CHC Board of Directors and Members Meeting. Location to be announced.

 


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