Harsh criticism forced the Presidio Trust to rethink its plans for the new Contemporary Art Museum at the Presidio (CAMP). A new proposal for the CAMP emphasizes smaller, better located structures built largely underground. Whether this “chop and drop” strategy will mollify preservationists and other critics remains to be seen.
Billionaire philanthropists Don Fisher and his wife Doris (who co-founded Gap in 1969) have arranged to donate an outstanding contemporary art collection to the Presidio, a component of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Fishers have also offered to fund a museum to house the collection, an accompanying hotel and multiplex cinema, and a hefty endowment. Proponents hoped that the CAMP would open its doors in 2011. For additional details, visit this Traveler article.
The original plans for the CAMP drew heavy criticism from preservationists, Presidio neighbors, and many park advocates. The Fishers’ original proposal featured a two story, 100,000 square-foot building at the head of the Main Post parade ground. Preservationists said that the historic Main Post is an inappropriate location for something like the CAMP, and insisted that the structures would be, in any event, too large and obtrusive.
A separate but related set of objections centers on whether the CAMP project should be built at all. The NPS has expressed concern that constructing a museum and hotel on the Main Post might adversely affect the park and imperil its National Historic Landmark status. Nearly 50 San Francisco neighborhood associations have opposed the planned development and called upon San Francisco supervisors to analyze CAMP’s impacts upon the historic Presidio, traffic, transit and nearby neighborhoods. The Presidio Historical Association has decried what it sees as excessive “urbanization” of the Presidio, and has spearheaded the campaign to, at the very least, keep the CAMP off the Main Post.
Stung by criticism that seemed to cascade from every direction, the Presidio Trust went back to the drawing board. After about six months they came up with is a new proposal that not only features a move to a presumably less objectionable location, but also a “chop and drop” strategy emphasizing scaled-back design (downsizing) and largely underground construction.
The new proposal calls for a museum situated not at the head of the Parade Ground (where sensitive archeological sites would be disturbed), but rather at the west end. Gone is the two-story, 100,000 square-foot main structure that dominated the original proposal. In its place are two smaller structures. One is a one-story, 70,000 square-foot structure built with half of its mass underground. The other is a one-story, 35,000 square-foot structure, over half of which would be underground. A 110-room, 80,000 square-foot hotel would be built on the eastern edge of the parade ground, substituting for the 125-room, 95,000 square-foot hotel originally proposed.
Many of the CAMP’s critics see this new proposal as a step in the right direction, but are reserving judgment pending release of additional design details. Some opponents are unimpressed, insisting that the location and design changes do not adequately address various key concerns, including the basic question of whether the CAMP should be built at all in the historic Presidio.
The Fishers and other CAMP advocates seem resigned to the fact that the CAMP cannot be built unless it blends into its historic surrounding as much as practicable. It will certainly be interesting to see how this controversy is resolved. For good or ill, preservationists appear to have lots more room to flex their muscles.