Frustrated by fierce opposition, the Fishers have abandoned their plans to build a contemporary art museum at the Presidio’s Main Post. Alternative sites will now be considered.
When billionaire Donald Fisher and his wife proposed to build an art museum at the Main Post of San Francisco’s Presidio, a component of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, they knew that the proposal would meet stiff opposition. They knew that many would consider it very inappropriate to build a large contemporary art museum complex at a site as historically significant as the Presidio’s Main Post. They knew that residents of adjacent neighborhoods would complain that increased traffic and noise associated with the museum would be intolerable. They knew that other issues would emerge, too. What they didn’t appreciate is that their museum proposal would develop into the fiercest, most unrelentingly aggravating land-use battle that the Bay Area has seen for at least a decade.
Donald Fisher founded the Gap retail chain 40 years ago. In the ensuing decades, he and his wife Doris used an appreciable chunk of their wealth to acquire a fabulous collection of Western paintings, statuary, and other works by notables such as Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, and Richard Serra. Most of the collection is currently housed at Gap headquarters in San Francisco, but the Fishers want to put it on public display in a purpose built museum in the Bay Area.
Nearly two years ago, the Fishers announced with great fanfare that they intended to build their museum at the historic parade ground on the Presidio’s Main Post. Tentatively named the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio (CAMP), the complex would not only feature a 100,000 square-foot museum, but also include other elements and an associated hotel.
A firestorm of criticism erupted. Historic preservationists were enraged, and the park’s neighbors were fit to be tied. Although great efforts were expended to counter criticisms of the project, including major redesigns to reduce the museum’s footprint and visual impact, the Fishers could not get past the fact that the CAMP cannot be fitted into the chosen site without seriously degrading historic values and gravely endangering the Main Post’s status as a National Historic Landmark.
The Fishers have finally, and very reluctantly, abandoned the Main Post site. Four alternative sites at the Presidio are now being evaluated, and putting the museum inside an existing building is even being considered. Many feel that the former commissary across from Crissy Field would make a suitable site.
Whether the Presidio will ever host the Fisher’s museum certainly remains an open question. Donald and Doris Fisher have said that they might decide to build their museum elsewhere, perhaps even somewhere outside the San Francisco area.
Opponents of the CAMP are celebrating, while those who championed the original proposal are finding its defeat a very bitter pill to swallow.
Postscript: What about the approximately $2 million that the Presidio Trust spent to develop plans for the CAMP and evaluate its environmental and cultural impacts? That money is gone. Presidio Trust officials have already said that they’ll not try to recover it from the Fishers. The Trust apparently does intend to follow through on plans to build a hotel and make some other improvements at the Main Post. Since preservationists object to some aspects of these plans, it’s probably not wise to consider this a done deal just yet.