There Will be No Contemporary Art Museum at the Presidio

Billionaire Donald Fisher is dead, and so is his controversial proposal to endow an art museum at the Presidio. Fisher’s magnificent collection of contemporary art will instead go to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art.

Fisher and his wife Doris co-founded The Gap, Inc., now America’s largest specialty apparel retailer (with brands including Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta). The Fishers began collecting contemporary art 40 years ago and eventually amassed one of the world’s greatest private collections of late 1900s and early 2000s art.

Some of the Fisher holdings were displayed at the company headquarters in San Francisco, but Donald and Doris Fisher dreamed of endowing a museum to house their collection for public display. In 2007, they proposed to build a museum on the Main Post of the historic Presidio, a component of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The proposed Contemporary Art Museum project (CAMP) met with stiff resistance. Preservationists argued that the CAMP would be incompatible with the historic character of Presidio’s historic Main Post, and residents of nearby neighborhoods complained that the museum and related structures (including a large hotel) would surely generate unacceptable traffic congestion and related problems.

Last July, after a revised proposal embracing a less intrusive “chop and drop” strategy for the CAMP was also found wanting, the Fishers reluctantly agreed to abandon the proposed site at the Main Post and consider other locations in the Presidio as well as other sites in San Francisco. There were even some hints that the site they eventually selected might not be in San Francisco at all.

On Friday the city of San Francisco and opponents of the Fishers’ Presidio CAMP proposal breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Fishers announced their decision to turn their art collection over to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Funds will also be provided for building a museum addition.

Sadly, Donald Fisher will not see his art on public display at the Museum of Modern Art. He died on Sunday after fighting a losing battle with cancer.