Presidio shares plans on more Main Post changes

The Main Post of the Presidio of San Francisco has been described as the heart and core of the 1,840 acres that was transferred from the military to the National Park Service in 1994.

Last month, the Presidio Trust held an open board meeting to outline future planning and project updates. Many of the discussions centered on Main Post remodeling designed to meet the needs and requirements of a new century.

Planning for a Main Post renovation has been underway ever since the military left.

A history of the Presidio shows the Main Post as the scene of parades, an area bustling with activity, and the site of historic buildings including the renowned Officers’ Club. Some of the materials used to build the original Officers’ Club remain in place and will continue to do so.

All future remodels, expansions, and building rehabs in the Main Post (as well as throughout the Presidio) will be done to green standards. The Main Post will also be made more pedestrian-friendly; the parking lot will revert to a pre-auto layout with historical markers installed the length of the site.

Presidio Trust board president Craig Middleton told the approximately 100 attendees at the Feb. 7 meeting that the Trust was expecting a 30 percent cut in federal aid. Just 11 days later, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the amount of $15 million was to be cut. There has been no comment from the Trust as to whether the Main Post renovations will be affected by the cuts.

Among upcoming Main Post improvements presented at the board meeting is the creation of a state-of-the-art archaeology lab near the Officers’ Club. Eric Blind, head of the archaeology lab, reviewed current excavations and what they show of life over the past 225 years. The expanded lab will also be able to demonstrate how archaeologists do the painstaking job of literally digging up the past.

Rita Semel, chair of the Presidio’s Interfaith Chapel, spoke of proposed upgrades and pointed out that the chapel is one of the very few buildings that is still used today for the reason it was originally built.

As a National Historical Landmark, the Presidio lacks a visitors’ center that would guide guests to myriad sites and activities the park has to offer. Noreen Hughes, who has been appointed as a project manager for the visitors’ center, is in charge of the team that is developing criteria for a proposed location. To date, a general store, historical scenes and oral histories are being considered as ways to reflect the history of the Presidio.

Additional updates presented at the meeting included the annual preservation report by Rob Thompson on the hundreds of rehabilitated buildings and reseeded native plant life; Golden Gate National Recreation Area superintendent Frank Dean reporting on the issue of off-leash dog parks facing the National Park Service and San Francisco’s 100,000 dogs; and a report on El Polin Spring.

Following the board reports, public comments were heard. In the interest of time, each speaker was allowed two instead of the usual three minutes. The speakers who disagreed with Trust plans or policies were respectful and, for the most part, adhered to the two-minute limit.
Generally, comments reiterated opposing arguments about the lodge, the visitors’ center, and other renovations scheduled for the Main Post. Others expressed support for the upcoming visitors’ center. Requests for additional support for the Interfaith Chapel were made by Linda Crawford and Rita Semel.

Clearly, there are many residents, and not only those living in the Marina, who continue to show great interest in the achievements and plans of the Presidio Trust. Proposed changes to the Main Post have created often-acrimonious debate in the past between the Trust and local groups and individuals. Perhaps the proposal for a new visitors’ center will follow the lead of Ezra Cattan, who attended the meeting and said, “As a professional urban planner, I like to build bridges among stakeholders and balanced interests.”

Then, again, as the real estate people say, it is all about location, location, location.

Public workshops will be held later in the year to discuss the visitors’ center proposals. For further information, contact the Presidio Trust Public Affairs Office at 415-561-5418 or e-mail mainpost@presidiotrust.gov.