California: Letterman Digital Arts Center
Project, Presidio of San Francisco
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Agency: Presidio Trust
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This project has the potential to adversely affect the Presidio of San Francisco National Historic Landmark District (Criterion 1).
- There is widespread public interest and debate over the proposed design of new buildings on the Letterman site (Criterion 3).
In August 2000, the Presidio Trust met with representatives of the Council, National Park Service (NPS), California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and National Trust for Historic Preservation (National Trust) to discuss the design for the proposed Letterman Digital Arts Center at the Presidio of San Francisco. The meeting focused on how well the proposed design conforms to the design guidelines developed by the Presidio Trust for the project. Most of the comments addressed the massing, scale, and siting of the new buildings and the site’s landscape design.
Expressing fundamental concerns, the California SHPO advocated for extensive redesign of the project. The Council, NPS, and National Trust also suggested major changes, including removal of the classical-style folly as a landscape focal point, reduction of the scale of the new construction (particularly along O’Reilly Common), and redesign of the circular glass café pavilion.
The Council recently received the Presidio Trust’s response to its comments. The Presidio Trust maintains that the design meets the design guidelines and does not propose to make any of the substantive changes requested by the Council, the California SHPO, NPS, and the National Trust. The Council is considering what steps may be taken under the terms of the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement (PA) for the project to address this disagreement on the appropriateness of the design.
The Presidio of San Francisco is a property of unique natural and cultural importance that has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Originally established as a Spanish military post, it later became the oldest American military post in continuous operation. As such, it contains historic structures from every major military construction period since 1848. Under the terms of the Base Closure and Realignment Act, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.
In July 1998, administration of the non-coastal portion of the Presidio of San Francisco (known as Area B) was transferred from NPS to the Presidio Trust, a Federal Government corporation created by Congress. Although the Presidio Trust is responsible for the management, including environmental compliance, of approximately 80 per cent of the Presidio, the complex in its entirety remains part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The challenge before the Presidio Trust is to manage Area B of the Presidio in a manner that allows it to become financially self-sufficient by the year 2013 while still remaining a unit of the National Park System. (For more information on the Presidio, visit www.presidiotrust.gov.)
The Letterman Digital Arts Center would be the first large-scale development opportunity managed by the Presidio Trust. As proposed by project proponent Lucasfilm, Ltd., the project would consist of 900,000 square feet of construction and would house several companies owned by film director George Lucas. Groups of office buildings would be constructed around a seven-acre landscaped area. (For more information on the project, visit www.lucasfilm.com/ presidio/2000.)
Although no historic buildings are located on the site, the proposed new construction has the potential to affect archeological sites in the area and will visually impact the National Historic Landmark District. The complex is prominently sited near the Presidio’s Lombard Street Gate. Because the design is reminiscent of an isolated college campus in plan, it would be visually set apart from the remainder of the Presidio, and the scale of the new construction is almost twice that of the neighboring historic buildings.
Historic Officers' Family Housing, located directly across from the proposed Letterman Project, San Francisco, CA
(Photo courtesy of Presido Trust)
The design also includes elements that some feel to be out of character for the Presidio, including a folly that resembles a ruined Greco-Roman temple and a circular glass café pavilion.
In March 2000, the Presidio Trust, Council, California SHPO, and NPS entered into a PA that sets forth how the planned new construction will be reviewed under Section 106. This review process called for development of design guidelines and review of the schematic design for the proposed new construction by the signatories to the PA and by the public.
There has been extensive public interest in the project, and it has focused for the most part on historic preservation issues. Organizations that have provided comments include the National Parks Conservation Association, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Citizens Advisory Board, the Neighborhood Associations for Presidio Planning, and the Fort Point and Presidio Historical Association.
The Presidio of San Francisco is one of the most significant and cherished historic properties in the United States. This project highlights the importance of early initiation of Section 106 review and public participation throughout the process. Because of intense interest by the historic preservation community and the local community in this development and based on the magnitude of the proposed new construction, the review process outlined in the PA attempts to involve the consulting parties and the public at each critical design step.
Staff contact: Jane Crisler
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