Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Letterman Digital Arts Center Project, Presidio of San
Agency: Presidio Trust
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This project involves the Presidio of San Francisco National
Historic Landmark District (Criterion 1).
- There is public interest and debate over the proposed design of the
new complex (Criterion 3).
On January 9, 2001, the Council convened a panel of Council members to
meet with the Presidio Trust, National Park Service (NPS), California
State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), National Parks Conservation
Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation (National Trust),
and Lucasfilm, Ltd., to discuss the disagreement among the parties
regarding the design for the proposed Letterman Digital Arts Center at the
Presidio of San Francisco.
The panel, consisting of Alan Hantman, Architect of the Capitol, Robert
Peck, Commissioner of the Public Building Service for the General Services
Administration, and Bruce Judd, historic preservation expert member from
San Francisco, received a tour of the site and heard presentations on the
design for the project.
On January 26, 2001, in accordance with the Programmatic Agreement (PA)
for the project, the Council forwarded the panel’s findings and
recommendations for consideration by the Board of Directors of the
Presidio Trust. While noting the many laudable aspects of the project, the
Council indicated that concerns remain regarding several important
features of the project.
The Council recommended that the Presidio Trust delete the project’s
proposed classical-style folly, improve the compatibility of other
landscape features with the feeling and setting of the Presidio, and
reconsider the design of a proposed glass café pavilion. The Council also
recommended that further attempts be made to reduce the appearance of new
construction along O’Reilly Avenue, and that proposed roof and window
treatments be reconsidered. The Presidio Trust must consider these
comments prior to making a final decision regarding the design of the
The Presidio of San Francisco is a property of unique natural and
cultural importance that has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Established as a Spanish military post, it became the oldest American
military post in continuous operation. 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.
Historic Officers' Family
Housing, located directly across from the proposed Letterman Project, San
(Photo courtesy of Presido Trust)
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 percent of the Presidio, the
complex in its entirety remains part of the Golden Gate National
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 result in demolition
of the Letterman Hospital complex, an intrusive element in the historic
district, and construction of 900,000 square feet of space to house
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.)
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. The design also includes elements 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.
There has been extensive public interest in the project focused, for
the most part, on historic preservation issues. Organizations that have
expressed concern 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.
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.
In August 2000, during review of the project design, disagreement
surfaced regarding conformance with the design guidelines. 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.
Since the parties to the PA were unable to agree on whether the design
met the design guidelines, the Presidio Trust invoked the PA's dispute
report on this case
Staff contact: Jane Crisler
Posted March 21, 2001