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Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
California: Letterman Digital Arts Center Project, Presidio of San Francisco

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).

Recent Developments

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 project.


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 at Presidio

Historic Officers' Family Housing, located directly across from the proposed Letterman Project, San Francisco, CA
(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 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

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

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 resolution process.

Fall 2000 report on this case

Staff contact: Jane Crisler

Posted March 21, 2001

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