A tale of two museums - Page 2

The Presidio Trust's choice between the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the Disney Museum speaks volumes about what's happening in San Francisco's national park

That's old history, but it's certainly morally and culturally acceptable to consider the Presidio a good place for a museum."
But over the course of three years, serious discussions with the trust were delayed, and alternate plans and proposals for different buildings were ignored. In September 2000, at Myers's insistence, the CIMCC finally met with Presidio staff and was encouraged to submit a proposal to renovate three dilapidated buildings near Lombard Gate.
The deadline to submit was short, but the CIMCC met it and museum planners say they were promised a decision within 14 days. Nine months later they received a formal response with, according to Myers, no solid answer. They continued waiting until an article in the San Francisco Chronicle informed them that the buildings had been leased to a private foundation from Silicon Valley.
The results of that deal now stand within sight of the Main Post: the Letterman Digital Arts Center, 850,000 square feet of space renovated and leased for $5.6 million a year by the private company Lucasfilm.
According to Presidio spokesperson Dana Polk, negotiations didn't work out because the CIMCC couldn't pay rent or put money into the work on the building. "They weren't able to do either," she said.
Somehow the museum was able to do it elsewhere. After withdrawing all proposals and vacating its office space, the CIMCC purchased a 24,000-square-foot building in Santa Rosa. The museum pays $10,000 a month in mortgage for the building, now worth $3 million, and it's a better deal than the Presidio offered: a leased space at $50,000 a month after $10 million in renovations paid out from the CIMCC's pocket. But it doesn't lessen the irony or pain of the situation.
"The philosophy behind keeping the Presidio alive for public access was not for the purpose of George Lucas and Disneyland, but for California culture," said Myers. "I think they have their own idea of what cultural projects are, and it's not us."
The new museum is still under construction in Santa Rosa and will include displays of indigenous art and archives. The National Indian Justice Center already calls it a home, and there are regular workshops on subjects like storytelling and art, current issues, and traditional uses of California native plants.
"That would have been a perfect fit for a national park," said Joel Ventresca, chair of Preserve the Presidio, a watchdog group that's fought past Presidio developments. He likened the CIMCC to exhibits in Yosemite where visitors can learn about the lives and legacies of local tribes. "Where is that in the Presidio? It's nowhere."
Actually, he's not quite right. Directly in front of Building 103, there's an old, paint-chipped sign with faded letters that reads, "Old Burial Ground. The area immediately to the west of this marker was used by the Indians, Spaniards, and Mexicans to bury their dead — 1776–1846. The remains are now in the National Cemetery, Presidio of San Francisco."
If the CIMCC had found a home in Building 103, Myers would be preparing to welcome a new next-door neighbor. The Disney Museum is the next bastion of culture vying for residence in the Presidio and it has designs on Building 104.
The proposal comes from the nonprofit Disney Family Foundation — a compendium of Walt's family, headed by daughter Diane Disney Miller, that split from the Disney Company. Due to a curiosity about Walt Disney apparently unsatisfied by several theme parks around the world (one of which, at 47 square miles, is nearly the size of all of San Francisco), the family is looking for a place to display what remains of Disney's personal artifacts.
Museum planners hope that by 2009 they can invite the public to view items like the Academy Awards he once won and the cars he once drove.