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CALIFORNIA HERITAGE COUNCIL GIVES PHA PRESIDENT TOP 2014 AWARD

The California Heritage Council presented its top award, The Golden Bear Award, to PHA President Gary Widman in 2014 for his activities related to protecting the Presidio of San Francisco.

Gary Widman receives the 2014 Golden Bear Award“The California Heritage Council on the Occasion of the Council’s 55th Anniversary is pleased to present the Golden Bear Award to Gary Widman.

  •  In Recognition of his Outstanding Public Service in the Historic Preservation of the Presidio National Historic Landmark District
  • His clear voice in presenting the Presidio as the historic venue to tell the story of the American West, has made an impact which will guide the future of the Presidio of San Francisco for years to come.”

The following is taken from Mr. Widman’s acceptance remarks:

“Thank you to the California Heritage Council for this Golden Bear Award.  I deeply appreciate the honor. But I also accept it as an award to the Presidio Historical Association for its hard work and dedication in advocating and protecting the Presidio’s history, as well as for my own efforts.

WHY HISTORY MATTERS HERE AND NOW

As we dine here a few yards from the Presidio of San Francisco, perhaps the most significant National Historic Landmark in the American West, please consider why all of us — history groups, public and Presidio Trust included — need to give history, especially Presidio history, our highest priority here and now.

Of course, one general answer is that history, like no other discipline, offers fact-checked meaning through interwoven threads of education, analysis, understanding and respect.  Obviously, it is important that every citizen understand why and how the past created the present and will shape the future. If history is well researched, one need not speculate or take someone else’s word for “what happened” or “what caused this”. Unraveling the tangled fabric of history is the only sure path to understanding the roots of our successes and failures as a local and national community.A nd only after understanding those roots, can the individual, the public, the soldier, the General, the press, the teacher, the student and government leader build safe and sensible futures for themselves, their families and nation.  Like Churchill’s words about democracy, it may be messy, but there is no better alternative.

Former Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstein, said that planning the future without the teaching of the past is like planting cut flowers and hoping for the best. David McCullough, history writer, added: This generation of Americans is like that field of cut flowers, historically illiterate.

If there were ever a time or place when history was underserved and desperately needed, it is here and now.

Next door lies an untapped historic resource of the United States. It is classified as a site due the highest possible federal protection, a National Historic Landmark District owned by a federal agency. Still that agency has gone years without offering the public the lessons of history that could be conveyed with comprehensive historic signage or a major, comprehensive history museum.  The Presidio is a place of “teachable moments” in a park landscape of “teachable places” once populated by “teachable people”. (And by 30,000 such people who made decisions and sacrifices while they made history, still residing there in the Presidio National Cemetery on the western border of the Main Post.). That lack of comprehensive historical signage and a comprehensive history museum teaching all the lessons that the Presidio might potentially teach contribute to the historical illiteracy noted by McCullough.

As an aside, the newly remodeled Presidio Officers Club will likely have small, changeable historic displays in a back room. That is a symbolic, but partial, step in the right direction, and the Presidio Trust should be commended for taking that first step. But so far, that effort seems more like décor designed to attract renters to the ballroom rather than a serious attempt to teach history to the public at large. If the displays are a success, perhaps they will help the Trust understand how many more people they might attract, and how many more people could be well served by history if it were presented in a larger, more comprehensive museum. But the story of what the Presidio Trust might do to live up to its full potential is a longer story, not one for tonight.

The Wilderness movement of the 1960s, experienced by many of us here, was super-charged by writers of insight quoted in books, films and Congressional testimony. We now need a “History Movement” with that same energy today. And we will find that much of what was said about wilderness then is even more appropriately applied to history now.

Consider the following insights while holding in your mind the Presidio’s historic Main Post as you saw it last, a grassy park surrounded by brick buildings with its adjoining National Cemetery.  Now also consider and compare a second frame, the Trust’s proposed 14-building hotel in the center of that scene.

John Muir said, “We are now in the mountains, and they are in us.”

We now say, “We are now in this place of history, and it is in us.”

Wallace Stegner said, “Without history we are committed wholly, without chance for reflection or rest, to a technological termite life, the Brave New World of a new place.”

Finally, Joseph Wood Krutch said, “There are always rival claims to every unexploited area. Even parks cannot stand against such claims unless the strength of all the claims is recognized, unless we think of intangible values as no less important than material resources…The generation now living may very well be that which will make the irrevocable decision whether or not America will continue to be for centuries to come the one great nation which had the foresight to preserve its heritage.  If we do not preserve it, then we shall have diminished by just that much the unique privilege of being an American.” 

And that is why we, the public and the Presidio Trust must always make the intangible values of history outweigh any “material” values in managing and using the entrusted Presidio of San Francisco.”

[**Note: The plans of the federal agency that manages the Presidio of San Francisco, the Presidio Trust, for a proposed 14-building hotel in the Presidio Main Post are temporarily on hold as a result of litigation brought by the Presidio Historical Association and Sierra Club.  The case will be heard in the US Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit on Oct 20.]