Presidents Report May 2020

    Presidio Historical Association President’s Report, submitted by Lucia Bogatay, May 2020

Hello to you all!   I am Lucia Bogatay, the president of the Presidio Historical Association.  Welcome to Zoom!  Thank you for belonging to PHA!  This talk, presenting my May President’s report, is an experiment during our lock-down to see if we can stay in touch with you all digitally.  I will tell you about our activities, summarizing last year’s busy events, and what we hope to do this year. Samantha Davis, our Office & Membership Manager will expand on how we plan to use digital tools to offer events, and Paul Wermer will address the layoffs at the Presidio and how it affects PHA  

We will ask you all for comments and suggestions at the end of the presentation. There is a way to raise a digital hand which you will find at the bottom of the screen under “participants” which opens a list of all those participating.  At the left of this menu, at the bottom, is a blue hand.  Click that to be recognized.  

We held the election by mail and google, and here are the results:  40 proxies were received, either by mail or email.  The slate of three members has been elected in good order.

First, Advocacy:  Last year the big issues in the Presidio were the re-use of Fort Winfield Scott, and the continuing saga of the Tunnel Tops. Happily, the Presidio Trust decided against leasing Fort Winfield Scott to an awkward consortium of non- and for-profit institutions.  Instead, the Trust will renovate and lease the remaining buildings itself.  The Tunnel Tops are under construction, with actual topsoil in place, and a completion expected in the fall of 2021. 

We wrote in support of preservation of the beautiful George Washington High School murals by Victor Arnautov.  Our board member Robert Cherny has written a biography of Arnautov and is a powerful advocate in the crusade to save these magnificent murals whose destruction or concealment was insisted upon by activists and concealment was finally approved by the School Commission. The school alumni association is now suing the School District for violating CEQA.

Second, Publications:  Author and board member Bill Yenne, has published our recent Communiques.  We hope you have enjoyed them.

Third, our Events:  Our list of events for last year is long.  We had some memorable tours and talks. 

  • Our annual meeting speaker, The Presidio Trust’s historian, Barbara Sokolov, talked about her work with oral histories, with an example referencing the Fort Winfield Scott murals.  
  • In May we had a tour of the beautifully restored Alcatraz gardens. A docent volunteer for the Conservancy was our guide. The contrast of the floral beauty with the desolate rocky island was compelling!
  • In September a group of us took another ferry ride, this time to Vallejo where we had a tour of Mare Island with guide Brendon Riley. The amazing collection of Tiffany stained glass in the chapel was a special treat, but the huge old dry dock, hand dug and made of solid granite block in the 19th Century definitely made the biggest impression on me. 
  • In October, Board Member Robert W. Cherny, Professor emeritus of History San Francisco State University, lectured on the Coit Tower Murals.  The mural decoration of the interior of the tower was funded as a Public Works of Art Project, (administered by WPA) and was organized by Victor Arnautov who also painted many of the murals.  The talk was sponsored in collaboration with the Interfaith Chapel on the Presidio where it was held.  The Chapel is also decorated with Arnautov murals. 
  • November 4 was the 250th anniversary of Portola’s first sighting of the Bay in 1769.  The tour was organized and led by Mitch Postal, director of the San Mateo Historical Society and Museum.  Phil Faroudja coordinated our participation in a hike to Sweeny Ridge to celebrate the occasion.  
  • Our Holiday party was in the Bay School as usual.  
  • In January we had a tour of the affecting and beautiful new MIS museum in Building 640 in the Presidio.  This was part of the Military Intelligence Service during World War II which trained Japanese Americans to be translators.  This was yet another important way the Japanese Americans helped the WWII war effort despite the internment of their relatives.  We hope someday to hold a program in their elegant new meeting room.
  • In February was another interesting tour, of the Arian Press, in the Marine Hospital boiler building in the Presidio where we learned about typesetting, printing and binding of special editions.  

This year’s planned events had included talks on military art of the Spanish period; on historic landscapes; and on a lesser known aspect of the Vietnam War, namely the war in Laos. We had also planned a tour of the shipyards at Marinship. Phil Faloudja had been planning a film festival for us in the newly renovated Presidio Theater.  But the pandemic has forced us to rethink all of our activities.  It has also forced postponement of San Francisco’s History Days celebration, an event to which we always enjoy contributing.

Samantha Davis, our wonderful administrator, has been sending out book recommendations, and other items of historical interest.  It might be possible to have a discussion group online about some of these.

Samantha, please say a few words about how we plan to adapt our events to be compatible with social distancing. 

{Samantha, about 10 minute – livestreamed talks and walks/tours, and Zoom (or other) discussion groups/}

Our best news is that we no longer have to move from our offices on Franklin Street.  The virus apparently caused the new tenants for our space to cancel before signing a lease.   Our landlord has asked us to stay on.  They have offered us a new four-year lease with a very minimal rent increase.  They will even replace the ceiling tiles, which are threatening to fall!  We haven’t had any increase at all in the time we have been there.  Organizing and purging our files is no longer urgent, but we will continue to reduce our paper storage needs.  Four years anticipates that the church hopes to tear down our building and build a new housing tower.  So, we have plenty of time to find a new location for PHA’s offices, and we plan to practice becoming virtual during this lock-down.  

There are two new appointments to the Presidio Trust Board of Directors, who seem to be quite reasonable choices, Dr. Michael A. Weiner, replacing John Keker, and U.S. Navy Admiral Thomas Fargo (Ret), replacing Mark Pincus.  Both new directors seem to have an appreciation for military history, and of the Presidio.  It is also reassuring that neither of them is a real-estate tycoon.  Dr. Weiner, 77, is an author and host of the nationally syndicated radio program Savage Nation. He has a PHD from UC in nutritional ethnomedicine, and lives in Marin.  

Admiral Fargo, 71, had a distinguished 35-year career in the U.S. Navy where he was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the U.S. Pacific Command. He received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.    In retirement, he has lead transportation and technology companies and has served on several public and private boards.  He lives in Hawaii.

Rob Thomson, the Presidio Chief Preservation Officer called to explain the staffing changes the Trust is making to narrow their focus to deal with the impact from its declining income now that many of its tenants cannot pay the full rent. Unfortunately, it involves delegating the interpretation of history, and consolidating the archaeology department under Rob’s jurisdiction.  They have laid off the chief archaeologist, and the Trust’s only historian.  In my architectural practice, I always hope to make a problem into an opportunity.  With that in mind, Paul Wermer will give us a brief history of PHA, describe in more detail the changes to the Trust’s staff and focus, and how these changes might affect the PHA going forward.  

[Paul talks here]

We would be delighted to hear some ideas from members for other ways to enliven our seclusion.   Maybe some readings from original sources, maybe a seminar on some subject by our historians, or maybe some movies filmed in the Presidio could be streamed…

Please raise your digital “hand” if you have something to talk about today, and when you are recognized, please introduce yourself with a short biography…

Discussion

Thank you, I think we will end it here.  I will close by hoping you will all stay out of harm’s way in order to reduce your chances of getting infected.  We value you all.  Goodbye, and stay well!

President’s Report January 2020

PRESIDENT’S REPORT   – January 2020

We are starting the new year with some interesting possible events planned.  The tour of Arion Press will be on January 30 and should be fascinating. A list of these will be prepared and distributed soon.

We have been given an eviction notice from the Universal Life building on Franklin. They seem to need our office for more homeless outreach staff, and it certainly would benefit from a face lift. This will mean a lot of work thinning out our belongings and packing.  But we will rent a storage space where paperwork and equipment can be stored, and consolidated (now in the office and various garages around town). Long term plans for the church will be to demolish that building and build more housing and offices. A property management team has taken over from the church, and after meeting with their representative, we definitely had the impression that our tenancy was fragile. It was a fine, affordable arrangement, thanks to our old administrator, Steven Krefting, and for that we are grateful!

We propose for the foreseeable future to do without an physical office, putting our files in storage and going as paperless as we can.  Executive meetings would be in cafés. The savings could be applied to events which we might otherwise have to charge for. Other options, which we can go over at our next meeting, all have disadvantages of cost, lack of independence or impermanence. We are open to other ideas, nevertheless.

The monthly People for the Parks and Presidio gave us an extensive presentation by Michael Bolland on the progress of construction of the Tunnel Tops, Quartermaster Reach, and the Battery Tunnel Top, and plans for the Girard Entry, and Calvary barracks.   He also reported on the problems solved by the successful restoration of Mountain Lake, which is evolving in a good direction. New oak trees are taking hold and growing, and native plants and animals thriving. The participation of the neighboring community is vital, especially the pledge to avoid releasing non-native former pets into the lake.

He discussed lighting in the Presidio, and the need to keep it safe while maintaining the “dark sky” required by NPS, especially good for birds.

Bolland reported that the Trust has received the Green Flag Award, which is a worldwide honor, and the Presidio is the first US entity to receive one!  He himself has received an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. The assembled gave both a round of applause.

The Conservancy reports that the warming hut will be closed for renovation, and due to lack of fund, are closing the kitchen.  The staff have all been found new places to work. It will close March 9 for 8 weeks.

Alicia Shore, of the native plant nursery gave an inspiring presentation.  They produce 150,000 plants per year at four sites. But they have been contending with a dangerous pathogen called phytophthora, a water-born pathogen that threatens plant life.  It is a relative of sudden oak death. By steaming soil and scrubbing their facilities, the nurseries are providing much healthier plants and signs of phytophthora have vanished. They test for it by putting a pear in run-off from their nurseries.  If they don’t turn black but stay looking like pears, the disease is not present. We might have a tour of the nursery as a field trip. But washing our shoes first is essential!

The cross-town trail initiated by Bob Segal is a big success.  Going diagonally from the Presidio to the Bay.

Another trail even more exciting is the Anza Trail.  Speical guest, Naomi Torres, Superintendant of the Anza Trail described trails as “monuments to events rather than places, so pose special problems for interpretation.  She discussed the upcoming 250th anniversary of the Trail in 2026, and asked for people interested in volunteering to help plan local events.  She has no staff to speak of (a total of 3) and works with localities along the trail to enhance and publicize the trail which passes through 19 counties.  There are three routes: the historic one, the auto route, and the recreational trail route. There are shield shaped trail signs along these routes.

 

President’s Report June 2019

Presidio Historical Association President’s Report
submitted by Lucia Bogatay
June 2019

We are planning a tour in early September of Mare Island, a former Navy base, which contains many historic buildings. Bob Cherny will give a lecture on Thursday, October 3 at the Presidio Interfaith Chapel. He will speak about the Coit Tower murals which were coordinated by Victor Arnautoff. Bob’s book on Arnautoff was published last year. This event is particularly poignant due to the potential disappearance of Arnautoff’s murals at Washington High which were protesting the treatment of native Americans and blacks at the hands of whites. The vivid representation of this maltreatment has outraged the very groups it was designed to honor. November 4 is the 250th anniversary of Portola’s “discovery” of the San Francisco Bay. It will be celebrated by several history organizations, including the San Mateo History Museum. We hope to join a suitable ceremony on Sweeny Ridge to commemorate that event which occurred on Sweeny Ridge.

Fort Winfield Scott: After a two-month extension of the deadline, the revised proposal was submitted. Again, the staff recommendation was negative. It was clear that the proposal did not meet the Trust’s criteria, and it is worth noting that net income to the Presidio Trust did not meet Trust needs. The PHA sent a brief communication supporting the staff report. At the Trust Board’s June 19 meeting the Board upheld the staff recommendation and terminated the offering. In the meantime, the buildings will be maintained, conserved and “mothballed”. PHA cautioned that it would be best to keep them heated and suggested that work to conserve and interpret the murals be done as soon as possible.

SPUR has created an exhibition at their headquarters at 654 Mission Street of landscape architect Michael Painter’s work. He was a member of PHA’s board. It will be open into the Fall. Painter contributed the idea to underground part of Doyle Drive. He died a year ago. (https://www.spur.org/exhibitions/2019-06-24/non-linear-mind-michael-painter)

At June’s People for the Parks and Presidio meeting Amy Meyer welcomed Christine Lehnertz, new President and CEO of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Ms. Lehnertz, formerly NPS Superintendent of Grand Canyon and before that briefly of GGNRA, talked about her plans for the Conservancy. Greg Moore will stay in an advisory position. Sharon Farrell, also of the Conservancy, who introduced us to One Tam at the last P4P meeting, gave a more detailed summary of the projects being undertaken by this collaboration of the agencies in charge of Marin County open space. Their goal is to maintain and restore the land and its natural features and modify access in anticipation of higher sea levels. Work is proceeding on wetlands and waterways, on trail corridors, and work has begun on long term forest improvements.

Patrick Hannan of the Presidio Trust reminded us that the base layer dirt for the Tunnel Tops will be arriving in July and August. We are to expect many trucks on Presidio roads. Work hours will be between 7 AM and 5 PM weekdays. Culverts are being installed at Quartermaster Reach for the expanded marsh. We asked if the roadways have been designed to keep petroleum pollution out of the bay. He will ask. He recommended taking a walk around Baker Beach which has been recently rehabilitated. The coyote pups have arrived but are successfully hidden from view. Various trail closures will happen as needed. The renovation of the bowling alley in the Main Post is nearly complete. Its restaurant will be reopening with a new outside terrace. The Presidio Theater will open with a Gala on September 21 and a public open house on September 22.

Amy Brees of NPS presented concept designs for the Chrissy Field Refresh, which addresses a lot of functional issues, as well as adding features to reduce the intimidating scale of the field. It proposes a central mowed lawn bordered by native plantings. The lawn represents an “airfield” with some replica planes as play structures, a race track (not the restored original, but offered as “homage” to the PPIC race track). Lucia will resume research on options for the planes-cum-play-structures. Paul Wermer suggested using it to test electric racing cars. He also suggested improving transportation (bus or ferry) to the Presidio from the communities the Trust and NPS want to encourage to use the park and for whom the distance may be a deterrent.

Gordon White, NPS chief of interpretation, discussed the six lighthouses within the GGNRA and gave a bit of history of them. There is a challenge in having the sites transferred to NPS as historical sites – The NPS does not want responsibility for lead paint remediation, and the Coast Guard wants to avoid the costs of remediation

Rich Hillis discussed the renovations happening in Building C at Fort Mason. He said a map is being produced for the Northern Waterfront promenade. It was suggested that he make sure Google has the same information for all those who use a smart phone instead of using maps.