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Billion-dollar art gift for Presidio

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It was not widely known that Gap Inc. founder Donald Fisher, 78, along with being a major political player and philanthropist, has also partnered with his wife, Doris, to amass one of the world’s largest private collections of contemporary art.

That information became much more public this week with the Fishers’ dramatic announcement that they wanted to build San Francisco a 100,000-square-foot museum in Presidio National Park to permanently house their more than 1,000 works by the most recognizable names in 20th century art.

Experts have estimated that the entire collection — featuring the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenburg and Richard Serra — could be sold for more than $1 billion today. But until now, most of it has hung at the Gap executive headquarters on the Embarcadero, rarely seen by the general public except when pieces are occasionally loaned to museums.

The Fishers’ proposed Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio would not cost taxpayers a dime, and it would actually be larger than the popularand highly respected San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This latest exhibition facility would confirm The City’s rising reputation as a world-class center for new museums displaying great art.

Fisher hopes to break ground for the museum at the Presidio’s historic Main Post next August and open in three years. Of course, the project must traverse the usual municipal gauntlet of permits, approvals, environmental reports and public hearings, plus first winning a green light from the seven-member Presidio board.

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However, initial reactions to the museum offer have been universally enthusiastic, as befits a billion-dollar surprise package. Mayor Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have already expressed support. And Fisher certainly knows his way around Presidio politics, having been an original Presidio trustee confirmed by the White House.

Architects of the Fisher museum will be the New York firm that designed the Whitney Museum in Manhattan and the Museo Picasso Malaga of Spain. Reportedly, there is no top limit on spending.

Opening the irreplaceable Fisher art collection to public viewing in the Presidio is a gift to San Francisco as glorious as it is unexpected. This is capitalism giving back to the community in the finest American tradition.

From Andrew Carnegie virtually paying for the modern U.S. library infrastructure single-handedly, to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet joining forces to give billions for eradicating disease and spreading technology in the Third World, some of the most famous and successful American tycoons have opened their wealth to good causes.

Now Donald and Doris Fisher have joined the forefront of this pantheon, bestowing an unforgettable present on The City, where they began building the $16 billion Gap-Old Navy-Banana Republic empire in 1969 with their first jeans store on Ocean Avenue.



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