Disney museum moving ahead with little criticism

While the news of Doris and Donald Fisher’s contemporary art museum proposed for the Presidio’s historic Main Parade Ground has made headlines as well as drawn some criticism for its modern architectural design, another major project in development at the former Army base — the Walt Disney Family Museum — is moving forward with little attention.

Approved in the fall of 2006 by the Presidio Trust — the panel created by the federal government to oversee operations of the former military base, which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — the Walt Disney Family Museum will incorporate 56,000 square feet in three buildings of the Presidio’s hallowed Main Post.

Construction started in September 2007 and is expected to be completed by September 2009, said Walt Miller, grandson of Walt Disney and president of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization which has been a Presidio tenant since 2001.

The museum will house drawings, photographs and other documents related to the iconic Disney founder, Miller said, adding that his grandfather’s strong admiration of the military connected ideally with the Presidio’s past.

Presidio Trust spokeswoman Tia Lombardi said the organization carefully weighed the pros and cons of the Disney Family Museum before deciding to approve the project for the Main Post.

According to Lombardi, the trust receives $20 million a year from the federal government in funding, but it must be financially self-sufficient by 2013 — a gap they will fill by renting out building properties.

Other proposed projects for the Main Post area include an international center for nonviolence, a 100-room hotel and the Fishers’ plan to build a new 100,000-square-foot museum in which to publicly display their private art collection.

The Disney museum’s architecture will adhere strictly to the historical guidelines of the Main Post, which has helped it avoid the controversy generated by the Fisher museum’s proposed modern design.

“The outside will look exactly the same,” Miller said, declining to state how much the project will cost. “We cannot even remove paint the Army put on granite thresholds.”

Despite its efforts to remain true to the Main Post’s architectural makeup, the museum’s plan does have its critics.

Whitney Hall, a member of the Presidio Historical Association, said the Disney Family Museum’s dedication to preserving the architecture of the Main Post is admirable, but it is a matter of concern that Walt Disney could be a major attraction in the Presidio, without any history center explaining what the Presidio is all about.

Lombardi said addressing the history of the Presidio is a top priority for projects slated for the Main Post, but the large amount of available space in the area allows the organization some flexibility in choosing its tenants.

wreisman@examiner.com

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