Farewell Favorites: Letterman Hospital
Even in a City where you practically need a permit from the Planning Commission before picking a dandelion, no one's weeping for Letterman Hospital (Letterman Army Medical Center). The demolition of the rather ugly, 10-story former military hospital in the Presidio was underway in the fall of 2001. The razing of the government building is the first move by the Presidio Trust which will significantly alter the landscape of the Presidio, a military installation in the shadow of the gateway to the Pacific for as long as Bay Area history has been recorded. When the Presidio was closed by the military in the 1990s, the U.S. Congress mandated that the land turn a profit by 2013 in order to remain in the public trust. The Letterman property is key to plans of the Trust, which was established to oversee the transformation from government installation to profitable national park. The razing of Letterman Hospital and adjoining Letterman Army Institute of Research clears the way for construction of  a 23-acre office and digital production campus for Industrial Light & Magic, THX Group, Lucas Arts Entertainment Co., Lucas Online, Lucas Learning, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Included in the campus project are a 1,500-car underground parking garage, 15 acres of open space, a cafe, and a public lawn with fountains, sculpture, and landscaping designed to complement the Palace of Fine Arts and San Francisco Bay. The Trust, under the leadership of Executive Director, former Air Force pilot James Meadows, wisely decided to dismantle the old Letterman facilities rather than implode them in order to avoid further galvanizing anti-development forces which would likely be energized by images of blasting in the Presidio. The $10 million demolition project will see the hospital taken apart piece by piece. According to Trust board members, up to 90 percent of the ruins will be recycled into other Presidio construction projects. While the sight of demolition on the historic property near the Palace of Fine Arts is a foreboding one for those who dread a Presidio rife with hotels and business complexes. A greater battle awaits the Trust and preservationists over an area of the Lyon Street wall, which the Trust would like to open up to help integrate the larger Presidio with the rest of the City. 

In its December 2001 issue, San Francisco magazine published the results of reporter Kerry Tremain's months-long investigation into the Presidio Trust. Tremain concluded, "As contracts are signed and the specter of business parks looms, the real threat to the prized land is beginning to look like the ruthless Meadows himself." The well-sourced article detailed the Trust's mad dash into red ink under Meadows' alleged mismanagement, patronage, and abuse of employees. Among those speaking on the record was Ricky Wing, a former assistant for Meadows who said that personal abuse and financial problems were "a way of life" for the embattled Meadows. In the wake of the San Francisco magazine article and mounting criticism about misspending, Meadows quit the Trust in December, 2001. 

More about the Presidio

Copyright 2001 Hank Donat
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