Friday, November 20, 2015

Selling off the Palace of Fine Arts to the highest bidder

The lyrics “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” could be applied San Francisco’s Park and Recreation’s top proposals for what to do with San Francisco’s Iconic Palace of Fine Arts. It could have provided the sound track for today's meeting at San Francisco city hall.

Widely considered the most beautiful structure at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts — housing art from Renaissance to Modern — was the work of California architect Bernard Maybeck. Maybeck’s fantastic creation, inspired by a Piranesi engraving, featured a Roman ruin reflected in a pool. According to Maybeck, this ruin existed not for its own sake but to show “the mortality of grandeur and the vanity of human wishes.” Like other features of the fair, the Palace was intended as ephemeral; at the close of the exposition, it would come down.

But the Palace survived, thanks to the Palace Preservation League, founded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst while the fair was still in progress. By 1964, the Palace had deteriorated badly and the Rotunda and Colonnades were rebuilt, thanks to the generosity of Walter Sl. Johnson

The Palace as a public space is again hanging on by its fingernails. How do the word “privatize” and “monetize” sound to you? From the incessant talk of needing money, you’d think that SF was a poor city, instead of a wealthy one, full of those who can afford 5 million dollar condos with an equally expensive life style. In 1915, the city was able to raise 4 million dollars in a matter of hours. Are our current city masters so poor that they can’t raise the 2015 equivalent?

Unless you knew in advance or were able to dig down through the morass of official documents, you would never know that the two top contenders for the contract to preserve the iconic building have included “lodging” as an important part of their proposals.  They and their supporters didn’t mention that little fact in the meeting at City Hall on November 19, 2015.

The proposals, found on this website make it clear that both organizations plan to monetize the site to the max. The two top contenders, Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Palace of Fine Arts -San Francisco Arts, Crafts , Community and Hospitality include a host of money making ventures in their proposals including private gyms, spas and "lodging."

The top three proposals, based on their cumulative scores across six categories, are outlined below. The scoring criteria are public access, financial, compatibility with the Palace and the neighborhood, proposed use, public impact and public input:

1. The Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts: "A mix of recreational uses, including meeting and event facilities, restaurants, historic displays and a “small-scale, world-class hotel.”

2. Palace of Fine Arts-San Francisco Arts, Crafts, Community and Hospitality: A renovated public concourse and Exhibition Hall, “that embraces the history, arts, products, crafts and culture of San Francisco,” along with 175 guest rooms across two new mezzanine levels.

The third ranking proposal, perhaps the least overtly commercial from The San Francisco Museum At The Palace (SFMAP), includes a "A publicly accessible museum and great hall, with a renovated Palace of Fine Arts Theater and “a destination fine dining restaurant.”

Well, I guess that visitors to San Francisco have to eat somewhere. Gas, food and lodging anyone?

At a Parks and Recreation meeting last month, Julie Mushet, The Executive Director of The Center for Global Arts and Cultures, the non-profit that hosts of the annual Ethnic Dance Festival, made a proposal for a multi-cultural arts center.  She made another plea today, back up by speeches by Robert Cole, the former director of Cal Performances, Berkeley. However, unless the issue of a 20 million dollar (and rising) purse is answered, it doesn’t look like she has much chance.

One of the speakers pointed out that a petition not to monetize the site and not to build a hotel had received 20,000 signatures in less than two weeks.

She added that the community will support would support this venture and that the city certainly should, given the amount of money that must be flowing into their coffers these days. She also added – and this seemed to be the feeling of many in the crowd – that San Francisco’s citizens were not interested in seeing another arts organization disappear from the city or become a piggy bank for city hall.

If yet another proposal to sell parts of San Francisco to the highest bidder is the best that city hall can do, maybe we should scrap their decisions and start all over as this petition on Change-Org makes clear. "None of those proposals preserve the site as the important cultural/educational center San Franciscans have known it to be, nor do they keep it a community space that is open and available to ALL people. Once again, our officials are preparing to sell out from under us another piece of San Fransisco heritage, a heritage that belongs solely to the citizens of this City and to those who share a love for it . We demand that the Palace of Fine Arts be developed ONLY as a cultural/educational center."

The winner of the redevelopment bid will score a 55-year lease to the historic San Francisco arts center. What a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, by selling off another part of SF's soul. The facade may remain but the heart will be gone.

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