A few weeks ago, I came across an article about the opening of the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio being pushed back to October 2009. A Disney where?? I had never even heard that planners were considering putting a Disney museum in the Presidio. I suppose it snuck in under the radar; for the past few years, there has been a huge fight to keep a proposed 100,000 sq. ft. art museum out of the park. As it stands, the art museum proposal was recently withdrawn, and the smaller Disney Museum is apparently almost ready to open. As someone who watched Fisherman’s Wharf become T-shirt Wharf, the news felt like another small stab in the heart. Cultural erosion, like the fog, comes in on little cat’s feet.
When the Presidio was decommissioned in 1994, the Park Service presented the Congress with a management plan and asked for funding for clean-up and conversion. However, the Republican-lead Congress claimed that costs were prohibitive and, in 1996, passed an act mandating that the Presidio become self-sustaining by 2013, or essentially face sale. (To date, the Presidio is the only national park with such a mandate.) The act also created a 7-person governing body, the Presidio Trust, which is currently dominated by real estate developers. The pressure to privatize has been tremendous and constant. Over time, concessions have been made.
Enter Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s only surviving daughter. According to a recent NY Times article, Miller has long harbored frustration with public perception of her father, which she says was tainted after the 1994 book “Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince” painted him as a bigot. Building a museum dedicated to her father’s life and legacy seemed to her like a good way to recast him in the public eye.
But why the Presidio? Miller admits that her father had no particular connection to the city or to the Presidio. She moved to the Napa Valley in the early 1970s, years after his death, and opened the Silverado Vineyards. Since around 2000, her Walt Disney Family Foundation rented space in the Presidio, where she housed momentos related to her father and his work, and apparently even set up a display. Prima facie, this move is akin to establishing a beachhead in the park. She has been publicly working since 2004 to open a museum on the grounds.
If nothing else, the Presidio’s majestic views certainly lend Walt Disney’s memory a certain gravitas.
One cannot help but wonder how Diane Disney Miller reconciles the Presidio Trust’s mission of “preserving the Presidio’s cultural, natural, scenic, and recreational resources for the American people” with her mission of preserving her father’s public image.
If there’s going to be a museum in the Presidio dedicated to an animator, it should be Hayao Miyazaki; many of his films have strong environmental messages, which are actually aligned to the park’s mission. Moreover, though his films often borrow from fairy tales, his storylines are original, and his characters are inquisitive and concerned about the well-being of the world around them. But I can’t imagine Miyazaki would never consider such a thing.