Monday, February 18, 2013

Thank You Millard

Marin Headlands, acrylic on paper, 2000

It’s President’s Day so let’s pay tribute to #13.  The very obscure, last Whig President, and mostly forgotten Millard Fillmore.   Historians have consistently ranked Fillmore near the bottom.  I don’t think he even turns up as a question on Jeopardy.  On a personal note, I was born in Millard Fillmore Hospital and live in a neighborhood that older residents still refer to as The Fillmore (as in Fillmore Street).

My praise of Millard Fillmore comes form his most inadvertent success.  As President it was Fillmore who admitted California to the Union in 1850.  It was the height of the Gold Rush when they brought early maps of the Bay Area into the Oval Office.  It was Fillmore and his staff that carved out huge tracts of land overlooking the Golden Gate and surrounding San Francisco Bay, all to deed them to the Department of Defense.  The goal in those days was to make sure the important harbor was protected.  Today you can see evidence of fortifications from the Civil War, to the Spanish-American War, both World Wars and beyond.  Fortunately for locals, those fortifications never saw any action.  What was wonderful is that all of that land escaped urban and suburban development for the next 150 years.  He didn’t know it at the time, but when Millard got out the map and his pencil he was preserving acres of open space that is not part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  

San Francisco is the world’s greatest city, in part to our backyard wilderness.  The northern and western waterfront are wrapped in national park and, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, we have the Marin Headlands.  How many cities offer a local bus where you can take a ride, get out, and see a mountain lion on the trail?  It’s an escape and, of course, a source of inspiration for my art.

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