The way they see it, it’s a perfect match. Angel Island has lots of potential. Greg Johnson has lots of experience mining the potential of cultural institutions around the bay.
When Johnson, a Tiburon resident, met Angel Island Conservancy board members at its Angel Lights fundraising event in 2012, he knew he shared their goals and vision for Angel Island State Park. “I knew I wanted to work with them,” he says. “I wanted to make sense of the story of Angel Island.” In December, Johnson, who joined the board nine months ago, was elected president for 2014.
Trained as an architect, Johnson has also worked in real estate development and managed projects for cultural institutions such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Bay Area Discovery Museum and the Oakland Museum of California.
He recently developed a conceptual design for a reconfigured Ayala Cove as a first step toward implementing Angel Island Conservancy’s new Interpretation Master Plan, said Aimee Brown, the board governance chair.
“Greg’s expertise and enthusiasm for this project enables him to be an articulate spokesperson, and made him the obvious choice for the next stage of leadership for (the Conservancy),” she says.
Johnson grew up in the Bay Area, attended Redwood High School and the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in architecture. He and his wife, Lee Hawthorn, have one daughter.
“Eighty percent of people in this area don’t know what Angel Island offers,” Johnson says. “I want kids to want to hop on the ferry and go out there and hang out.”
Under outgoing President Gail Dalton’s leadership, the Conservancy worked for two years to come up with an Interpretation Master Plan, designed as a roadmap for developing new educational programs and facilities on the island.
As part of the plan this year, the Conservancy and California Department of Parks and Recreation have created a new walking guide for the island, implemented island-wide arts programming with SFMOMA, put up new interpretive signage and begun the project to create a new visitor orientation hub at Ayala Cove.
The parks department has also initiated an oral history project, collecting first-hand accounts of some of the soldiers, immigrants and prisoners that passed through Angel Island during its 200-year history as a military installation and immigration station.
Johnson says he hopes to link Angel Island’s historical sites to other historical parks in the region such as China Camp and World War II sites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
“Angel Island has a huge chunk of history that is relevant to the whole Bay Area,” he says. “We need to get the story out for future generations.”