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Beverly Hills Delays Museum Decision Again

January 23, 1986|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Staff Writer

Turning Camelot's shabby castle into a sparkling cultural gem is no streamlined fairy tale.

It's a tortuous, tedious, yearlong story of negotiations and politics as observers learned Tuesday night, when the Beverly Hills City Council once again delayed action on Frederick R. Weisman's proposal to transform the Greystone Mansion into a museum for his highly regarded contemporary art collection. The decision and attendant public hearing were postponed two weeks, to Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

Mayor Edward Brown reassured frustrated art advocates, however, by stating that the council "is very much in favor" of the proposal and "will definitely" make it a reality. The lease is "almost complete," he said, with the exception of "a few housekeeping items" currently under revision.

Under terms of the proposed agreement, the City of Beverly Hills will lease the historic edifice to Weisman for $1 a year for 55 years to house the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation's multimillion-dollar collection of Abstract Expressionist, Pop and more recent artworks. The city will maintain the grounds and contribute about $2 million of the $8 million needed to restore the once-grand old building.

In return, Weisman will put about $6 million into the renovation and install his foundation's "world-class collection" in the mansion, according to Frederick M. Nicholas, chairman of the Greystone Foundation.

In order to control traffic and prevent parking congestion in the luxurious residential neighborhood, the museum will be open by appointment only.

Weisman's plan has been under consideration for a year, following a study to determine the best use of the 18.6-acre property at Loma Vista Drive and Doheny Road. Now in need of extensive repairs, the estate has been vacant since the American Film Institute's $1-a-year lease expired in 1981.

Brown and Councilpersons Donna Ellman, Annabelle Heiferman and Ben Stansbury are on record as favoring the Weisman proposal. Vice Mayor Charlotte Spadaro has been a strong opponent, but Tuesday night she said that many of her "serious concerns" about the city's "abdication of authority" and "giving up rights to peripheral property" were being addressed in lease refinements. She also said she was "delighted" that the decision had been postponed and urged the council not to "rush into this lease."

Objections to Weisman's project have focused on disapproval of modern art, fears about bringing a museum into a residential neighborhood and disputes over the most advantageous use of one of the city's major architectural assets.

Local arts advocates fear that further delays may cause Southern California to lose yet another major art resource. The Beverly Hills City Council in 1964 approved Joseph A. Hirshhorn's plan to move his modern art collection to Greystone, but a rift developed and the uranium magnate subsequently gave his cache to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Two citizens expressed reservations about the Weisman lease at Tuesday's meeting, but most spokespersons endorsed the proposal. Attorney Richard Sherwood, former president of the County Museum of Art's board of trustees, noted that his institution and the Museum of Contemporary Art both would be "delighted" to have the collection, which he characterized as among "the finest in private hands." Since Weisman prefers to house his foundation's art as a separate entity, Sherwood urged the council to take advantage of its "extraordinary opportunity."

Stansbury said the council had been "extremely cautious" in working out a "prudent use of Greystone" and advocated positive action on "an incredible golden opportunity."

Donna Ellman likened her city to "a modern-day Camelot in a day of 'Clockwork Orange' " and urged the addition of "a cultural gem to our crown" of wealth and commerce.

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