SAN PEDRO — Hanging near the entrance of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum is a bright orange banner proclaiming "The Titanic Is Here," a reference to the the 18-foot scale model of the doomed luxury liner on exhibit inside.
Museum officials do not know how successful the banner has been in attracting visitors. Nevertheless, they say the model has proved to be one of the most talked-about exhibits in a city-operated museum that is seldom talked about at all.
"I think this is one of the least-known museums in Los Angeles," said its director, William Lee.
A seasoned museum administrator, Lee was appointed head of the Maritime Museum three weeks ago by the Department of Recreation and Parks, marking the first time the museum has had a professional director since it opened seven years ago in the historic Terminal Island ferry building at the foot of 6th Street.
Lee was selected from among 26 applicants to develop ways to boost the museum's public profile and, more important, develop a blueprint for its development, said Georgiann Rudder, assistant general manager of the parks department's Pacific Region.
"What we are looking for now," Rudder said, "is an overall master plan to determine where this museum is going."
The museum is one of five operated by the Department of Recreation and Parks, and has been kept afloat over the years by a small budget, currently $120,000 annually, and a full-time staff of four, including the director. Last year, the museum, which charges no admission, attracted 80,000 visitors.
The staff is supported by Friends of the Maritime Museum, a volunteer group that advises the director and raises funds through its membership dues, donations and a small gift shop at the museum. The group has about 110 members, 21 of whom serve on a board of directors.
(By comparison, the nearby Cabrillo Marine Museum, which also is operated by the Department of Recreation and Parks, has an annual budget of $335,000 a year and a full-time staff of eight. Last year, 213,000 people visited the marine museum, which has about 1,100 members in its volunteer group.)
Since the Maritime Museum opened, city officials say its staff and volunteers have put on display more than 400 exhibits, including paintings, models, maps and assorted artifacts detailing maritime history in general and the development of San Pedro Bay in particular.
Propeller on Display
Exhibits inside the museum include a turn-of-the century ship's binnacle--the case enclosing a compass. Outside a nine-ton propeller salvaged from a Navy cruiser has been mounted on a concrete slab.
A large part of the museum's success, volunteers say, can be traced to Edward Hauck, a former aide to one-time City Councilman John S. Gibson Jr. Hauck served as the museum's first director and held the post until he died of cancer in 1983.
Since Hauck's death, the museum's operation has been marred by an acrimonious relationship between some museum members and an interim director, museum sources said. That relationship was a major factor in a decision by the Department of Recreation and Parks to hire another interim director to conduct the search for a permanent replacement with professional museum management credentials, the same sources said.
Tom Goodall, president of the Friends of the Maritime Museum, said that since Hauck's death, the organization has been drifting. The group, which has raised about $100,000 for the museum since it was formed, has not been active in seeking corporate sponsors or other sources of support for the museum, he said.
'We Lost Direction'
"When we lost Ed Hauck, we lost direction," said Goodall, a retired Navy commander. "Our heart has always been there, but there hasn't been a captain on the bridge."
Lee, 47, served as director of the Charles W. Bowers Museum in Santa Ana for four years before resigning in June. He was curator of anthropology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History from 1974 to 1980 and briefly served as that museum's director before leaving in 1981.
Lee said he decided to resign from Bowers when it became apparent that it was becoming more of an art museum. "I had indicated more than a year ago that I was looking for another position, primarily because I am much more comfortable in a technologically oriented museum," he said.
One of his major goals in his new job, Lee said, will be to obtain accreditation for the museum from the American Assn. of Museums, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that sets professional standards for museums. Such accreditation is generally perceived as aiding museums in obtaining grants and high-quality exhibitions.
There are no plans by the Department of Recreation and Parks to increase the museum's budget. Nevertheless, Lee, who earned a doctorate in anthropology at UCLA, said he hopes to increase the museum's staff and hire a professional curator to manage acquisitions. At present, two part-time employees serve as the museum's curators.