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Children's Museum At La Habra Plans Expansion

November 14, 1986|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

The Children's Museum at La Habra--still the only exhibition facility of its kind in Orange County--has embarked on the first expansion campaign in its nine-year history.

Compared to the county's older and larger museums, the Children's Museum's target of $350,000 seems modest.

After all, the Laguna Art Museum's effort now under way and the ones being proposed by the Newport Harbor Art Museum and Bowers Museum are all in the million-dollar-plus class.

But the ultimate goal of the Children's Museum is the same as the bigger museums: to become a cultural institution with full regional status.

"We feel we're already on our way to becoming an important regional institution. We're already reaching far beyond our original (north Orange County) base," said museum director Catherine Michaels. The museum's programs reach areas in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties as well, she added.

In keeping with this strategy, the museum's name was changed to give it a more regional tone, from La Habra Children's Museum to Children's Museum at La Habra.

But the main concern, of course, is the structural expansion. Under current projections, work on the museum's new wing--to be housed in renovated school structures moved to the museum site--is to start in early 1987 and be completed by the late fall.

The city-run facility is the first children's museum in Southern California and the only space in Orange County devoted wholly to school and preschool children. The exhibits on science, history, art and technology are "hands on"--meaning children can participate.

Although the La Habra facility's operation is small--the annual budget is $413,000--supporters note that the museum has won national and state recognition.

The American Assn. of Youth Museums, the national service organization, has listed the La Habra museum since 1983 as one of the museums that meet the association's standards.

In the past six years, the Institute of Museum Services, the federal-affiliated agency, has given the La Habra museum more than $100,000 in operational grants. This year, the California Arts Council awarded the museum $2,760, the museum's first grant from that state body.

The need for expansion is all too obvious, say Children's Museum officials. At the beginning of each school year, the tour-group schedule is already filled for the entire season.

"We're bursting at the seams, and we've had to turn down requests for as many as 300 more children a day. But we just can't fit all those people in our existing facility," said fund-raising chairman Kirk Rogers, a member of the museum's Board of Trustees.

With the new wing, he added, annual attendance is expected to increase dramatically, from 70,000 to 170,000.

The museum is now housed in a 3,500-square-foot, restored Union Pacific Railroad depot at 301 S. Euclid St. Under the plan being drafted by architect Jess Perez, the museum's new wing will provide an additional 8,500 square feet for a multipurpose room, storage and other new facilities, as well as for exhibits.

The museum now contains four permanent exhibits--a nature walk, a bee observatory, a model-train project and a "playspace" complete with carrousel and computers--plus a set of actual trains on tracks outside. The new wing will offer three additional permanent exhibits, part of which will be devoted to the performing arts.

The expansion plan also calls for additional class visits at schools, teacher workshops, cable-television appearances and full-time staff members. The only regular staff members now are Michaels and development coordinator Marcia Giesler.

Rogers said the vacated school structures donated by the La Habra City School District will be transported to the museum site by the end of December. Most of the $350,000 to be raised is for renovating, furnishing and moving the school structures. More than $70,000 has already been raised, including a $50,000 grant from the City of La Habra.

The city, which owns and operates the museum, has made the Children's Museum a key part of the city's 10-acre Portola Park cultural and recreation complex. (Next to the museum is a restored Pacific Electric station, now home of the La Habra Community Theatre.)

"Such (children's) museums have long been common back East and in Northern California," Michaels said. "But they were late in coming to Southern California. When ours opened in 1977, we were the first, before the ones in Los Angeles and Pasadena.

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