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Natural History Museum May Conduct Research on Birds in Greystone Mansion

August 20, 1987|PHILIPP GOLLNER | Times Staff Writer

The Beverly Hills City Council is expected to consider a plan to use the city-owned Greystone Mansion as a bird research center for the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

The research center would also present public lectures and exhibits focusing on ornithology--the study of birds.

"The place would be open (to the public), but the type of work would not invite a lot of people," said Mark Rodriguez, chief deputy director of the museum. "We would like to turn it into a full-fledged research center."

Rodriguez said the museum oversees one of the world's largest collections of bird eggs.

The City Council will vote on the proposal only if it is approved first by the 15-member Greystone Foundation, which is in charge of finding a tenant for the 55-room mansion. The foundation will consider the plan in the next four weeks, said Michael Cart, director of library and community services for the City of Beverly Hills.

Art Collection Withdrawn

If approved by the council and foundation, work on the research center is expected to begin early next year.

The plan has been in the works since the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation last year withdrew its proposal to house its modern-art collection in the building. The art collector pulled out after his plans became embroiled in a controversy over how to finance the city's ailing public schools.

The proposal now before the Greystone Foundation is a revision of an earlier plan that some members said did not go far enough in addressing the needs of the community. They complained that the exhibits should include items from all the museum's collections, not just the bird study section.

"I was not too interested in stuffed birds," foundation member Ellen Byrens said.

A majority of the council supports the concept of the museum using the mansion, but council members Robert K. Tanenbaum and Charlotte Spadaro have argued that the city should have more control over selecting a tenant rather than delegating that responsibility to the Greystone Foundation.

Debate Over Process

The foundation, made up of community representatives, was organized in 1984 to take the search for a tenant out of the hands of politicians and find occupants who would agree to restore the mansion at their own expense for cultural and educational uses.

The debate over who should be in charge of the selection process came to a head three weeks ago when foundation Chairman Frederick M. Nicholas resigned in protest. He said he would not return to his post until the council reaffirms the foundation's original purpose. The council has yet to decide on the matter.

Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury said he favors using the mansion for a museum annex.

"I haven't had a chance to study it in detail, but from what I've seen so far I'm very enthusiastic about it."

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