Westwood homeowners and merchants hope that industrialist Armand Hammer's surprise proposal to build a $30-million museum in the village will help change the area from a glittery movie-theater capital to a major cultural center.
Community leaders said the proposal helps advance plans to upgrade the quality of the village, which in recent years has experienced a proliferation of fast-food restaurants and novelty stores that appeal to a transient population of teen-agers and students. City officials, community groups and business leaders are reviewing the plans.
"We have been desperate to have this kind of civic amenity," said Laura Lake, president of the Friends of Westwood, a homeowners group that has been battling development in the area. "We see it as a wonderful facility. It would be very nice to replace the honky-tonk movie atmosphere of Westwood Village with a long-term base of cultural activity."
Near Company Headquarters
Hammer, chairman and chief executive officer of Westwood-based Occidental Petroleum Corp., plans to house his $250-million art collection in a two-story, 79,000-square-foot building next to the company's Kirkeby Building headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard between Westwood Boulevard and Glendon Avenue. The museum is expected to open in 1991.
Lake and other community leaders met with Hammer for an hour last Thursday before a news conference announcing the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. Homeowner groups and developers, traditionally at odds over growth in Westwood, both hailed the plan as a turning point in the effort to shape the area's future.
"I think Westwood is a community by itself," Hammer said Monday in an interview in his 16th-floor office. "There's no reason why Westwood should not have its own museum."
Lake said she is concerned that the museum will generate more traffic in an area already considered one of the most congested in the city. But Hammer said he is considering requiring parking reservations for visitors and plans to close the museum during peak traffic periods.
He also said he plans to establish a Friends of the Armand Hammer Museum, consisting of community leaders, which will meet regularly with Hammer representatives to make sure that the project meets the community's needs.
"Given the choice of fast food or an art center, we'd obviously prefer Dr. Hammer's museum," said Sandy Brown, another director of the Friends of Westwood.
Included in Hammer's collection are 60 paintings by Old Masters and Impressionist artists and 10,000 works by the French satirist Honore Daumier. Hammer also owns a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript called the "Codex Hammer."
City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who attended the private meeting and the press conference last Thursday, hailed the news as "the most significant announcement related to this community in a quarter of a century."
The building will replace a parking structure and a Chevron service station. It is being designed by New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, who is responsible for the highly acclaimed Dallas Museum of Art and the 43-story IBM building in Manhattan. The museum will be a low-profile affair featuring an open court that will be a "quiet oasis" from street noise and crowded sidewalks, Barnes said at the news conference.
Hammer's announcement surprised the art community because he had planned for 17 years to give his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hammer said he was upset by the museum's plans to display his paintings in galleries that are part of the Frances and Armand Hammer Wing but named for other donors.
Blow to Museum Officials
The announcement was a blow to county museum officials but came as a boon to Westwood. City planners and community representatives have recently been working on plans to upgrade the quality of Westwood Village by preserving historic buildings and promoting establishments that serve their neighborhoods such as pharmacies and hardware stores.
The Westwood Village Specific Plan also calls for fewer fast-food restaurants and for restrictions on signs and billboards. The City Council is expected to vote on the plan in the next two weeks, said Michelle Krotinger, Yaroslavsky's press deputy. On Tuesday, the council approved a separate plan that cuts in half the amount of development that will be allowed in the village in the future.
Kambiz Hekmat, chairman of the board of the Los Angeles West Chamber of Commerce and developer of a 22-story office tower across the street from the Kirkeby Building, said he plans to integrate the landscaping outside his building with that of the museum to create a uniform entrance to the village.
Hekmat said he is concerned that the museum's solid exterior walls will detract from the pedestrian-oriented atmosphere called for in Los Angeles' village beautification plan. He said his architect, Aldo Giurgola of New York, will meet with the museum architect to discuss alternative wall designs.
Merchants welcomed the museum proposal as a way to improve business in Westwood, where many businesses have folded in recent years.
"I think it was inspiring," Scott Regberg, director of the Westwood Village Merchants Assn., said of the museum's unveiling last week. "It may indeed be a tremendous stimulus to revitalize Westwood Village."
The new museum would complement the energetic cultural environment of Westwood's northern neighbor, UCLA. Art collector Norton Simon last year announced plans to give the university his prized collection, which is now housed in the Pasadena museum that bears his name.
Tentative plans call for the university to take over the Pasadena museum after his death and to move the bulk of the collection to a second museum on the campus. The new museum probably would be located on a university parking lot at Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, two blocks from Hammer's proposed museum.