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A Museum Grows in Westwood : Budget Grows to $50 Million as Plans Expand for Armand Hammer Project

March 13, 1989|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

Ensconced on the 16th floor of the Occidental Petroleum Center building in Westwood, Armand Hammer is master of all he surveys: his corporate headquarters, an art collection that he values at $400 million and a massive hole in the ground.

Hammer's oil empire has brought him wealth and power, his collection has allowed him to become a self-styled cultural diplomat, but if all goes according to plan, the hole in the ground and the building above may change all that.

The excavation--stretching from Westwood Boulevard to Glendon Avenue and from Lindbrook Drive to the back of the Occidental high-rise--is the site of the future Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. As the permanent home of Hammer's art collection, the projected institution is the 90-year-old industrialist's key to a kind of immortality.

Phrases such as "at my death" and "while I'm living" now creep into the conversation of the man who has long presented the appearance of someone who intended to live forever. Increasingly conscious of his waning years, he now seems determined to build a permanent reminder of his accomplishments. He says he plans to give an unforgettable gift to the people of Los Angeles.

Hammer was stung by criticism of his decision, announced Jan. 21, 1988, to build his own museum instead of honoring his oft-repeated promise to give his collection to the County Museum of Art. But that's behind him, and he has a band of supporters among Westwood business leaders and property owners. They have welcomed the planned museum as an opportunity to upgrade Westwood Village, an area that has changed from a suburban neighborhood and university shopping center to a jumble of fast-food shops and movie theaters.

Members of the Friends of Westwood and the Holmby Westwood Property Owners Assn. envision the museum as a grand "gateway" to the village, according to Jackie Freed, a director of both neighborhood groups. The most inspired enthusiasts say the cultural institution will be "the jewel of Westwood," a notion that Hammer embraces with satisfaction.

What was once a relatively modest plan for a multimillionaire collector's private cache has evolved into a more ambitious strategy that is public-oriented and financially enterprising.

"We don't want a sleepy little museum" but an institution that will play a vital part in "the dynamism of the community," said Hilary Gibson, a consultant to Hammer on the museum's development.

To that end, nearly everything except the general plan of the 77,000-square-foot building, designed by New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, and the projected completion date, in the fall of 1990, has changed:

--The budget has grown from $30 million to $50 million, Hammer said in an interview in his office. The increase was required to remove an unexpected second foundation that lay beneath the former parking garage and Chevron service station and to pay for extensive remodeling on the Occidental Center building, the first four floors of which will be incorporated into the museum.

The new structure will cost $22 million--$16 million for galleries, $4 million for an auditorium and $2 million for furnishings. The remaining $28 million will go to remodeling the 30-year-old former Kirkeby Building, which will house the museum's restaurant and a bookshop at Wilshire and Westwood boulevards.

--Hammer's estimate of the value of his collection has escalated from $250 million to $400 million since he announced his museum plans. He bases the estimate in part on "Hospital at Saint-Remy," a late Van Gogh painting in his collection. Van Gogh's "Irises" commanded $53.9 million at auction "and those irises grew in that garden," he noted, waving in the direction of his landscape. "Some people say I could get $150 million for it."

--In addition to permanent displays of Hammer's three-part collection--Old Master and Impressionist paintings, more than 10,000 lithographs and other works by 19th-Century French satirist Honore Daumier, and the "Codex Hammer," an 18-page scientific manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci--the museum will have a program of changing exhibitions on loan from other institutions. This program will include works from the Soviet Union's major museums. "The Soviet Minister of Culture has told me I can have anything I want," Hammer said.

--New acquisitions will continue to expand the collection. During the past year, Hammer has purchased prints and drawings by Daumier, George Bellows and Jean Louis Andre Theodore Gericault, paintings by Eric Sloane, Daniel Ridgeway Knight and C. S. Pearce and an 18th-Century tapestry depicting America, made at the Russian Imperial Tapestry Manufactory, according to Alla T. Hall, director of the museum.

He also has bought five works by Russian painters, including Ilya Repin. "Every Russian painting that comes on the market, I'm a customer for," Hammer said, noting that he intends to build a collection of pre-revolutionary Russian art.

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