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L.A. Museum Scrambles for Exhibit Space : Displays: The state had urged closure of 2 buildings due to earthquake safety concerns. Mt. Washington site seeks a new home for the same reason.

October 07, 1990|IRENE CHANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officials at the California Museum of Science and Industry in L.A.'s Exposition Park said they lost half their usual 20,000 Saturday visitors and were scrambling to find space for the exhibits after having to close two major buildings three days ago due to earthquake safety concerns.

The abrupt closure Thursday of the museum's Ahmanson and Armory buildings--strongly urged by the Office of the State Architect until the structures are reinforced or replaced--left some weekend visitors confused and disappointed.

"It's very sad that the state can't keep up the buildings," said Margaret Shores of Encino, who stood perplexed outside the stately Ahmanson Building with her husband and grandson.

Ironically, 13-year-old Herman Delgado and his sister, Elizabeth, had come to the museum, as they do every Saturday, to see their favorite display--a popular earthquake simulation exhibit on the bottom floor of the Ahmanson. Herman calls it the "earthquake ride."

The display simulates a 5.6 earthquake by shaking a mock living room, rattling pictures and wall hangings. A television screen pops on, panning landscapes of collapsed buildings and rubble--what Los Angeles would look like when the Big One hits. Then, KABC-TV's Dr. George Fishbeck appears, giving some helpful tips on earthquake safety.

State officials are worried that should a real temblor strike, the two unreinforced buildings might collapse. Although the state recommended extensive earthquake repairs for the Ahmanson and Armory last April, the buildings remained open until last week, when State Architect Paul Neel inspected the structures for the first time and decided they were too dangerous to receive the 2 million people who visit the museum each year.

Meanwhile, directors of the Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington, faced with $2 million in overdue earthquake repairs, are seeking a new location. The museum remains open from Tuesday to Sunday, although some valuable pottery displays will be removed and placed in storage, Executive Director Jerome Selmer said Saturday.

Science and Industry Museum officials are far from collecting the $54 million necessary to repair the structures or the $100 million needed for a new 550,000-square-foot building. They are banking on several state and county bond initiatives to help them raise funds, said the museum's deputy director, Bob Campbell.

Campbell estimated that only 10,000 would visit the museum Saturday, compared to a normal crowd of about 20,000. He said financial losses won't be great because admission is free. But he said the museum does stand to lose revenue from parking fees, which are $1 per car.

Officials were rushing to find space in the museum's five other buildings for the 250,000 square feet of exhibits, which include a chicken hatchery, a wine-making display and an aerospace exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Meeting halls and conference rooms in Technology Hall, adjacent to Ahmanson, will probably be removed to make room for the earthquake simulation exhibit, Campbell said, while a temporary exhibit of gold jewelry from Germany will be moved to an empty wing of the neighboring Afro-American Museum by next week.

Because the Afro-American Museum's charter requires that all exhibits address contributions of African-Americans, the gold exhibit will be modified to include photographs of black gold miners during the California Gold Rush, copies of their claims and other documents, said Campbell, who also is director of the Afro-American Museum.

"That's one of the great things that came out of this," Campbell said. "By and large, the Anglos tell the history from their perspective and not from the perspective of other cultures that participated (in the gold rush)."

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