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Southwest Museum: Don't Call Moving Van Yet : Art: The Mt. Washington facility continues to look at expansion as one of its options.

January 31, 1991|ALLAN PARACHINI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Southwest Museum, facing growing protest in its community and among politicians over disclosures that it was considering moving, will reevaluate architectural plans for major expansion at its present Mt. Washington site, according to top museum officials.

Museum officials have scheduled a meeting today with an architectural firm involved in a mid-'80s feasibility study that looked into the possibility of expanding gallery and storage space and adding a parking garage, according to key board members and the museum director.

Meanwhile, Willis B. Wood Jr., chairman of the museum's long-term planning committee, said that "a strong majority of the board, if not unanimous, close to unanimous" would prefer to find a solution to the museum's problems that would make moving unnecessary.

Wood's remark came in response to questions about an apparently increasing number of complaints over the museum's decision to consider relocation proposals from real estate developers, local governments and other museums.

Concern has been voiced that the Southwest Museum, which has one of the nation's major collections of American Indian art and artifacts, could go the way of New York City's Museum of the American Indian. That museum was forced by financial pressures to merge with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The New York facility will eventually be closed.

"We are trying to find a solution for the museum without any preconceived ideas, except that we know we have a lot of problems here," Wood said. He hopes to complete a study of options for the museum by the middle of the year, he said. "We disclosed what we were doing, probably the wrong way and inartfully, because we wanted the community to be aware, not because we had made a decision."

Other recent developments relating to the Southwest Museum and its possible ripple effect on the nascent Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, include:

* Museum officials have said that they may try to separately dispose of the Casa de Adobe, a reproduction built in the 1920s of an 1850s-era California hacienda, situated on North Figueroa Street near the Southwest Museum. The museum is also considering selling a house it owns adjacent to the Casa de Adobe.

* Members of the board of the newly organized Latino Museum, which is attempting to find a temporary or permanent site and is beginning to assemble its collection, said they had all but ruled out the possibility of locating at the Southwest Museum site.

That option was one of several proposed in a state-financed study regarding the Latino museum completed in 1987. Board members of both institutions agreed that the two museums are organizationally too incompatible to make any plan for shared quarters practical. Latino Museum board members said that even if the Southwest Museum were to move, the Southwest complex may require renovations that would be prohibitively expensive.

* The Latino Museum also was abandoning plans to move to temporary quarters at the present site of Lawry's California Center. Lawry's Foods Inc., which announced last year that it would gradually end seasoning manufacturing at the facility, said this week it was seeking a buyer for the entire property, including its Lawry's California Center restaurant. The museum said the decision by Lawry's made it impossible for the new Latino institution to respond quickly enough to consider purchasing the facility. The fate of the restaurant itself remained unclear.

The Southwest Museum has also said that anticipated operating budget deficits in view of a continuing recession may mean cutting back some of its operations within the next two weeks. Jerome Selmer, the museum's executive director, declined to be specific, but said the cutbacks would be noticeable to the public. In past budget-crunch situations, the Southwest has restricted its hours of operation and closed its library.

Today's scheduled discussions with the architectural firm that initially studied the possibility of expansion on the site do not mean the museum board has ruled out relocating the museum, however. The museum currently has 48,000 square feet of space; officials say the size of the facility needs to be doubled. The Italianate structure was built by Charles Fletcher Lummis in 1914.

"Let's say that, if we were starting from scratch, is this where we would put the museum? Would it be this configuration?" asked Southwest Museum President James F. Dickason, in a recent interview that included Wood and Selmer. "The answer is obviously 'No,' " Dickason said. "Is this the best place for us to be (now)? The answer is obviously 'No.' Can we survive here? Maybe, but there are a lot of strikes against it. This is the most god-awful layout that anybody could ever conceive."

Wood said that disposition of the existing complex would necessarily be part of any decision the museum ultimately reaches.

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