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Long-Hidden Treasures to Finally Go on View : Museum: A dream will be realized when valuable art collected by the Philosophical Research Society's late founder is displayed.

June 13, 1991|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When he died in August at 89, Manly P. Hall left a lifelong dream unfulfilled.

The founder of the Philosophical Research Society had collected thousands of valuable artworks during six decades of world travel and he wanted to put them on public display in the society's pale pink Art Deco headquarters in Los Feliz.

But the complex, which already housed a bookstore, a 50,000-volume library and three lecture halls, all geared to esoteric sciences and the occult, had no room to exhibit Hall's rare artifacts.

In the months since Hall's death, however, leaders of the society have carved out the space and on Friday, they will finally put the long-hidden treasures on public view.

"It was one of his lifelong dreams to set this museum up, but he never had the space to do it," said Daniel Fritz, one of the society's directors. "He didn't see it to completion, but he gave direction as to how he wanted it to look."

To make room, the organization rented a Glendale warehouse to store old printing equipment and other materials that occupied a large enclosure near the bookstore. Before his death, Hall designed display cabinets and picked the paint colors to transform the vacant room into a museum, Fritz said. At the last board meeting he attended, Hall allocated funds to finish the display area.

Hall's admirers view it as the finishing touch in Hall's plan to turn the complex into a multifaceted public cultural center.

"Completion is completion, whether the person is there in a physical sense or not," Fritz said. "When a person's dream comes true, I think it's a happy occasion."

To mark its opening, the museum will exhibit 10 paintings from the "Sanctuaries and Citadels" series by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. The works will be on view through July 15. Visitors will also see a sampling of the most valuable pieces from the museum's permanent collection, ranging from Renaissance paintings to 500-year-old Cambodian religious statues.

"I thought that for the first broad public display, a 'Best of the Best' exhibit would be a good thing to do to highlight all parts of the collection," said Kent Tobey, a consulting curator who was hired in April to set up the museum.

Among the items that will be on view are a drawing by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, a Chinese temple urn dated 588, ceramic objects from Cyprus and a large Japanese silk religious painting called a Monju mandera.

The museum, at 3910 Los Feliz Blvd., will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is free.

Tobey, an assistant curator at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, said that the collection includes several thousand pieces and that only a few could be included in the opening exhibit. Although some items were donated, Hall acquired most of the pieces himself.

"He did have a good eye for art, but his main focus was on the spiritual, cultural and aesthetic qualities of each piece," Tobey said.

Fritz said Hall could sense something about the origin of an artwork simply by touching it--a practice known as psychometry. "He knew what he was buying," Fritz said. "He was able to determine the environment that an object had been in. . . . It was the frequency of vibrations the object gave off that told him whether he wanted it or not."

Society leaders say the next step is to catalogue the large collection and encourage research projects involving the pieces.

But Tobey believes that the museum should also attract people who do not have extensive training in fine arts and anthropology.

"The general public will get quite a bit out of it, I hope," the curator said. "I don't think the museum should be solely for the educated. It should be a place to learn."

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