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Latino Museum Wants to Make Lawry's Its New Home : Arts: The famed, 17-acre California Center is called 'an ideal setting' for the planned cultural complex, but $30 million is needed.

September 12, 1991|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Board members of the nascent Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture announced Wednesday that they have entered into negotiations to purchase the landmark Lawry's California Center as a permanent location for a planned museum of Latino culture.

But the museum group still needs to raise $30 million for the acquisition and renovation of the 17-acre, Spanish-style restaurant, office building, factory and tourist complex in an industrial area north of downtown Los Angeles.

Frank Cruz, president and executive director of the planned museum, said the site selection committee chose the former headquarters and factory for Lawry's Foods Inc. from among 15-20 possible sites.

Cruz said the sprawling center would be "an ideal setting" for the proposed cultural complex, which would include a permanent art collection housing works from the Pre-Columbian era to contemporary Chicano Art, temporary art exhibits, performing arts and workshops in music, cooking, crafts and folklore. Cruz said the center would also provide education classes and would house a restaurant and gift shop.

"We would be the first in the United States to have a permanent home of this kind for art in a total cultural setting," Cruz said. "It will be truly more than just a museum. It will be a cultural center in the broadest sense of the word."

Cruz said that if negotiations are successful and the $30 million is raised, the museum could be in place at the new site by mid-1992. "We have already touched base with some major donors who have indicated a tremendous interest in wanting to help us acquire the site," Cruz said.

The California Center, which was opened to the public in 1960, is owned by Lawry's Foods, which moved its offices from the complex in July. Lawry's is owned by the Thomas J. Lipton Co. (Lipton teas), which is itself a subsidiary of the giant Dutch-owned Unilever conglomerate.

Cruz said the site selection committee looked at the landmark Herald Examiner building, and properties near Union Station and Olvera Street, among others, but after four months chose Lawry's California Center, which was patterned after an hacienda in Mexico City.

"The type of architecture is very inviting and warm, appealing to both Hispanics and non-Hispanics," Cruz said. "It's not an intimidating kind of complex. It has a beautiful garden that invites you to stroll around and look. . . . Except for some minor renovations, we would use it as is."

Offices of the museum are temporarily located on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.

The Latino Museum was founded in 1989 with $300,000 seed money voted by the California Legislature. Its stated mission is "to celebrate the heritage of Latinos and to promote the continuing development of Latino artistic and cultural expression in America."

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