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Garden Grove Stays in Race for Museum : Art: Many Southland cities are willing to provide home for Southwest, the showcase for Indian artifacts that is looking to move from cramped L.A. space.


At least three Orange County cities have expressed interest in becoming home to Los Angeles' Southwest Museum--which is looking for new, larger quarters--but only one appears to be winding up for the pitch.

Southwest officials announced earlier this summer that they are seeking to move the 79-year-old repository of American Indian artifacts out of its cramped digs in Mount Washington in northeast L.A. The museum has solicited bids for a new home from about 140 Southern California cities.

Many responded, among them Garden Grove, which has sent Southwest a preliminary proposal. The city will submit a formal bid for the museum by Nov. 1 if Southwest picks it as a final candidate, said John Bushman, an economic development analyst for the City of Garden Grove.

Santa Ana also sent Southwest a letter expressing interest, but requested an "exclusive right to negotiate" a relocation arrangement and probably won't submit a formal bid, said Josie LaQuay, a city redevelopment project manager.

Fullerton likewise posted a letter, but will take no further action because the city lacks an open 7 1/2-acre land parcel that Southwest is seeking for its new site, said Gary Chalupsky, executive director of the city's redevelopment agency.

Southwest's existing facility is roughly 45,000 square feet. Museum officials hope to more than double that with a new home. Proximity to a freeway and major tourist attractions are other key considerations.

Future museum attendance is projected at roughly 300,000 annually, which creates the need for a 7 1/2-acre site to accommodate parking, although a vertical parking structure could reduce that plot size, said Southwest executive director Thomas H. Wilson.

Among the flood of proposals Southwest received from cities and developers alike is one from Ventura County, where a rancher has offered to donate a whopping 20 acres--some of it Chumash Indian ceremonial ground--to the museum.

Recently, the City of Los Angeles entered the competitive fray when a councilman called for various city departments to take immediate action to keep the museum at its current site.

Nevertheless, Southwest officials are "very pleased" with a lot of "interesting responses" from cities and developers in Orange County, said Wilson, who would not name or discuss any respondents.

"There's no question about it," Wilson said, "Orange County would offer us a lot of opportunity because it's an area that's rapidly developing" and home to Disneyland, one of the nation's biggest tourist magnets.

Justin F. Farmer of Fullerton, the only Southwest trustee who lives in Orange County, declined to discuss any Orange County city or agency that has shown interest in Southwest.

However, he said he wants to keep the door open to the possibility of moving the museum here. "We have a lot of Indians and Mexican or Iberian people in Orange County," Farmer said, "so I personally don't want to turn my back on (any new location) just because it's not in Mount Washington."

Garden Grove officials are considering a downtown site for Southwest near the Civic Center. It would also be near an "education center" under discussion that would include a Coastline College satellite facility, Bushman said. Another site under discussion boasts a building that Bushman said may be vacant soon and could meet the museum's size needs.

In view of recent financial woes of both the GroveShakespeare theater troupe and the Orange County Symphony of Garden Grove, Bushman said he is not sure whether the community can support and sustain a major museum. (The theater troupe recently canceled its 1993 season and has come precipitously close to shutting down. The orchestra is awaiting the City Council's decision on its request for a $20,000 bailout before it can proceed with its 1993-94 season.)

Nevertheless, Bushman said, "we're looking at (the museum's relocation) as a means of attracting people to Garden Grove. The Southwest has been in existence since 1907, so it's obviously a well-established cultural" institution.

Santa Ana officials would love to have the Southwest Museum relocate there, as part of the planned 90-acre Museum District, a cultural and commercial development bordered by Main and 17th streets and the Santa Ana Freeway, LaQuay said.

Santa Ana's Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, which focuses on American Indian, pre-Columbian, African and Oceanian art objects, isn't concerned about competition, should Southwest relocate within the city, a Bowers spokesman said. "The more the merrier," he said.

LaQuay said that four years ago, city and Southwest Museum officials talked informally about relocating to Santa Ana. "Then I think (museum officials) might have gone back to the City of L.A. to get more concessions," giving it greater reason to remain in L.A.

Southwest director Wilson disputed that idea, as well as the notion that the museum's relocation search is the same sort of ploy.

"We're not playing Machiavellian politics," he said. "We are trying to look honestly and comprehensively at what the best future for the Southwest Museum is going to be."

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