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Room for Another Museum?

Master Plan Sees New Facility as Nucleus of Santa Ana Scene


Although an arts district in downtown Santa Ana has been discussed for years, a new master plan developed for supporters of the proposed contemporary art museum gives the vision a much-needed sense of clarity.

The plan includes the proposed Museum and Institute for Contemporary Art (MICA), more live/work spaces for artists, galleries, cinemas, a theater, public space, shops and additional parking.

It was done for ADD Corp. by John R. Sheehan of Studio E Architects in San Diego, working with Spurlock/Poirier Landscape Architects, a San Diego firm whose projects include Robert Irwin's conceptual garden for the new Getty Center in Brentwood.

A downtown arts district (which so far includes only the Santora Building, a complex of studios and galleries) long has been an element of the city's redevelopment plans. City and federal funds have made possible the purchase and renovation of sites for the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (opening this fall in the 6,300-square-foot former Parker Garage) and Cal State Fullerton's art department (opening an art center in 1997 in the 45,000-square-foot Grand Central Building).

Two months ago, the City Council also voted to solicit developers for a pioneering live/work space at 3rd and Sycamore streets.

But the planning has been piecemeal, and Sheehan says he felt "someone needed to step way back and get the big vision on paper."

In the introduction to his master plan--a first for the Artists Village, as the city is calling the district--Sheehan asserts that the key to establishing an authentic art district, as opposed to an ersatz theme park, is to "acknowledge the visual complexity and often jarring juxtapositions that make cities interesting and exciting."

Rather than building a showy "stage set" for visitors, the district needs to suit artists' day-to-day activities, Sheehan says.

In his plan, the new museum forms the nucleus of a district with "cultural uses" concentrated on the south side of 2nd Street and shops and cafes on the north side. Artists' live/work housing would be concentrated between 2nd and 3rd streets, and the blocks between Spurgeon and Bush streets would become an "alternative" retail center with an arts cinema complex.

Although a portion of the area already is zoned for the project, the Santa Ana City Council will vote next month on rezoning several blocks east of Main Street to rule out such "inappropriate" uses as auto repair and to conditionally permit such local innovations as live/work space and ceramic studios.

Sheehan even has proposed a new name for the area--"the 2nd Street Arts District"--which supplants the hokey Artists Village tag.

His plan exploits existing buildings and empty lots, redistributes parking, concentrates housing areas and provides for an array of public spaces for daytime and nighttime use to give "coherence and an improved quality of life" to the area.

City Council member Thomas E. Lutz, who heard about the master plan a couple months ago at a meeting with Mayor Miguel A. Pulido Jr. and several other council members, compares it to the Gaslight District in San Diego and other projects that have revitalized older buildings in a downtown area.

Gil Marrero, a marketing consultant with Irvine real estate firm Voit Commercial and who is a consultant to ADD Corp., points out that the eight-block district includes "two phenomenal old theaters, the Yost [on Spurgeon Street], which still has all the old [stage] mechanisms for live theater, and the West Coast Theater [on Main Street], which could be a live theater or an art movie house."

Central to the notion of "taking art off the hill," as ADD Corp. founder Daniel Arvizu puts it, is the creation of low-cost housing with work spaces that artists could own or rent, and establishing good relations with the surrounding Latino community.

Cindy Nelson, executive director of the Santa Ana Community Redevelopment Agency, says she has put ADD Corp. in touch with the city's housing manager to investigate the possibility of using city housing funds on the project.

Rueben Martinez is the owner of a bookstore and art gallery-cum-hair salon that recently moved to North Main Street from elsewhere in Santa Ana. He says nobody consulted him about the arts district plan, but it sounds like a good idea nonetheless.

"When I was in the Santora Building [in the 1970s]," he says, "a lot of artists would open studios and they would last three months, six months. There was no support from the community or from the leadership of the city.

"[Now] it seems many prominent people are listening and watching. . . ."

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