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As One Door Closes, Others Will Open

The Children's Museum of Los Angeles is closing its downtown site while readying two new ones.


Candace Barrett's imagination no doubt danced with anticipation and excitement after the Children's Museum of Los Angeles recently received the green light to build not just one, but two spacious facilities in Los Angeles County.

As the museum's director and chief operating officer, Barrett is keenly aware of the space and parking deficiencies that have hindered the organization's growth at its current location in downtown Los Angeles.

After operating in a small 17,000-square-foot space on Main Street for 15 years, Barrett will finally get the opportunity to develop exhibits in much larger buildings--two 60,000-square-foot facilities.

One will be located at Hansen Dam Recreational Area in Lake View Terrace. Another will be erected at the Art Park next to the Geffen Contemporary Museum of Art and the Japanese American National Museum in the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles. The Hansen Dam facility is scheduled to open in 2002; the downtown Los Angeles site will debut in 2004 or 2005.

But home is home, however inadequate. Barrett admits she's also experiencing some melancholy now that the Children's Museum is set to permanently close its Main Street doors this weekend to concentrate on creating its two new facilities. It's the only home the private, nonprofit organization has known since it began in 1979.

"It is bittersweet," says Barrett. "The building we're in now and the people who have come here have become very dear to us. It will be sad to close the doors. But it's a thrill to be able to expand and to do all the things we've been dreaming about for years but weren't able to do because of the lack of space. We're going to create something even more wonderful."

To mark the closing of its current site, the Children's Museum will be offering free admission to visitors this Saturday and Sunday. In addition to its regular attractions, such as the Art Loft and the "H20: The Story of Water" exhibit, the museum is presenting special activities and performers. Free hamburgers will be offered courtesy of Burger King.

Juggling, dancing, music and smile-inducing absurdity will help define weekend performances by the Jumbo Shrimp Circus. Former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns Moxie and Epoxie (a.k.a. Heide Karp-Briggs and Philip Briggs) star in this show for the young and young at heart.

Among the other performers will be Nicholas King (Sunday only), a 9-year-old piano prodigy who will perform classical and popular pieces; puppeteer Michael Earle (Saturday only); the museum's own Reader's Theater Project, which will bring to life well-known children's books through song, dance and storytelling; and Quizm Message (Sunday only), a puppet show that will impart the message "Love and respect each other and the planet."

Special weekend activities will include a children's architectural project. Alla Kasovsky, the director of Kids' Studio Architecture for Children, will lead youngsters in the construction of art projects made out of boxes. Also, a weaving wall will allow visitors to express in writing their hopes and desires for the Children's Museum.

A closing ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday. Following a sing-along with children's vocalist Jackie Breger, a parade through the museum will commence. Along the way, each exhibit in the museum will be officially retired. After the doors to the building are padlocked shut, visitors are invited to trek out to the future site of the museum's Hansen Dam facility. A museum flag will be planted at this location. A community picnic also will take place at this site.

Since the new Hansen Dam and downtown L.A. sites will include all-new exhibits and attractions, the Children's Museum is looking to sell most of the items at its current facility. Some items will be donated to other organizations, such as the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena.

The Children's Museum of Los Angeles won't be completely inaccessible to the public while its two new campuses are being built. This fall, the organization will expand its already existing outreach program. Specially equipped trucks will take the museum's art and theater programs to schools, community groups and malls. These programs are equipped to offer workshops, classes and performances to kids, parents, teachers and caregivers.

A new music outreach program also will premiere this fall. Music classes and workshops will be available throughout Los Angeles County. A Children's Museum Chorus is being developed.

But the Children's Museum of Los Angeles undoubtedly will create its biggest buzz when it finally launches its new facilities. Each site will have a distinct thematic orientation. Since it is located in a rustic area, the Hansen Dam campus will focus more on natural environment issues. Conversely, the downtown site will have an urban environment orientation.

The Children's Museum's current site attracts about 200,000 visitors a year. Museum President Sally J. Thompson hopes that the two new sites will combine to attract more than a million patrons annually.

She believes the Children's Museum of Los Angeles needs to continue to think seriously about expansion.

"My sense is that we should be planning third and fourth [sites]," says Thompson. "It's a social responsibility that we have. There are over 7 million children in the greater Los Angeles area, including the five surrounding counties. I think the Long Beach area desperately needs one as well as the Westside, the Eastside, South-Central. . . ."


Children's Museum of Los Angeles, 310 N. Main St., Los Angeles. Closing celebration: Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free. (213) 687-8800.

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