NEW YORK — Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Tuesday threw his administration's support--and money--behind the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's proposal to build a $678-million museum along the East River off Wall Street.
Though the project still must win the approval of a series of governmental agencies, the city's support makes it a real possibility that Santa Monica architect Frank O. Gehry will get to alter the traditional picture-postcard view of Lower Manhattan, adding one of his trademark twisting metal-clad designs to the waterfront below the Brooklyn Bridge.
Giuliani said the city would donate the four piers that make up the site, valued at $35 million, and contribute an additional $32.8 million in capital funding over five years. The Guggenheim's plan was picked from nine submitted for the site to the city's Economic Development Corp., the mayor said.
Giuliani said the project helps fulfill the "Athenian oath" he said at his last inauguration, which says "civic leaders have a responsibility to leave their city far greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us. It adds something very unique, very beautiful, very wonderful that helps to continue to define the city as the cultural capital of the world."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 30, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 53 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Museum support--An article in Wednesday's Calendar on the expansion of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York incorrectly stated that the city's contribution to the project matched its commitment for an expansion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is expansion at the Museum of Modern Art that New York City is helping to fund.
The city's contribution of land and cash, valued at $67.8 million, is 10% of the project's estimated capital cost. That percentage matches the city's commitment for a current expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens said a formal fund-raising campaign will begin in the spring, though the museum's chairman, Ohio-based insurance magnate Peter Lewis, has already pledged up to $250 million. In addition to the capital costs, the museum has said it will need a $400-million endowment to maintain the facility, which will house the Guggenheim's contemporary collection from 1945 to the present, as well as works from a collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum in Russia and a recent gift of 2,000 works by Robert Rauschenberg.
Krens predicted that the project's design and development stage will take two years--including environmental reviews and approvals by the City Council and other local and federal agencies--and that construction will take up to four years after that.
"This is awesome and exciting and a bit overwhelming at this point," Gehry said at the press conference announcing the city's backing.
He recalled how his late father was born in New York's Hell's Kitchen and would tell stories about the neighborhoods while Gehry was growing up in Toronto. "Wherever he is, he would be amazed. . . . I pledge to Mayor Giuliani that I am going to put my heart and soul into the design of this thing. So far, this is just the diagram."
He said his elaborate designs to date may not be the basis for the actual museum. "We say it's cloud-like, we say a lot of things, but I wouldn't fix on it at this point."
Gehry and Krens have said they began dreaming of putting a major museum on the New York waterfront more than two years ago, in the wake of their triumph in Bilbao, Spain, where a Gehry-designed Guggenheim became an instant landmark.
Sketches that Gehry said "we drew on napkins" first became a proposal for a museum on Pier 40, which extends into the Hudson River on Manhattan's West Side. Krens called it "a very, very huge project, which makes everything we've done so far look small."
But that plan drew immediate opposition from neighborhood groups in the nearby West Village, which preferred to see the development there of soccer fields and other recreational facilities.
Last spring, Krens and Gehry announced that they had turned their attention to the city-owned property on the other side of Manhattan, on the East River abutting the city's famous financial district. The four piers, south of the tourist-oriented South Street Seaport, are largely undeveloped, though one houses the indoor tennis club featured in the Woody Allen film "Annie Hall."
They had far more than napkin drawings by then--a full room of models for the new museum has been open since April at the Guggenheim's flagship museum on Fifth Avenue, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
At that time, Krens estimated the construction cost of the new Guggenheim as $450 million.
As now planned, the museum would be built on platforms resting on piers at water level and tower more than 40 stories high. Of 570,000 square feet of space, 200,000 square feet would be for exhibitions; in addition there are plans for an arts education center, and a 1,200- and a 400-seat theater. There also would be 279,000 square feet of public park and outdoor sculpture gardens.