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Latino Museum Finds a Downtown Home

Development* The move to the L.A. Mall will clear the way for a new Caltrans building and a public plaza.

April 27, 2002|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Forced out by downtown redevelopment, the Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture will leave its Main Street location in May and move to a temporary home in the city-owned Los Angeles Mall, next to City Hall.

The museum, which has no full-time staff, has struggled with debts to past employees and vendors and was closed for most of 2001. It reopened in February with a photography exhibit about Mexicans of African heritage, which closed Thursday.

The museum's location at 112 S. Main St. has been targeted by city and state officials in a plan to move Caltrans offices and create a public plaza across First Street from City Hall, where the main Caltrans building now stands. Under that plan, Caltrans will build new offices on Main Street between 1st and 2nd streets, where the Latino Museum and a handful of other business now stand. Construction crews have already begun preparing the ground on much of that block.

The Latino Museum's property, donated by the Bank of America in 1999, includes roughly 20,000 square feet of exhibition, office and storage space, a bas-relief concrete facade created by artist Roberto Delgado and a parking area that generates monthly income. The museum's leaders had been reluctant to move, citing the difficulty of matching their current central location and complaining that the city hasn't offered sufficient compensation.

The city, eager to move the project forward, opened condemnation proceedings, had the museum property appraised and offered the museum's trustees $2.9 million for it, said Gerry Miller, the city's assistant chief legislative analyst.

The negotiations over the property's price continue, said museum spokesman Mark Landon. But under a new agreement between the city and the museum, representatives of each side said, the museum will move in May to a 6,000-square-foot space near the food court of the Los Angeles Mall, at Suite 2, 201 N. Los Angeles St. Under the deal, the museum will have up to a year rent-free in the space, which previously served as home to the city Ethics Commission. (The commission has moved back to the recently renovated City Hall.)

City officials are hoping the museum's Main Street space will be vacated by May 10, Miller said; Landon said the move could take two weeks longer than that.

Once the site is vacant, said Miller, the building will probably be demolished within 30 days. Museum officials said the timetable for reopening to visitors at the new site is not yet certain.

Still unresolved are the museum's debts to vendors and past employees, which last year were estimated at $400,000. In a March interview, several museum board members said that they'd begun paying that figure down, reducing the debt to about $300,000, and that their tentative strategy is to continue gradual repayment while using much of the sale revenue on forward-looking issues, like finding a permanent home.

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