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SANTA CLARITA / ANTELOPE VALLEY : Santa Clarita Joins Museum Suitors : Arts: Officials say the Southwest cultural center would complement the city’s Western image. Dozens of communities are bidding for the facility.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles’ oldest artistic institution, the Southwest Museum, is looking for a new home, and Santa Clarita wants to lure it away from neighbors over the hill.

Officials in Santa Clarita see the 86-year-old cultural center, one of the nation’s foremost repositories of American Indian art and archeology, as an ideal complement to the Western image the city has tried to mold for itself.

Santa Clarita is not only the home of the Western Walk of Fame and the William S. Hart Museum, but also recently established a cowboy poetry, music and film festival.

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“I think we are an absolute natural,” City Councilman Carl Boyer said.

The Newhall Land & Farming Co., the Santa Clarita Valley’s largest landowner and developer of the Valencia master-planned community, has also expressed interest in bringing the museum to the area. Newhall Land may donate the 7.5 acres the museum wants.

“The history of this valley is very much tied into the mission of the Southwest Museum: to preserve and educate future generations on our historic beginnings, which include the Indians and the early West,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land.

The museum, now located in the Mount Washington area of Los Angeles, attracts more than 75,000 people a year, and hopes to find sufficient space to more than double its current 43,000-square-foot facility. All told, Museum Director Thomas Wilson said, a new 100,000-square-foot site would host about 300,000 visitors annually to attend performances, classes, lectures and festivals.

Wilson said the museum has received several dozen responses from the 140 Southern California cities that last July were asked if they were interested in offering the museum a new home. A formal short list of candidates should be drawn up by the end of the year, he said.

“Basically, we are looking for land and other incentives that would provide a possible site for relocation,” Wilson said. Among the criteria for site selection, Wilson said, would be the quality of the space, access, the existence of other nearby visitor destinations and support from the population base.

While Wilson declined to rate Santa Clarita as a site, he did say the middle- to upper-middle class city includes several assets, including Magic Mountain and CalArts.

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“It’s got a nice population and good freeway access,” Wilson said. “It’s nice, open country and it’s in a strategic position to draw in people from Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, as well as Ventura County.”

Santa Clarita faces competition from many cities, including Malibu, Moorpark, Garden Grove, Thousand Oaks and Ventura.

Santa Clarita has identified two possible locations for the museum: the Civic Center site and within the Valley Gateway development, 40 acres of which will be dedicated to the city as a condition for the project’s approval.

It is unclear how much the city is willing to offer to attract the museum, which estimates it will need to raise $35 million to build a new facility, plus receive donated land.

“We probably have to go somewhere beyond just the land to make this package more attractive,” City Manager George Caravalho said. “Maybe we won’t have to go too much more, though.”

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