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Children’s Museum Deferring Downtown Art Park for Now

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Children’s Museum of Los Angeles has put on hold plans to build its $60-million museum in Little Tokyo, one of two new proposed branches, because of the weak economy, the president of the museum’s board of trustees said Thursday.

“There are no immediate plans to build downtown,” said President Ronald Gastelum, who also serves on the board of governors. The museum will go forward on a new, $40-million facility in Hansen Dam Recreation Area in the northeast San Fernando Valley, he said.

The decision to defer Art Park and focus the museum’s resources on Hansen Dam was made last week after months of debate by the museum’s board of governors.

“The business reality began to creep in that we had to take stock of whether we could raise the $112 million [needed for both projects] in the time frame we had set,” said Gastelum, who is also chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Water District.

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“After much debate, both boards are of a single mind that the best business course of action would be to focus on one campus at this time,” he said. “The logical choice is the less expensive Hansen Dam campus--plus, we are further along in our engineering and architectural work on Hansen Dam.”

Although the museum has no plans to go forward with the downtown project at this time, he said, “that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be reexamined on a regular basis.”

Formerly housed near the proposed Little Tokyo site, the Children’s Museum closed in 2000. Architect Thom Mayne of the Santa Monica firm Morphosis completed conceptual drawings for a downtown museum, whose angled walls suggest the Japanese art of origami, or folded paper.

The museum was to stand at the corner of Temple and Judge John Aiso streets, near the Japanese American Cultural Center and the Geffen Contemporary art museum. Supporters hoped it would add critical mass to an increasingly lively downtown arts scene.

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The museum has a long-term lease from the city on the property. Gastelum said the city’s willingness to hold the property for Art Park would also be a factor in the ultimate fate of the project.

Both projects have their champions on the boards, he said. But in the end, there was unanimity that the museum should concentrate on Hansen Dam. “Economic conditions are really driving this for us,” he said.

The nature-oriented, environmentally friendly facility in Lake View Terrace will be the first major museum to be built in the San Fernando Valley. Gastelum said the current lack of a major cultural center made the Valley project appear to be “a more urgent need.”

Since Hansen Dam was originally conceived as a satellite, the design may have to be modified to accommodate administrative offices, Gastelum said.

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The Hansen Dam museum was designed by Sarah Graham of the Los Angeles architectural firm Angelil/Graham/Pfenninger/Scholl. Edwin Schlossberg’s New York firm has completed plans for the exhibits at Hansen Dam, which will focus on the natural elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Schlossberg, whose work includes exhibits at New York’s Ellis Island, was also retained to design the exhibits for Art Park, which was to focus on the urban environment and the performing and visual arts.

The target date for groundbreaking at Hansen Dam is June 2003 with completion in 2004 or 2005.

“Everybody is committed to a first-rate children’s museum for our community,” Gastelum said. “Our vision for two campuses can’t be realized today. But I think our boards are very pleased we still have a good opportunity to build one campus today that will serve the entire community.”

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