Descanso gifted with new art gallery

Descanso Gardens announced late last week that, pending final approvals from Los Angeles County, it will break ground this June for an environmentally-friendly art gallery designed to allow local, national and internationally recognized artists to exhibit their work in Descanso's unique natural setting.

Located adjacent to the historic Boddy House, the Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art at Descanso Gardens consists of a major rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the current garage structure and the creation of additional exhibit space. The goal is to have the 2,800-square-foot art gallery completed by March 2010, to coincide with the botanical gardens' annual Spring Show festival.

Funded entirely by Heather Sturt Haaga and Paul Haaga, Jr. of La Cañada Flintridge, the Sturt Haaga Gallery's estimated cost is $2.1 million. The Haaga donation is the largest single gift the Gardens has received in its 50-year history as a public/private partnership between the Descanso Gardens Guild and Los Angeles County.

“Paul and I think of Descanso Gardens as a jewel in L.A.'s crown,” says Heather Sturt Haaga. “We like to support places poised for greatness — and we know that is where Descanso is right now. We also like to fund projects that will inspire enthusiasm and financial support on the part of others. This new gallery promises to be such a project.”

Heather Sturt Haaga joined the Descanso Gardens Guild board of trustees in 2006 and currently serves as board chair.

The gallery is being designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners, Architects, of Los Angeles, a firm that has completed numerous academic and cultural commissions including the new Erburu Gallery at The Huntington, The Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design and the Annenberg Information Science and Technology Center at Caltech.

Overall, the design aims to preserve the historical character of the exterior of the structure which once served as a garage for Descanso's founder, E. Manchester Boddy. The designers' plans envision two galleries in the former structure and a 1,300 square-foot gallery addition that will be tucked into the hillside adjacent to the original structure. The new gallery will also feature vertical gardens and an accessible roof garden. The building is designed to achieve a silver LEED standard certification — flooring, building materials, lighting, heating and cooling, and water conservation will be several of the features that express both the old and new structures' intent to make minimum impact on the garden environment.

“The Sturt Haaga Gallery's mission will be to inspire a new appreciation of nature as seen and interpreted through the eyes and hearts of visual artists,” says David Brown, executive director of Descanso. “While we will continue the Descanso tradition of offering first-rate, original work for sale at accessible prices, we will also invite nationally and internationally recognized artists to come to the Gardens to exhibit their work in solo shows, group shows and thematically-curated exhibitions.”

The new gallery will be the first major project to embody Descanso Gardens' long-range commitment to demonstrating the principles and practices of sustainable design in a public garden setting.

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