Back in April, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed re-design of the LACMA campus, clearning the way for the project – which will replace several of the museum’s older buildings with a single-story structure spanning Wilshire Blvd.
Since that vote, sevral waves of protest have risen – including objections from the art world, a local lawsuit challenging the location of the proposed new parking garage, and the formation of an official Save LACMA protest group. Despite those voices, however, the Los Angeles City Council today opened another big door for the project, by voting unanimously to officially vacate the city’s control of the air space over the section of Wilshire Blvd. between Spaulding and Stanley Aves., which will be spanned by the project.
The vote came after about 20 minutes of public comments, during which which 15 people spoke in favor of the project but only five had a chance to voice opposition before City Council President Herb Wesson cut off the discussion and proceeded with comments from Council members.
During his remarks on the item, Council Member David Ryu referred to the Council’s election of Nury Martinez, just a few minutes earlier, as the first Latina president of the Council (beginning in January), saying that with the LACMA vote, “we’re also going to make art and architectural history [today].” Ryu particularly praised LACMA’s community outreach efforts for the remodeling project, a sentiment echoed by outgoing city council president Herb Wesson, who agreed that LACMA’s community engagement efforts have been “outstanding” and worthy of special recognition.
LACMA president Michael Govan led the group of public commenters speaking in favor of the air space vacation, noting that it will allow the new museum building to span the iconic boulevard, “steer clear” of the La Brea Tar Pits’ valuable excavations, and create a new, “non-hierarchical” gallery that will display the museum’s collections with more “equal representation” than can be given in its current multi-story facility.
That sentiment was echoed by Mid City West Coummunity Council member David Mann, who lauded the “cultural connectedness” and “diversification” the new building will create for the museum. Mann also argued that while project critics have complained about a possible reduction in overall display space for the museum, even that is an intentional benefit, and follows a growing trend for art museums to spread out their holdings among various community locations, making the the works more accessible to more people.
Among the five opponents who were given a chance to speak at today’s meeting, Richard Schave, representing SaveLACMA and the LACMA Lovers League, which mounted a large petition effort against the project earlier this year, urged the Council to heed the “well thought-out” opposition that has been expressed in the last few months, and to pause and return to the drawing board for futher consideration before moving ahead.
Save LACMA leader Rob Holman agreed that rehabilitation of the LACMA campus is a worthwhile goal, but argued that the Council should “send a message” that a more thoughtful approach is necessary.
Another opponent expressed concern that the new building will feel like a “freeway overpass” across Wilshire, with too much noise under the “oppressive” structure for pedestrians to want to walk there…and one argued that the situation reminded him of standing in the same City Council chamber 44 years earlier, to argue for saving the LA Central Library…a fight that was eventually won, to the city’s great benefit.
According to an update sent out by Govan last month, the buildings on the east side of the LACMA campus closed on November 12 in preparation for the project, while buildings on the western part of the campus remain open, both now and during construction, which will begin sometime in 2020. The parts of the facility still open include the BCAM building and Resnick Pavilion, the Urban Light and Levitated Mass installations, Ray’s and Stark Bar, and the LACMA Cafe.