By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The swath of land at the corner of Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard, home of the stately Mulholland Fountain and a popular spot for wedding photographs, is a possible site for a new L.A. Children’s Museum.
The private, nonprofit museum has been located in a space intended for a Japanese restaurant in the downtown L.A. Mall since 1978. The 17,000-square-foot space is too small and was supposed to be only a temporary home, says Doug Ring, president of the museum‘s board of trustees.
Ring would like to see a three-story museum built at the edge of Griffith Park, which would require cutting an access road and isolating the historic fountain on an island at the busy intersection.
The proposed move has attracted many opponents. At their November 17 meeting, the president of the city commission that approved the site said he will ask for a status report on the project and whether it is possible for it to be reconsidered. Steve Soboroff, president of the Board of Commissioners of the Department of Recreation and Parks and a mayoral candidate, said he no longer favors the site. “As the plan for the project emerges, it is becoming clear to me that this is the wrong location. I believe the best location for the Children’s Museum would be in the parking lot of the L.A. Zoo, where we wouldn‘t lose one inch of green space and the two organizations can benefit from each other.”
Foes also include members of the Los Feliz Improvement Association (LFIA) and the Griffith Park Chapter of the Sierra Club, who agree that the museum needs a new location, but say the Mulholland Fountain site is the wrong place. Among their objections: an environmental-impact report has not been done; the fountain-monument is historic; cedar trees planted in 1916 would be destroyed; and the land contains easements for the city’s water and electrical supplies. In addition, the land was deeded to the city by Griffith J. Griffith as public parkland in perpetuity, and opponents say no one -- especially a private organization -- has the right to build there. Consequently, the LFIA has sued the city, the Department of Recreation and Parks and its commissioners, along with museum trustees. The lawsuit alleges that the failure to conduct the full environmental study violated the California Environmental Quality Act.
The project got its biggest boost at a contentious meeting September 15 at Friendship Hall, just across from the proposed construction site. It was there that the Recreation and Parks commissioners approved the museum‘s 50-year lease, at $1 a year, a violation of the City Charter which says leases of park property may be made for a term not to exceed three years. The commissioners also approved a Negative Declaration stating the project will have no significant effect on the environment. But all that could be in question if Soboroff succeeds in having the board reconsider the approvals, possibly in January.
Opponents and mistakes have dogged the project from the start. One of the biggest gaffes: The lease mentions 21 parcels, but only seven of them are owned by the city; 11 are privately owned, two are located miles away near Franklin and Western avenues; and one, Lot 17, is occupied by Immaculate Heart High School.
“There are tons of problems with the site. The main issue is the land is owned by the city -- why should a private organization locate in a public park?” asks Andrew Garsten, a community activist. “They want to construct an 80,000-square-foot, three-story building, with a cut-through road from Los Feliz to Riverside, leaving the fountain on an island of land in front of the building. That’s not an appropriate use for this land.” Garsten, who is a member of the Coalition To Save Van de Kamp‘s Bakery, would like to see the Children’s Museum consider the old Van de Kamp‘s building, citing the successful reuse of an old factory for the Children’s Museum in Boston. The asking price for the bakery is $6.5 million.
Charlotte De Armond is the president of the Los Feliz Improvement Association, whose board voted unanimously to oppose the museum‘s plan. The organization cites a proposed increase in traffic of a million visitors a year as a major problem. “Museum officials say that increase will not have a significant impact, because they are mostly weekend visitors,” De Armond says. “However, the traffic gridlock on Los Feliz on the weekends is huge because of people using Griffith Park.”
Parking is another issue. It would be difficult to find room for the 1,648 spaces required by city codes. The museum plans to build a 300-space lot and use the 207-space lot at Friendship Hall across the street. Making the site challenging is a 66-inch water cistern that carries the High Sierra waters to Los Angeles below the site, and power lines carrying 130,000 volts of electricity above.
Doug Ring, who has been trying to find a new space for the museum for six years, says he is at the mercy of city officials, and has been aided in his search by Councilman John Ferraro, who suggested the corner after a site near Travel Town was shot down. “The only land the Children’s Museum can look at realistically is land owned by public agencies. They are the only ones who will lease it to us for $1 a year. As a nonprofit, we can‘t raise enough money to buy the land and then fund-raise for the construction.