In the years following its 1988 debut, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City struggled to survive, and its founder, a deceptively straight-faced fellow named David Wilson, was known to occasionally solicit business by serenading passing pedestrians with his accordion. Lately, Wilson's eclectic assemblage of the weird and wonderful has been attracting bigger crowds (6,000 last year), and in 1995 it was the subject of a book, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders, by New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Weschler. The irony is that now, when the museum is enjoying its greatest popularity, it faces the most serious threat to its existence.
Last year Wilson learned that the four Culver City buildings where the museum is housed were going to be put on the market. He has until April 2 to raise $500,000, half of the property's purchase price, or he'll be forced to find a new home for the Cabinet of Wonders. Wilson doubts the museum could survive such a move.
"We're built-in so thoroughly here," he says, explaining that when the museum opened it occupied a single building, and that in the years since it's steadily assimilated the space around it.
Donations received in the past few months, including a $125,000 matching grant by the Ahmanson Foundation, have brought in about one-third of the total Wilson will need by April, and he is doing all he can to raise funds. Don't put it past Wilson to haul out the accordion if he has to.
"[The museum] basically exists on pixie dust," Wilson says. "When I heard about [the property's $1 million price tag], it frankly seemed impossible to raise that kind of money, but we're just not allowing ourselves to believe [that]. That would just be too . . ." He pauses, searching for words."We just can't let ourselves think about that."
Life After Alatorre?
With the blood of an FBI corruption probe in the water, would-be usurpers to Eastside City Councilman Richard Alatorre's political throne are circling for the kill.
The leading contender for Alatorre's 14th District seat is Nick Pacheco, a longtime deputy D.A. and elected charter-reform commissioner. With Alatorre's political corpse not yet cold (or even dead yet, for that matter), Pacheco already, says one City Hall watcher, "has been going around acting like the councilman-in-waiting."
Adding to the intrigue, Pacheco is being backed by veteran pol Henry Lozano, a rival Eastside power broker who, as reported in the Weekly a few weeks back, is currently in the midst of a nasty custody battle with the Alatorres, over a child born out of wedlock to Lozano and Alatorre's sister-in-law, who died two years ago. Lozano is also a longtime confidant of Alatorre's chief political nemesis and detractor, Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Famous for giving short shrift to community forums and the like, the embattled Alatorre has thrown himself with newfound interest into the actual business of representing his district. "They seem to be equating it to the Clinton situation and taking solace in that," says one longtime Eastside observer. "The thinking is that as long as Richard continues to deliver for the district, he will hang on to his seat."
Should the Eastside's reigning patriarch, who's survived his share of near-political-death experiences, wriggle out of the current imbroglio, count on payback against the conspirators. "Their greatest fear is that they stand up to Richard and the guy winds up getting out of this," says the source. "Then their careers are shit."
All the Mayor's Men
Finally, someone on Spring Street seems ready to call Mayor Riordan on his proclivity for using unpaid "advisors" to run the city's business - men like investment banker William Wardlaw, real estate consultant Steve Soboroff and developer Theodore "Ted" Stein, who constitute a sort of "shadow administration."
Last week Councilwoman Ruth Galanter asked the City Ethics Commission to develop conflict-of-interest guidelines for such "volunteer decision makers" in preparation for her long-awaited hearings on the City's hiring and firing of Clinton crony Webster Hubbell, a scandal dubbed Whitewater West.
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The particulars of l'affaire Hubbell involve a $50,000 no-show consulting gig given to the longtime FOB by then-Airport Commission President Ted Stein, who later doctored Hubbell's billing records to cover up the mess. But as Tuttle's report pointed out, at a deeper level Whitewater West was about the cabalistic way the Riordan administration does buisness. When Stein sought approval for the Hubbell contract he went not to the Mayor, but to Wardlaw, the shadow mayor - who apparently felt himself empowered to make such a call. "Government off the books," Galanter called it. "It looks like a subversion of accountability."
Whether Ethics Commission Executive Director Rebecca Avila will back Galanter up is another matter. Her predecessor, Ben Bycel, went down that road, questioning the propriety of an arrangement by which the tab for former Chief of Staff Bill Ouchi's salary was picked up by large corporations like IBM and Bank of America, who were doing business with the city. Bycel was sacked for his trouble.
Riordan, for his part, shows little recalcitrance for letting men like Wardlaw - unelected, unsupervised and unaccountable - make key city decisions. Mayoral mouthpiece Noelia Rodriguez offered this typically boosterish response: "The Mayor has tapped a vast network of leaders throughout the city to help L.A. become more efficient, and more future and long-term oriented. I don't see any problem with that."
-Edited by Sam Gideon Anson