National Museum of the American Latino site selection

Dear Coalition Friends:

As promised in our last UPDATE, here is a quick update on the National Museum of the American Latino site selection presentation before the National Capital Planning Commission last Thursday.

All four sites being considered by the Latino American Museum Commission for the proposed museum are on the National Mall.  Museum Commission chairman Henry Munoz testified to NCPC that while his Commission studied nine sites, including off-Mall sites proposed by NCPC staff, Latino constituent groups around the country preferred a Mall location.  All non-Mall sites were eliminated.

What soon became clear as Mr. Munoz presented is that all 4 potential Mall sites are inadequate in size for the museum’s needs. Consequently, this Museum will require either major structural and design changes to existing buildings on the National Mall and/or annex space nearby or at a remote location.

The public was not permitted to testify since this was an “informational presentation” only.  So the big question was, what advice and direction would the NCPC, the federal planning agency who must give approval to both site selection and design, give?  The answer: none, aside from a few comments about potential cost.  What is the museum collection and program that requires a Mall location and the amount of space they are seeking? That was not answered in the presentation.

The locations and annex spaces are described here and shown in the illustration below.  (Additional information and photos of potential sites can be seen on the DCMud blog “Museums on the Mall: Latinos Throw Their Hat in the Ring.”

  1. The Washington Monument site (circled below in red) is the parcel opposite the African American Museum site, on the south side of the Mall.  Only a limited structure of 165,000 square feet would fit on this lot.  Administrative offices would be housed across Independence Avenue in the Yates Building.
  2. The Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building (circled in green), now being renovated, is too small and cannot be used for climate controlled museum space.  A new underground facility would have to be built to the north (Mall side).  Alternatively, A&I could be the Mall entrance and tunnel to a new museum structure across Independence Avenue on the plot now occupied by the Forrestal Building (at L’Enfant Promenade). 
  3. The Whitten Building that houses the US Department of Agriculture at 14th and Independence Avenue, at 2 million square feet, is too large, while the west wing of this building (circled in blue) is not large enough.  The solution?  Construct a new entry pavilion to the west of Whitten along 15th Street and construct additional stories on top of this wing to accommodate museum space needs.
  4. The Capitol site (pink) at the foot of the Capitol and opposite the U.S. Botanic Garden on the north side of the Mall, and under jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol, is the smallest site and would require a remote annex since no additional space is available nearby.  Any structure here would be limited by the 75-foot height of the Botanic Gardens.  
National Museum of the American Latino site (Courtesy National Capital Planning Commission)
National Museum of the American Latino site (Courtesy National Capital Planning Commission)

Those of us with passing knowledge of the four sites and existing buildings, and the Museum Commission’s 10-year timetable to completing construction, wonder if three of the four sites are even realistic alternatives.  Congress nixed the African American Museum’s hopes for the Capitol site.  Would this project be any different?  The Forrestal Building is not coming down any time soon — as the NCPC Commissioner representing GSA suggested — so the A&I option seems unlikely to meet the Museum Commission’s needs.  The US Department of Agriculture still occupies Whitten.  Would such major alterations to one wing of this symmetrical, beaux-arts building be possible, plausible, aesthetically or historically acceptable?

The NCPC and National Park Service opposed locating the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the Mall site eventually chosen by the Smithsonian.  The Monument site proposed by the Latino Museum is directly opposite that site, on what both federal agencies consider to be the historic Washington Monument grounds.  This time, at NCPC, there was no such comment or opposition by Commissioners, including the representative from the National Park Service.

When will a truly open and public discussion begin?   No word yet from the Latino Museum Commission or federal agencies.


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