Blogs on Latino Museum Site Selection

Dear Coalition Friends:

Two DC area blogs, DCmud and GreaterGreaterWashington, also have been commenting on the Latino Museum site selection.   DCmud provides photographs of targeted buildings for those who are not familiar with the potential sites.

Click on the links to these blogs to read a wide variety of reader comments.

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Museums on the Mall: Latinos Throw Their Hat in the Ring

Posted by Ken on 7/02/2010 09:49:00 AM

Feeling ethnically unrepresented by the nation’s newfound homage to ethnicity? One group may have the answer for you: The Latino American Museum Commission (LAMC) hopes to build the National Museum of the American Latino on or near the National Mall, and is in the final stage of figuring out just where it should go.

The new museum is intended to “create a home for the historical artifacts, images, and personal stories documenting over 500 years of American Latino contributions to the United States” and will “serve as an educational tool for the thousands who visit the museum each year, as well as instilling [sic] a sense of pride in the Latino community…” The LAMC was formed by an act of Congress in 2008.

The Museum Commission initially considered and “fully vetted” over 30 sites throughout the Capitol area, narrowing it down to 9 in November 2009, before finally paring it down to 4 sites, all on or near the Mall, as it happens. At yesterday’s National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) meeting, the LAMC presented the four finalists. Henry R. Muñoz, the Chair of the LAMC, told the NCPC review team that after canvassing Latinos nationwide “there is a clear preference for a site on the Mall.” The NCPC expects to issue its opinion in August, at which point the plans will be sent to Congress. The Commission hopes to find 359,000 s.f. – 310,000 s.f. close to the monumental core for exhibits and 49,000 s.f. located remotely for storage and office space. Though the LAMC recently signed four contracts to kickstart development and planning, Muñoz acknowledged the long process ahead, saying “we’ll feel fortunate if that timeline can be shortened to ten years.”

In no particular order, the Commission is considering:

1. The Yates Building at 1400 Independence Avenue, SW: The administrative portion would fit into the historic Yates building, and a 165,000-s.f. building would be built on the Mall to the north, bisected by Independence Avenue. The museum would offer an entrance on the Mall and would potentially connect underground to the Yates building. The rough designs show the new structure mirroring the height and footprint of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

2. The Whitten Building at 14th & Independence: The LAMC offered up the adjacent parking lot for a new building. This plan also includes building two stories on top of the Whitten building, which the design team likened to the Tate in London. This design would deliver 310,000 s.f., 49,000 s.f. less than the desired amount of space.

3. The Arts and Industries Building: The oldest of the Smithsonian buildings offers 99,000 s.f. that would be incorporated as a “public reception area” because it is too narrow for galleries and lacks climate control or proper acoustics for performances. This plan has two options, one in which the Arts and Industries building remains intact with a two-story museum below-grade, the other would use the main building for administrative purposes and as an entrance from the mall, but create a connection to a new annex building.

4. Capitol Site: This proposed site, across from the Botanical Gardens, was envisioned by the McMillan Commission to hold a museum but remains empty. Currently under the control of the Architect of the Capitol, the site would utilize the same footprint as proposed in the McMillan Plan, with an entrance off Pennsylvania Avenue, offering three stories above grade and one below. At 252,000 s.f. it would be the smallest of the proposed buildings.

Fear not, Lithuanians and Somoans, you too may someday have your chance.

Washington DC real estate and development news

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Where should the Latino museum go?

by David Alpert   •   July 16, 2010 9:58 am

Congress has declared the National Mall a “completed work of civic art” and declared that future museums and memorials should go on sites outside the Mall, but that hasn’t stopped them from making exception after exception. Now, the planned National Museum of the American Latino wants to be on the Mall, too, and looks likely to get it.

After all, the National Museum of the American Indian is on the Mall (before the moratorium was enacted), and the National Museum of African-American Art and Culture got to be on the Mall even after the moratorium. Therefore, Latino groups ruled out all non-Mall sites originally proposed, reports the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, leaving four:

Some of the Mall sites under consideration wouldn’t require building new structures in open space, or would at least reuse parts of existing structures. One (green oval, above) would be to use the currently-vacant yet beautiful Arts and Industries Building. However, it’s too small and can’t facilitate exhibits, so the suggestion is to also replace part of the Forrestal Building across Independence Avenue and connect the two with a tunnel.

I consider the Forrestal Building to be the ugliest building in DC, and hopefully one modern structure preservationists won’t try to keep. NCPC’s long-term plan calls for redeveloping the site as well. However, the GSA representative told NCPC they aren’t ready to redevelop it right now, making that site potentially infeasible.

Another option would be to use the Whitten Building (blue oval), which currenly houses the Department of Agriculture. The museum would add two stories atop on of the building’s wings and build a structure in an adjacent surface parking lot. Filling in a parking lot is appealing, but the Coalition wonders if altering one wing of this “symmetrical, beaux-arts building” would pass historic muster.

The other two options involve building in what is currently open space. One site (purple oval, above) is adjacent to the Capitol between Pennsylvania, Constitution, and 1st NW, the site directly opposite the Botanic Garden. DCmud notes that this was originally envisioned to house a museum by the McMillan Plan. However, the Architect of the Capitol controls this land, and rejected it for the African-American museum.

Finally, there’s the land between 14th and 15th, SW along Independence, opposite the site for the African-American museum. A new building would be built here, and offices would go in the historic Yates Building across Independence. The Coalition sees that as the most likely but also very undesirable, because it’s considered part of the Washington Monument grounds. However, NPS didn’t object to this site at the NCPC meeting.

What do you think of these sites? The Coalition also notes that NCPC only held an “informational” presentation, which afforded no opportunity for public comment, and urged NCPC to engage in a public discussion about this issue.

While Mall proliferation is a real problem, now that the American Indians and African-Americans are getting a museum, it seems not unreasonable for Latinos to get one as well, as one of the US’s largest minority groups. But it’s important to resist further proliferation, because there is an endless list of other groups as well.

As DCmud jokingly notes, “Fear not, Lithuanians and Somoans, you too may someday have your chance.” That would be disastrous. It’s also perhaps somewhat unlikely, but what about non-ethnic minorities? Should there be a women’s museum and a museum about elderly people and one for persons with disabilities?

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitors center was more troubling because it opened the door to visitors’ centers for veterans of every war. I’m less disturbed by more cultural museums on the Mall than memorials or memorial visitors’ centers. There are always going to be more wars and more great leaders, and unless we start retiring memorials as Philip Kennicott suggested, they threaten to clutter the Mall up without pause for every historic event or figure that has a number of dedicated adherents.


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