Friday, July 02, 2010

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

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 (pictured right): 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 (pictured left): 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


Anonymous said...

Soon we'll only have room for PC museums instead of museums about America. Why aren't Latinos included in all the other museums? This exercise is damaging to the fabric of the country. I'm looking forward to the National Gay Asian Astronaut Museum.

Anonymous said...

i'm not terribly PC, but isn't comparing the Latino population (15% of the U.S. and growing) to Lithuanians (0.3% of U.S.) and Samoans (<0.1%) pretty ridiculously offensive?

if you had said the same thing about African-Americans, you'd probably be out of a job right now.

you guys do a great job talking about development, but we can probably do without the euro-centric demographics commentary.

ZZinDC said...

Small correction - The Castle is the oldest of the Smithsonian buildings, pre-dating the Arts & Industries building by about 30 years. I have a long love affair with the A&I Bldg, and think how the SI has treated it recently (after a very nice restoration in 76) is shameful - they must have institutional tunnel vision if they can't see that building is an artifact as worthy of protection as just about anything on display in their other buildings. I say, give it to the Latinos, or anyone who will take proper care of it.

Greg said...

@ anon 1:25

lighten up.

sarcasm is wasted on the wrong people...

numbers said...

i think its troublesome to see our collective history divided into racially segregated histories as represented by physically separated museums.

its a sad direction.

Anonymous said...

@ numbers

i agree, although this is now the reality at hand. from the beginning it seems that the approach should have been to fold the histories of all the 'kinds' of americans under the auspice of the american history museum- with different wings, or entirely separate buildings, being aspects of the same, collective history. perhaps this is semantic trickery, but it could have gone a long way in uniting all of us- much more than these disconnected 'ethnic' museums have garnered.

Ken on Jul 3, 2010, 2:11:00 PM said...

We're weren't actually comparing Latinos and Lithuanians, it was only sarcasm, as pointed out. And nowhere in the article did I take a Eurocentric perspective, not sure how you read into that so much. And since we provide the blog for free there's not much of a chance of us being out of a job, but thanks for the kind words on DCMud in general.

jwepperson said...

Ken, enjoyed the humor. The general point is that we should not continue to advocate that America is only a collection of other countries and ethenicities each trying to stake out their own piece of this land; rather its a melting point. Peptuating cultures at the expense of others only leads to future unrest. i.e. Europe and Asia the last 2000 years.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly the approach Canada has taken. In Ottawa they have Museum of Canadian Civilization, which encompasses histories of all ethnic groups residing in Canada.

Malled in DC said...

With ya all. Congress doesn't have the spinal fortitude to say hell no to a pressure group that wants to boost its own ethnic agenda. The whole deal is a sin, and now a slight to all the ethnicities that are not represented. European Americans made by far the biggest contribution to the nation's founding, should we build a museum to white men?

Anonymous said...

Canada took that approach because there is a collective decision to try to unify the threads of their history and honor their contributions to their country. The reason that two of the largest ethnic identities in the US want their own museums is because we are consistently left out of the retellings of American history and culture. Yes, Black History is our history, yes Latino culture is an inherent part of American culture. But you know, when it's taught in school there are maybe three chapters. When it's mentioned it's off to the side. I agree that it would be great to have an integrated system, but honestly, that's rarely how it plays. And even though I'm a DCmud enthusiast-- it's much easier to laugh when you haven't experienced the pain of discrimination.

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