Tar Pits Threatened by LACMA Expansion; MMRA Approves Motion to Preserve Green Space in Hancock Park

PREFACE: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] touts the new Zumthor plan for the museum as a “proposal.” Their stated goal is to gather feedback on this re-design, but they frequently defer criticism by countering that it is only a proposal – a work in progress. It is a sophisticated strategy employed to ensnare commentators into semantics and make their remarks appear premature. Hence, the museum presents a moving target in order to exhaust critics. Whether it is a plan or a proposal, it is obviously a clear vision of what they would like the museum to be. LACMA’s proposal might be malleable, but their intentions are not.

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Model of Zumthor design for LACMA. Image courtesy of Museum Associates.

A lively debate has erupted on the potential impact of the Peter Zumthor re-design of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. On September 24 representatives of the Page Museum and LACMA appeared before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to address concerns that the sprawling Zumthor building could severely affect the La Brea Tar Pits.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], too, is concerned that LACMA’s plans will not only have an adverse impact on the tar pits but also reduce green space at Hancock Park. At the August 29, 2013 MMRA Board of Director’s meeting a motion was adopted opposing LACMA’s expansion into Hancock Park.

Since its arrival in the early 1960s, LACMA has been steadily encroaching on Hancock Park – the largest public park in the Miracle Mile. The park’s green space provides a sense of well-being to our community and enhances our quality of life. It is where our residents go for an impromptu picnic, to jog, take a leisurely stroll, or to teach their child how to ride a bike.

But LACMA tends to view the park as their backyard. This attitude is evident in the expanding footprint of the new design for the museum – which boldly ignores several County Board of Supervisor’s resolutions limiting LACMA to 6 acres of the original 23-acre park.

The Miracle Mile is one of the most densely populated areas in Los Angeles. Since 2005 over 1200 new apartments have been constructed along Wilshire Boulevard corridor between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue – and many more are under construction or in the planning stages. The advent of the Purple Line subway extension will bring large Transit-Oriented-Density mixed-use buildings at both the La Brea Avenue and Orange Grove Avenue subway portals – and add thousands of new residents to the Miracle Mile.

Los Angeles lags all the major cities in California in parks per capita and ranks 17th among major U.S. cities. The paucity of parkland in Los Angeles and the ever-increasing population of the Miracle Mile emphasizes the critical importance of the Hancock Park to our community.

Hancock Park is a Swiss Army knife, so to speak – a multi-functional tool. It is most notable for being the site of the La Brea Tar Pits, the largest repository of Ice Age fossils in the world. It is also the home of the Page Museum, LACMA, and the soon-to-be Academy Museum – which will draw an additional one million visitors a year and create yet another strain on the park grounds.

The proposed Zumthor design consists of a single floor building – the approximate size of two football fields – floating thirty feet above grade. This encroachment into the park would upset the delicate balance of Hancock Park by overwhelming its original purpose to preserve and promote the history of the La Brea Tar Pits and, by reducing its green space, demoting its critical function as a public park.

Wealthy oilman G. Allan Hancock gave the land to Los Angeles County to “protect and preserve the La Brea Tar Pits.” The 1924 deed specified that the donation was “for Public Park purposes.”

When LACMA attempted to expand into Hancock Park in 1969 County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn introduced a motion – that was unanimously adopted – stating that: “The possibility of using more of the land for Art Museum facilities has been suggested. To do so would be a mistake. The park is one of the few public open spaces left in the area. Also, the Museum of Natural History is still exploring the tar pits for prehistoric material and it must be able to do this without fear of encroachment.”

History is repeating itself with LACMA’s new plans for expansion into Hancock Park, but the MMRA feels that what was true in 1969 is still true today: to do so would be a mistake.

LACMA Tar Pits overlay

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2 Responses to Tar Pits Threatened by LACMA Expansion; MMRA Approves Motion to Preserve Green Space in Hancock Park

  1. Jay Gardner says:

    Why not elevate the building over the existing pits and leave the ground exposed for excavation. The foundation points could be excavated as part of the project.

    • Editor says:

      That is what the present proposal does, Jay – cover many of the tar pits. The officials of the Page Museum (and their parent organization: the Museum of Natural History) have voiced their opposition to having the pits covered by any new structure. Regardless, of how the the new museum is situated, exacavation for the foundation will be carefully supervised so that fossil are not damaged and can be properly removed.

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