Fri. Aug 12th, 2022

When the Holocaust Museum LA (then known as the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust) settled in its permanent home on Pan Pacific Park in 2010, the ultimate goal was to draw an estimated 15,000 visitors each year. It not only met that goal the first year out, it exceeded it. As the COVID-19 pandemic rolled around, the museum drew up to 65,000 people each year, far beyond its original plans.

Now the goal is to attract even more visitors: 500,000 a year by 2030. “We’re giving ourselves plenty of time,” says museum director Beth Kean. “We hope to reach 150,000 over the next few years. … We have a track plan to get there. ”

To this end, the museum is planning an expansion that will nearly double its footprint from 28,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet. The addition will include a new 2,500-square-foot gallery for temporary exhibitions, a 200-seat theater for movie screenings and panel debates, as well as two classrooms. The addition will be designed by Hagy Belzberg, head of the LA-based firm Belzberg Architects, who designed the museum’s current home.

“We are not a huge museum,” says Belzberg, who is also a member of the museum’s board. “If you want to look at something when there’s a busload of kids there, it’s hard to have an intimate relationship with the object.”

The expansion helps alleviate congestion. It will also add a new, more prominent building to a museum that currently retains a very quiet presence in the Los Angeles landscape.

The current building, which is partially underground and has a sloping green roof, looks like an extension of the hilly park area that surrounds it. The new plan will change this profile by adding a roof pavilion to accommodate a railway carriage located near the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland.

Visible from the street and Pan Pacific Park, it will make the museum with plans to illuminate the new pavilion at night much more prominent.

“You can have a picnic in the park and you look up and it’s there,” Belzberg says. “It is this esoteric statement of never forgetting.”

A rendering shows an amoeba-shaped pavilion above the Holocaust Museum Los Angeles

A new pavilion houses a van located outside the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland and will increase the museum’s profile in Pan Pacific Park.

(Holocaust Museum LA)

The museum was founded in 1961 by a group of Holocaust survivors and moved in its early years between several rented locations on Wilshire Boulevard, including an office building. In 2003, a search for a permanent home led to a $ 1-year lease of $ 1 a year for urban land in Pan Pacific Park. Seven years later, the museum opened its current 28,000-square-foot structure just south of the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and Grove Drive.

It was not an easy place to work with. Immediately to the north is a post office. Across Grove Drive to the west is a wealth of parking garage entrances to an apartment complex and the Grove shopping center (which seems to reserve the complex’s worst urban elements for the street it had named after itself).

Belzberg responded with a design that hid the museum in the landscape. Visitors enter via a zigzagging path that descends into the building. As you move deeper into the building and deeper into the violent history of the Holocaust, daylight falls back. The museum’s curved interior space is made of a form of shotcrete (shotcrete), which gives the interior a suitably gloomy atmosphere.

“When you get to the darkest chapter in history, you get to the darkest part of the building,” Belzberg says. “There is no natural sunlight.”

When the building opened, Christopher Hawthorne, then an architectural critic for The Times, described it as “an elegant, energy-efficient and economical building whose attitude to the city and to history is strangely deferential.”

Its low profile has created a contemplative space, but also one that can get a little lost in the middle of a rather inhospitable street.

“One of our goals with the expansion is to illuminate the building,” Kean says. “We want to catch people’s eye. We want it to be a striking museum and an iconic landmark. We do not want it to be difficult to find. ”

The elevated van pavilion, which will be added to the existing building, will achieve some of that.

The same goes for a building that will be erected to the south on land that hugs an existing outdoor amphitheater and is currently included in the museum’s land lease agreement with the park. This structure will add the theater, classroom and additional gallery space – as well as space for an interactive installation entitled “Dimensions in Testimony” created by the USC Shoah Foundation, where a viewer can ask questions about a holographic depiction of a Holocaust survivor. (The museum already has a version of the installation available.)

An elderly woman is accompanied through a Holocaust exhibition.

Holocaust survivor Renee Firestone, 97, with Holocaust Museum CEO Beth Kean and LA City Controller Ron Galperin walk through the museum to see “Dimensions in Testimony” in July.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

If the building in 2010 is a descent into the dark, the new one, says Belzberg, will be an easier experience – one that speaks to the future and to resilience. Between them will be a large outdoor patio that will provide a visual break. “There is a functional justification, but also a conceptual one,” says the architect. The buildings each refer to the “past and future” of history. The farm, he says, marks the present. “We opened the now.”

By moving the temporary exhibits to the new building, the older one can set aside more space for his permanent collection, which includes letters, photographs, vintage newspapers, artifacts from Auschwitz and a 19th-century Torah script from the Czech Republic. The extra space also means that the museum can better accommodate the many school groups that come through.

“Now you can separate them,” Belzberg says. »You can start below, you can start at the learning pavilion and one start at the van. It’s a much better experience. ”

Kean says enlargement is important for other reasons as well.

“This museum was founded by survivors in 1961,” she says. “The survivors are a big part of our museum. They are a big part of our consciousness – and they go away. … It’s really important to build a store of their stories and experiences, and we need to educate the world when they are no longer here. ”

Part of this will involve connecting the experience of the Holocaust with wildfire in other societies.

“The Holocaust is not just a Jewish story,” Kean says. “We want to bring in other communities that are marginalized to bring people together to discuss current issues. Having a 200-person theater allows us to do a lot of public programming. ”

Of the $ 45 million needed to complete the project, $ 22 million has already been raised as part of a capital campaign. The main gift (its amount is not stated) came from the Cayton Goldrich family, descendants of the late Jona Goldrich, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who was a major supporter of the museum. The museum’s new campus will bear his name.

Pioneering is expected to take place next year.

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