July 20, 2006 - From the July, 2006 issue

New Los Angeles Children's Museum Will Give S.F. Valley its First Major Cultural Institution

As civic amenities such as Disney Hall, MOCA, and Staples have helped revitalize Downtown, the 1.8 million residents of the San Fernando Valley have often felt left out. But that will change when the city's first major cultural institution-the Children's Museum of Los Angeles-opens near the Hansen Dam next year. Museum director Mark Dierking gave TPR an update on the project and described its potential impact on families within the region.


Mark Dierking

The Children's Museum of Los Angeles has been in development for more than two decades. What is the status of the building and programming?

The museum is under construction. We are going to finish the building in August of 2007, which is when we'll get our certificate of occupancy. There will be a period then when we install exhibits and that will take another few months so we're looking to open up to the public around the latter part of 2007.

The Children's Museum was planned to be in the Downtown Civic Center, near other cultural facilities such as the Music Center and MOCA. Where is it now sited?

We are on the edge of Hansen Dam, in a beautiful park in the San Fernando Valley similar to Sepulveda Basin. This new facility is focusing on the environment and education. The board felt that it was great site and a great opportunity to bring the first major cultural institution to the San Fernando Valley.

What possible joint uses might the site offer for children ages 0-13?

We're looking at a number of things. We're blessed to have a 40,000 square foot whole-access boundless playground right next door similar to Shane's Inspiration in Griffith Park. The Lakeview Terrace Library, a brand new Platinum LEED certified library, is directly adjacent to the site. We are on the edge of equestrian areas, soccer fields, baseball fields; there is a swim lake and a boating lake nearby that were finished in 1999. The swim lake is the largest swim lake west of the Mississippi.

So a variety of different uses surround the project; we're exploring the concept of a school nearby; we're exploring concepts of after-school programs at local neighborhoods and schools. We're going to be a regional facility that focuses on and serves the northern San Fernando Valley.

This idea of tying together the Children's Museum, open space, recreation, learning, and education is promising. How does the Children's Museum envisioning joint use? What are you planning in the Valley in the way of uses that serve families and children?

I think we are particularly well oriented to joint use. The museum's core mission is education. Our exhibits are designed through a committee including School Board member David Tokofsky with a desire to meet state educational standards and goals so that when a teacher takes their classroom out to the site they can have a full educational experience. So, we want to flesh that out, expand that, and provide an educational opportunity for the region.

We're next door to a library and to this beautiful park. There are so many things that can involve and engage the community at this site through the museum. We would love to figure out a way to create a museum school near the site, similar to what the California Science Center did.

We're also looking for ways to involve early childhood education, ages 0-5. Our primary market is 0-13, but we are offering a full range of programs; we really want to be a key resource for parents on a variety of levels including advocacy, education and as a reference center.

Tell us about how you are programming this exhibit space-who is doing it and how are you programming it-to realize your vision for the museum.

We're doing two things. The first is that we have Edwin Schlossberg from ESI Design out of New York, who has designed all of the exhibitry in the building. It's a first-rate museum in that the museum doesn't function unless kids come into it. The heart and soul of the museum is to empower and educate children and Mr. Schlossberg has set up the design to that. We're also looking to bring on a director of education and programs shortly to help flesh out the programming and education piece of the museum.

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You worked in the San Fernando Valley for City Councilman Padilla, now a State Senate candidate, and you know the area well. What is the cultural and political significance of moving the Children's Museum to Hansen Dam?

I think it is an example of the San Fernando Valley coming into its own. It's going to be the first cultural institution in the San Fernando Valley of this magnitude and I think it is a major commitment and an investment on the behalf of the City of Los Angeles. It will also serve as a major economic catalyst for the area bringing back the feeling that Hansen Dam had when the old holiday lake was in operation.

Who is the target audience for the Children's Museum? Where will the patrons come from?

Through our studies and experience with the past facility, we know that people come to this museum from as far as San Diego and Santa Barbara. But our board also made a deliberate decision to go to Pacoima because of the various unmet needs and large numbers of kids-70 percent of the kids in the area are in Title I school programs and we are in the heart of the federal empowerment zone. To fill a niche and a need for children's services in the northeast Valley is just critical and a major step in alleviating some of the issues and concerns that face the area.

Elaborate on the challenges of this development project: size, program, financial, and managerial.

The project has had its fits and starts, but we are on a solid track now going into construction. It is a $53 million project. We've now raised $36 million. We're continually looking at ways to reduce cost and we're putting the last pieces together. We have a great board; we have Mike Roos, Alex Padilla, Tim McCallion from Verizon, Ron Gastelum, Bruce Corwin; so there is a great board in place pushing it over the top.

With what architects, contractors and other development professionals is the museum working to realize this dream?

We have an amazing contractor, MATT Construction. MATT is moving this project very quickly; we're pleased that they took our project. We're also working with Sarah Graham of Angelil/Graham/Pfenninger/Scholl Architecture (AGPS) based in Atwater Village who has created an beautiful building. And we have some landscaping built in and it is being designed by AGPS as well.

What is on your agenda for the balance of 2006 to realize the museum's vision? What is driving you nuts and what is making you estatic?

Driving us nuts is getting the word out, getting awareness in the community that we are on our way and that we're going to have this first institution in the Valley. What has been great has been just in the last year or so, the number of foundations that have stepped up to fund the project and the number of people that have seen the promise of this effort. It has also been great seeing the project emerge and finally go into the ground.

A year from now, when TPR comes back to for a follow-up interview, what can we expect see and learn from the Children's Museum?

That we are imminently opening. That we will have people signing up for times to get into the museum because of the high level of interest. We're going to be serving 365,000 people a year. We will be serving local students and local kids through after-school programs; we will really be an asset to the community.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.