CITY HALL — Santa Monica officials are in the midst of a high stakes negotiation with billionaire Eli Broad to bring a multi-million dollar art museum to Santa Monica. But the battle for the Broad isn’t the only museum-related discussion that’s ongoing at City Hall.
On Tuesday, the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp. will be making its case before the City Council for funding to start a museum aimed at showcasing the historic landmark’s history. The plan calls for locating the museum, which would feature memorabilia from the pier’s 100-year run, on a viewing deck at the end of the pier.
In contrast to the Broad museum, which is expected to cost developers as much as $60 million to build, the pier project is a modest proposal.
Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the PRC, said he expects setting up the 775 square-foot museum will cost about $100,000, half of which he plans to raise from private donors.
The PRC is seeking $5,000 from City Hall to begin plans for the project and expects to ask for $45,000 more if the idea gets regulatory approval from Santa Monica’s Landmarks Commission and the California Coastal Commission.
The museum would be located in an existing structure on the pier known as “the west-end public viewing deck” that Franz-Knight said gets little traffic.
“Despite signage, re-painting and the addition of some public seating, the space is seldom used,” a City Hall report notes.
City staff has recommended that the council approve the money for the museum plans.
“There’s a long-standing proposal that dates back to the 70s to be able to showcase the history of this venue right here on-site, but this is the first time we’ve gotten this far in the process,” Franz-Knight said.
The museum would display artifacts collected in the PRC’s archives and items from the Santa Monica History Museum. Exhibits would feature a 21-foot dory boat built by legendary Santa Monica lifeguard Pete Peterson, dance tickets from the La Monica Ballroom and gambling chips from the S.S. Rex, a floating casino that did business in Santa Monica Bay in the 1930s. Another prized artifact is the original “save the pier” petition from 1973 signed by Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
The pier museum would be a nice complement to the new Santa Monica History Museum, which is slated to open in the Main Library by this summer, said Ho Nguyen, the museum’s director of operations and its exhibit designer.
But Richard Bloom, a member of the City Council and the California Coastal Commission, said he had concerns about placing a museum in a remote location that apparently gets little pedestrian traffic.
“It’s really kind of an area for casual strolling and gazing out into the ocean, at least in my experience,” he said. “I would be hesitant to spend a bunch of money out there … if people don’t frequent the facility.”
The proposed site for the museum is an open deck that’s accessible 24 hours a day. Previously, Mariasol restaurant tried to make the second-story deck into an enclosed area but met with an objection from the Coastal Commission.
Bloom said constructing the museum would require adding doors to enclose the deck, raising some concerns about the public’s access to a site that offers “an unparalleled view of the ocean.”
Franz-Knight said “the intention is still to maintain [the site] as public space, but hopefully public space that more of the public would actually use.”
The PRC’s proposal calls for staffing the museum with volunteers and opening the museum from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during the summer. The rest of the year the museum would be open on weekends and by appointment. There would be no charge for admission.