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Prepare your farewells: LACMA winds up to tear down its campus

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Abatement is underway now

The museum in the background with Wilshire Boulevard in the fore.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art in an October 2019 photo.

The clock is ticking for LACMA.

Heavy machinery was placed Monday in front of the the Ahmanson Building on Wilshire Boulevard to aid in pre-construction work, namely abatement, says Jessica Youn, a Los Angeles County Museum of Art spokesperson.

That caused some alarm among museum fans, who feared demolition was finally in full swing.

Local arts group Roofless Painters posted up across Wilshire Boulevard on Monday to paint the museum pre-redevelopment. For five hours, “the sound of debris being dumped down to a container kept coming in waves,” says the group’s founder, Julio Panisello.

The abatement, which would find and remove any potentially hazardous materials in the marble-clad edifice, must be done before the building and three others at the museum can be torn down to make way for a new, divisive museum structure designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and expected to cost at least $650 million.

The County of Los Angeles has awarded $177 million to the project, plus $300 million in bonds that are intended to function like a loan. LACMA is raising money for the rest, though the Los Angeles Times has reported that fundraising has not been robust.

If the museum’s current timeline sticks, full-blown demolition is set to begin soon. The projected date for the “four aging buildings” (as they are called in official LACMA materials) to come down “is still slated for early 2020,” says Youn. An exact date for demolition has not been announced.

The four structures that will be torn down are among the oldest on the site. The William Pereira and Associates-designed Ahmanson, Bing, and Hammer buildings have held court at the Wilshire Boulevard site since the museum relocated to Miracle Mile in the 1960s. The 1986 Art of the Americas building, designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, will also come down.

It’s unknown what, if anything, will become of some of the exterior features of the buildings, such as the stylish light fixtures and decorative grilles. Youn says that aspect of the project is still being discussed.

City and local leaders support the redesign, but a group called Save LACMA doesn’t see the demolition of the older buildings as a done deal. It’s fundraising to try to stop construction through a ballot measure that could “reverse” the county’s approvals of the Zumthor project.