Residents split over Kidspace museum development

Sunday August 29, 1999

By Janette Williams
Staff Writer

PASADENA -- Opposition to the $15 million, 45,000-square-foot Kidspace Museum proposed for Brookside Park has spread beyond the ongoing criticism of the project's scale and the contemporary style of the planned buildings.

Now complaints are also being voiced about the use of 3.4 acres of public park land in the Arroyo Seco for another facility requiring an entrance fee.

The arroyo is already home to the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and the 36 holes of the fenced-off Brookside Golf Courses, and all remaining space should be preserved for open public access, some museum opponents say.

"This has gone way past 'not in my backyard.' It affects everyone in the city," said Elaine Kramer, a neighborhood resident and current Kidspace member at its South El Molino Avenue location. "We're having this fight not because we don't want to see a new museum. Our concern is the context of this site in relation to this (proposed) structure. This is way beyond what was envisioned two years ago. This is a major development."

Opposing a mostly privately funded, state-of-the-art new children's museum one of only about 350 in the country may sound like coming out against motherhood and apple pie, opponents concede.

But Kramer said she and others are not against kids or a new museum, and are just opposed to the Brookside site.

Far from being disused, the area and its picnic tables are in constant use by local families, said Mark Frankel, a neighbor also opposed to the project.

In February the city agreed to lease the 3.4-acre site to Kidspace for $1 a year. The existing historic buildings of the Fannie E. Morrison Horticultural Center are to be incorporated into the museum complex designed by Silver Lake-based architect Michael Maltzan.

On Monday the City Council will be asked to approve an additional 9,353 square feet of basement space for the museum and reducing the area of the above-ground buildings from 18,000 to 15,645 square feet. The total area of the new buildings would remain unchanged at just under 30,000 square feet.

Kidspace has already raised about $6 million toward the project, museum officials said; this includes $1.7 million in "seed" money from the city in part from an insurance settlement when one of the horticultural center buildings was burned down and one damaged by fire in 1984 and $900,000 from the 1996 Park Bond Act earmarked specifically for the children's museum.

The fact that park bond money was approved should answer any criticism about the use of public park land for the museum, said Carol Scott, executive director of Kidspace.

"The park is intended to have children and families," Scott said. "We approached the city as a partner, saying we can fix this area for you and make this a very strong community asset."

The non-profit museum, with an estimated $900,000 annual operating budget, will continue to offer free programs for Pasadena schoolchildren and free family events monthly, she said.

"I am surprised at the spirit of the opposition, and disappointed that people draw conclusions and form opinions without talking to us," Scott said. "This is not the biggest children's museum, but it is a very unique project ... The location allows us to use the arroyo as a strong teaching tool for nature and science."

Scott said they had hoped to open the new museum in 2001, but delays in the approval process may push the date back.

Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, said the preservation group originally considered plans to relocate the museum from its 6,000-square-foot quarters in the old McKinley Junior High School gymnasium as a "win-win" situation.

"Then we got into the specifics of the the project and it seemed to me Kidspace continued to look at the historic buildings not as something they wanted to preserve but as something they were stuck with," Mossman said.

The museum's current plans are "much bigger and much different from anything the community ever envisioned," Mossman said, adding that the new buildings "overwhelm" the site. The initial and revised studies, in her view, are full of flaws, and more study on the environmental impact should be done, she said.

"No one has determined with authority that Kidspace has met the Secretary of the Interior's standards" for renovation of historic buildings, Mossman said. "They have resisted redesigning to meet the standards, and that makes me most upset of all."

"We believe very strongly we are restoring and rehabilitating the site in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's standards," said Edward Garlock, chairman of the Kidspace Museum board and a former board member of Pasadena Heritage. "In essence, the site is inaccessible now, in terrible derelict condition both in the buildings and the space behind them. Kidspace, by bringing it back to to life, would be making it available to thousands of people."

Not all the neighbors are against Kidspace's plans, and a minority claims to be speaking for everyone, according to East Arroyo resident Colleen Dunn Bates.

"We're worried that a few vehement critics are going to kill a project that the majority of us will use and enjoy," Bates wrote in a letter sent to area residents. "We've talked to many of our friends in the neighborhood who have children, and every one of them wants Kidspace here."

"Most people don't want to fight it we like it," Bates said. "We're happy about it."