Boarded up for decades, the Wetlands building once served as a garage for metropolitan trains and buses. It was originally constructed in 1911 without electric lighting but with large windows instead.
“After you’ve seen dozens and dozens of industrial buildings, it takes about two seconds to appreciate the potential of a building like this, even if it’s disused,” Mr. Govan said on a visit to the site, about an hour’s drive from Lacma. He recalled spotting a former Nabisco box factory on the Hudson when he was head of Dia Art Foundation in New York that he ultimately transformed into Dia: Beacon.
If approved by the City Council on Friday, Lacma’s new site will serve, for starters, about 9,500 students who don’t live near its mid-Wilshire campus. Mr. Govan described an ongoing museum program at the Charles White Elementary School near MacArthur Park that brings students together with contemporary artists and gives them access to museum pieces as sharing similar aims.
Credit Coley Brown for The New York Times
Mr. Govan identified another reason for seeking a satellite space: the museum currently pays for offsite commercial storage, with no such facilities under its own control. A new site could have built-in storage, if renovated to meet standards. He estimated that the Wetlands building would cost “$300 to $400 per square foot zone to renovate, so we’re looking at roughly $25 to $30 million for capital investment.”
Lacma has already spent several years raising money for the transformation of its main Wilshire campus, which involves razing three existing buildings to replace them with a single dramatic structure by the architect Peter Zumthor. With David Geffen’s gift of $150 million, the museum has raised about $450 million but is still $200 million short of its stated budget for construction and related costs.
Despite that big ask still in progress, the museum doesn’t seemed worried about taking on another capital campaign. Mr. Govan said he doesn’t think there would be any overlap in donors, noting that the South L.A. projects appeal to those supporting “a different set of national initiatives toward social justice.”
“Until the funding drive has been finished for Lacma on Wilshire Boulevard, we are not seeking any resources from those who should and can be giving to that campaign,” Mr. Govan said. “We are looking elsewhere.”
The Ford Foundation, which is not involved with the Zumthor project, has already issued a $2 million flexible grant to Lacma “for the acquisitions of sites and community-based programming” in South Los Angeles, said the foundation’s president, Darren Walker. He called the project “a radical idea, not being done at this scale by any museum in America.”