All of Los Angeles seems excited about the space shuttle Endeavor touching down at its new home, the California Science Center, which is making room for the iconic flyer by the end of this year with a temporary home.
But one building in the Science Center complex in Exposition Park is getting much less attention. In fact, some think it’s doomed. And so preservationists are pushing to get Frank Gehry’s Air and Space Gallery—once a major part of the Science Center, but now shuttered—on the California Register of Historical Resources.
“There are many rumors, but the best I can tell is that the future of the building is unknown at this time,” said Kelly Sutherlin McLeod, a preservation architect who is leading the effort to get the building listed. The nomination, put together by McLeod and Galvin Preservation Associates (with help from Gehry’s firm), was sent to the state office of historic preservation on June 1. The process could take a number of months, said McLeod, and the matter has been placed on the state office’s November agenda.
Originally known as the California Aerospace Hall, the building went up in 1984 to coincide with the Los Angeles Olympics. To its east the structure’s elevation has a rectangular stucco facade, but to its west it morphs into an angular seven-sided polygon with sheet-metal cladding. It is known as Gehry’s first major public work.
“Gehry is a master architect and this is a pivotal work in his career,” said McLeod, who is a partner at Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture in Long Beach.
According to the listing: “After completing the Aerospace Museum, he was commissioned to design high-profile museums and public projects all over the world. As such, the museum marked a critical turning point in Frank Gehry’s career and helped make him the household name he is today.”
The building was closed last July—its collection was moved into the Science Center’s main building to “provide greater visibility of the artifacts and enhance the guest experience,” according to Science Center spokesperson Paula Wagner. The building’s future, said Wagner, “has not been worked out yet. There are currently no plans for it to reopen.” She added that the Center takes no position, pro or con, on register listing. Laura O’Neill, associate architectural historian with Galvin Preservation Associates, confirms that the museum was not opposed to a listing on the state register.
But with the Science Center planning an update to its main building, some in the preservation community have speculated that the building could be significantly altered, said McLeod. If the building were placed on the state register, it would force the museum to “review the impact,” said O’Neill, possibly through an Environmental Impact Report, if it chose to alter or demolish the building.
McLeod, who noted that several Gehry buildings have already been torn down, was sure to mention that even if the building is listed, that will not completely protect it from alteration.
“It’s really so it can be on the radar screen so that if changes are proposed, they can be reviewed,” said McLeod.