Los Angeles Galleries and Museum at Odds Over Bergamot Station Revamp

The fate of the Santa Monica Museum of Art hangs in the balance.

An opening reception at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
Photo: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.

The most recent Santa Monica City Council meeting (September 9) regarding renovation plans for Bergamot Station—a multi-acre site that houses the Santa Monica Museum of Art and roughly 40 galleries—was a telling one. Hearings and deliberations on selecting a possible developer lasted more than five hours and included laborious discussions about parking, dining venues, the museum’s expansion, and a possible new hotel. In the end, the city council voted (5-1) for Worthe Real Estate Group, a local business whose plan has widely been deemed the most conservative and least likely to radically alter the longstanding arts center.

A more expansive proposal from rival developer 26Street TOD, which was backed by some staff members from various city council departments, including cultural affairs manager Jessica Cusick, was shelved for the time being. That plan was widely viewed as being more favorable to the Santa Monica Museum of Art than to the galleries. A report in the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the museum would have received a fully paid-for new building and a $10-million endowment. The decision for Worthe is not binding. As the Times points out: “There’s no guarantee that a final agreement will be reached, and no obligation on the city’s part to go ahead with the Worthe plan.”

Cusick told artnet News via email: ” Five of the six council members present that night felt that the Worthe team would be a better potential partner for the City and directed the City Manager to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Worthe team. City staff will be entering into a negotiating process and will return to Council with updates as that process moves forward.”


Bergamot Station.
Photo: CalderOliver, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wayne Blank, co-owner of Shoshana Wayne Gallery, was pleased with the result, telling artnet News: “City Council overwhelmingly chose the developer with the best plan.” Blank criticized certain elements of the 26Street TOD plan for “ignoring both the community and what the galleries wanted.” He cited, for example, a proposed underground parking garage that he says would have “destroyed Bergamot. You can’t dig up the cement to put in underground parking and expect galleries to stay in business.” Blank says a “big schism” had developed between the galleries and the museum where historically “a friendly atmosphere” existed for most of the roughly 15 years they have co-existed there.

“We are pleased that Santa Monica City Council has made the decision to enter into exclusive negotiations with a developer and move forward with the revitalization of Bergamot Station,” a spokesperson for the museum told artnet News via email. “The Santa Monica Museum of Art is looking forward to working closely with the City, the Worthe Group, and our neighbors to transform Bergamot into a vibrant town square, a bright star in the cultural latticework formed by the coming Metro Expo line.”

Whichever plan the city goes ahead with, it will not necessarily be smooth sailing for the museum. While the galleries occupy a five-acre section of city-owned land, the museum occupies a portion of privately owned land, owned by none other than Blank and his partner Shoshana Blank. He gripes that they “pay less than what other tenants do,” and have “ignored rent increases over the years.” Blank adds that the museum is “basically not able to meet their expenses.”

According to the City Council’s 26Street proposal: “In 1989 the City purchased the site with transit funds with the goal of serving future transit needs in Santa Monica and providing a source of revenue for the Big Blue Bus. The Exposition (‘Expo)’ light rail line is scheduled to open in early 2016 immediately adjacent to the Site…[which] will bring significant new activity to the Site.”

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