In major Los Angeles museum news (if you haven’t had your fill already), the Los Angeles Times reported earlier today that the Holocaust Museum LA, which opened in its first permanent home at Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax District in 2010, will undergo a significant expansion to nearly double the museum’s footprint from 28,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet. The architect of the original partially sunken-into-the-park museum, Hagy Belzberg of Santa Monica-based Belzberg Architects, has also been tapped for the $45 million expansion.
The project is expected to break ground next year.
Although the Holocaust Museum LA’s award-winning present home adjacent to a black granite Holocaust monument that was erected in the park in 1992 is only a little over a decade old, the institution itself was established in 1961 by a group of Holocaust survivors, making it the first and oldest museum of its kind in the United States. Prior to Pan Pacific Park, the museum was housed in a handful of different rented locations over the years, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles building, and, later, at the Mid-City campus of Los Angeles ORT College, both on Wilshire Boulevard.
Up until September of last year, the institution now known as the Holocaust Museum LA was the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. The renaming, meant to emphasize the Holocaust over the city, came as part of a larger mission-expansion effort that included the creation of a new logo and the launch of robust online educational programming.
As detailed by Carolina A. Miranda for the Times, the expansion includes a new 2,500-square-foot gallery that will host temporary exhibitions, a pair of education-dedicated spaces, and a 200-seat theater that will allow the museum to expand its public programming. While the modestly-sized museum hasn’t necessarily wholly outgrown its home, pre-pandemic visitor numbers have far exceeded initial attendance projections—not at all a bad quandary for a small museum to confront. Per the Times, when the museum opened in its new home in 2010 it anticipated roughly 15,000 yearly visitors; by the time it was temporarily shuttered due to COVID-19, annual visitor numbers had soared past 65,000. (The museum reopened its doors to the public at the end of July with an immersive new exhibit, a holographic experience dubbed Dimension in Testimony for its 60th anniversary.)
As relayed by Beth Kean, the museum’s chief executive, to the Times, the goal moving forward is to gradually reach 500,000 annual visitors by 2030.
To help achieve this, the expansion will dramatically increase the museum’s physical presence at Pan Pacific Park. Belzberg Architects’ green roof-topped subterranean museum building elegantly, stealthily melds into the surrounding 28 acres of parkland—“seared into the earth the way the Holocaust is seared into the modern world,” as the firm has put it. As envisioned in the expansion plans, the half-submerged museum will be topped with a soaring pavilion to be illuminated at night to increase its visibility in the park. It will also house a railroad box car found near Poland’s Majdanek concentration camp.
“One of our goals with the expansion is to illuminate the building,” Kean told the Times. “We want to catch people’s eyes. We want it to be a striking museum and an iconic landmark. We don’t want it to be hard to find.”
In addition to establishing a stronger physical presence at Pan Pacific Park and expanding its interior exhibition space and programming, Kean also explained to the Times that there’s an additional sense of urgency and duty to the expansion. Many Holocaust survivors, in their advanced age, are passing away. As such, the museum wants to be able to continue to share their stories with the public well after the last of the survivors are gone.
The Holocaust Museum LA has already secured $22 million in funding for the $45 million project. This includes a substantial gift from the family of the late Jona Goldrich, a Holocaust survivor from Poland and major supporter of the museum. Earlier today, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced $2.5 million in grant funding will be allocated to the project.