Groundbreaking for new museum announced

The Catalina Island Museum celebrated the 60th anniversary of its opening earlier this year, but there’s no reason to stop the champagne from flowing quite yet.  

Construction will soon begin on the museum’s future home: the new Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building located on Metropole Avenue, near the heart of Avalon.  Construction is expected to take over a year, and the new museum is slated to open in early 2015.

The Catalina Island Museum celebrated the 60th anniversary of its opening earlier this year, but there’s no reason to stop the champagne from flowing quite yet.  

Construction will soon begin on the museum’s future home: the new Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building located on Metropole Avenue, near the heart of Avalon.  Construction is expected to take over a year, and the new museum is slated to open in early 2015.

“We’re different than most museums,” Dr. Michael De Marsche, Executive Director of the museum recently stated.  “We have been established for quite a long time, but we’ve never had a permanent building.  When Philip Wrigley led the effort to establish a museum in 1953, he was generous enough to provide a space on the ground level of the Casino.  It’s a superb space and a wonderful location.  

“We’ve certainly prospered there.  But during all these years, we’ve actually rented the space.  And there were severe limitations to our ability to grow. Visitors to the museum consistently rate the museum as one of the best attractions in Avalon.  But they almost invariably comment that they wanted to see more. We are completely unable to expand and acquire more exhibition space.”

All of that is now about to change. The new museum building, designed by the architectural firm of Marengo Morton Architects of La Jolla, will provide well over 11,000 square feet of space and offer more than four times the overall square footage of the present museum.

Visitors to the new museum can expect all the amenities.  A spacious entrance lobby and visitor center will offer an impressive welcome.  A digital theater is accessible just off the main lobby and will begin every visitor’s tour of the museum with a film about Catalina Island’s history. A museum store will be accessible just off the lobby, and an outdoor atrium featuring a wall of cascading water is a highlight.  

Expansive exhibition galleries are dedicated to the island’s history and to temporary exhibitions, many of which will travel to the island.  

“We’re particularly excited about our Special Exhibitions gallery,” De Marsche says.  “It will allow us to bring to the island art and photography exhibitions from anywhere in the world.  And our gallery dedicated to the exhibition of plein air painting will allow us to exhibit for the first time our entire collection dedicated to this area.”

One of the most unusual features of the museum is the amount of exterior space that exists both on the building’s rooftop and in the gardens immediately adjacent to the museum.  

“We wanted to take advantage of our outstanding climate,” De Marsche observes.  “Our entertainment spaces are actually on our rooftop and will, I believe, become immensely popular for special events and occasions like dinners, opening receptions and weddings.  We really tried to think outside the box when approaching the entire building, but I think the garden is completely unique.  We placed a large projection screen on one of the buildings directly opposite an amphitheater in the garden that seats over 100 people.  It will allow us to show films in the evening and provide an entertaining augment to any event.“

The new museum building is one of the largest construction projects on Catalina Island since the completion of the Avalon Casino in 1929.  As anyone who has endeavored to complete even a small project on the island can testify, construction on Santa Catalina represents a considerable challenge.  But the new building will represent one of the first to utilize modular construction.

“We explored conventional ways of building, but the costs were too high,” De Marsche states.  “Our building will be one of the most stable on the island, with steel reinforcement throughout its infrastructure.  But the majority of the walls will be built and prepared on the mainland, and then barged to the island.  

“They will be joined onsite, which represents the most cost effective way of building.  We’ll be the first museum I know of using this method of construction.  We will represent to any future building project facing the same challenges we are an effective and less expensive way of building.”

Perhaps no single destination on Catalina Island is as popular with residents and visitors alike as the Catalina Island Museum.  The museum’s special exhibitions devoted to the Chicago Cubs, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Spencer Davis and Hollywood Celebrities attracted the largest crowds in its history.  

Admissions to the museum zoomed up 62 percent in 2011.  The growth in museum membership has been even more dramatic.  In February of 2011 the museum had fewer than 300 members.  Today, membership to the museum is at a record 2,000 members and growing.  

“Obviously, history is important not only to residents of the island but visitors also,” De Marsche states.  “The museum’s Board of Trustees was very direct about the building’s exterior appearance.  They wanted it to not only reflect Avalon, but to provide the island with a work of architecture that could be viewed by future generations as the island’s finest example of institutional building.  

“We decided to create a building that blended the mission style with the art deco of the 1920s.  You’ll see echoes of the Avalon Casino and even the bird park in the building’s façade.  But I think we were at our most inventive when looking for the art deco piece of the façade.  

“We found it in the famous marquee located at Wrigley Field.  This inspired the museum’s entrance and the highest portion of our facade.  

“We thought it a very fitting tribute to the Wrigley family, the city of Chicago and the Cubs—all of which play an important role in Avalon’s history.  It was our way of demonstrating that history will always play a role in shaping our beautiful island.”

The public is invited to a formal ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking of the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building.  The groundbreaking will take place on the building’s site on November 2 at 4 p.m.

For more information about the ceremony or the Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building, please call 310-510-4650 or visit www.CatalinaMuseum.org.

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon’s sole institution devoted to art, culture and history.  The museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website: CatalinaMuseum.org.

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