National Museum of the American Latino
Dear Chairman Muñoz:
The Commission of Fine Arts appreciated the opportunity to hear the information presentation on the site assessment study for the proposed National Museum of the American Latino at its meeting of 15 July, as part of the consultation required under the authorizing legislation. The Commission members expressed their enthusiasm for the great potential of the museum and gave the following comments regarding the site selection process.
Noting the complexity of selecting a site for a national museum, the Commission members emphasized the necessity of finding a site of appropriate symbolic prominence that can also accommodate the operational needs and physical structure of a museum. Given the scarcity of vacant building sites directly on the National Mall, they agreed that the greatest opportunity lies in the reuse of an existing structure such as the Arts and Industries Building, an idea that can have tremendous impact and transformative power, as well as supporting contemporary values of sustainability. The Commission members noted the recommendations of the Monumental Core Framework Plan for the Arts and Industries Building and the Department of Agriculture Whitten Building, as well as the highly prominent 10th Street Overlook site, as ideal locations for this type of institution. They also expressed great enthusiasm for the approach of extending the museum with a series of Latino-related programs in multiple locations, a strategy that would differentiate the institution from others like it in Washington.
As part of the consultation process with the Commission, the following additional observations may be helpful in the site selection process. Development on several of the sites under consideration would be severely constrained by established setbacks as well as by the need to avoid impacts on multiple historic architectural and landscape resources—resulting necessarily in a museum that is awkwardly split by a major thoroughfare in order to accommodate the proposed program. In particular, the site identified on the Washington Monument Grounds would be problematic due to its small buildable area and sensitive historic setting. However, the Whitten Building presents a strong opportunity for further consideration if the museum could occupy the entire building, rather than a single wing supplemented by additions, as an appropriate location directly on the Mall and sufficiently large to accommodate all of the museum's needs in a single structure.
The Commission of Fine Arts encourages the National Museum of the American Latino Commission to be as forward-looking as possible in considering sites, noting that an emphasis on expediency today may not yield the best site in the long term.
The Commission and its staff are available for further consultation as you finalize your report and move toward the realization of this important national institution.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Hon. Henry R. Muñoz III, Chairman
National Museum of the American Latino Commission
1849 C Street, NW, Room 3561
Washington, DC 20240
cc: Antonio Fiol-Silva, Wallace Roberts & Todd