Chinese American Museum Receives Big Donation

In 2016, the Friends of the Chinese American Museum, the nonprofit responsible for supporting the Chinese American Museum, settled on a path to expand the footprint of the museum at the 44-acre El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. Last week, that plan took an important step forward after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved $730,000 toward the expansion of the Chinese American Museum, closing a fundraising gap needed to commence the renovation plan. 

Michael Troung, executive director of the Chinese American Museum, said that the expansion will allow for the museum to approach exhibits in a new and refreshing way.

“It’s really an opportunity for us to continue to move forward with our mission to share the Chinese American experience in Los Angeles,” Troung said. “With a larger space we can do so with a multifaceted approach.”

The first phase of the expansion project will add a new 1,500 square-foot gallery to the museum at 511 N. Main St., increasing the public gallery floor space by nearly 25%. The entire plan is expected to cost $1.2 million.

The Friends of the Chinese American Museum had previously entered into a memorandum of agreement with the City to raise funds to develop the site, later completing architectural plans and construction bids. Troung said that now that the funds have been awarded the museum can select a contractor to handle the expansion.

The funds are allocated through the Safe Neighborhood Parks Proposition of 1996 (better known as Prop. A), which provides additional funding for the development and restoration of parks and community facilities. According to Troung, the motion will close a fundraising gap for the project, with the rest being privately financed. The motion to allocate the funds comes from First District County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes Chinatown.

“I am excited to be able to provide critical funding needed to supplement the Friends of the Chinese American Museum’s efforts to expand their existing museum with a new gallery space,” Solis said in a prepared statement.

FCAM President Dr. Gay Yuen, expressed her gratitude for the Supervisor’s support in a prepared statement.

“This is a testament to the hard work and loyalty of the museum supporters, board and staff,” Yuen said.

According to Troung, the expansion will allow the museum to host more exhibits concurrently, and alter the types of exhibits that the museum can provide. Gallery space has always been a premium at the Chinese American Museum. Located in the 18,000-square-foot Garnier Building, the museum holds three permanent exhibit: Journeys, which follows Chinese immigration to the United States, with an emphasis on Los Angeles, Sun Wing Wo General Store and Herb Shop, a recreation of the actual store that was once housed in the Garnier Building, and Origins: The Birth and Rise of Chinese American Communities in Los Angeles, which, as the name suggests, traces the growth of Chinese American neighborhoods in areas like Downtown and the San Gabriel Valley.

On most occasions, the museum houses one nonpermanent exhibit in the upstairs gallery. The most recent exhibit, Lightscapes: Re-envisioning the Shanshuihua, wrapped up last month.

Troung said that one of the first exhibits eyed for the new gallery space, would be focused on the history behind the Garnier Building.

“There is so much history in this building that we wanted to tell the story,” Troung said. “Not to just say, hey, the museum is here, that is why the building is historic, but to point out that the museum is here, because this building is historic.”

The Chinese American Museum began as a joint venture between the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California and the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument nearly three decades ago. A committee was formed in 1984 to explore options to preserve El Pueblo’s historic Garnier building, constructed as part of the city’s original Chinatown in 1890. Twelve years prior, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, as part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District.

In 1987, the Friends of Chinese American Museum, a group of historians, teachers and community members, was formed and began fundraising for their envisioned museum. The Los Angeles City Council initially allocated just 2,500 square feet of the buildings to the museum, later expanding the museum’s footprint almost a decade later to 7,200 square feet.

CAM officially opened on Dec. 18, 2003, becoming one of Southern California’s first museums dedicated to the Chinese American experience and the first museum focused on the Chinese Americans in Los Angeles. The museum also operates an adjacent building at 425 N. Los Angeles St.

Troung said that the museum is looking at breaking ground on the expansion in one-two months, and expects construction to take no more than six months. Both of the timeframes are estimates however. The age of the Garnier Building, Troung said, might cause a few hiccups during construction, which might alter the pace.

During construction, Troung said that the museum would remain open, with no interruptions to day-to-day operation.

The Chinese American Museum is not the only El Pueblo entity to receive a facelift. The Wall of Honor, which is located at Father Serra Park and recognizes all Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, will receive $20,000 from Solis’ discretionary funds to add additional names to the wall.

Currently, the wall holds close to 3,000 names; 3,502 individuals have been awarded the honor.

sthomas@timespublications.com.