Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Monterey Maritime Museum plans a metamorphosis from a funky collection of seafaring memorabilia to a tourist magnet potentially rivaling the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Pam Crowe Weisberg, who recently took the helm at the museum, has said it will close its doors for 12 to 18 months, beginning in January, to complete the makeover, which will include a name change to reflect a new focus on the city’s history, not just its maritime heritage. But the museum must first get permission for the shutdown from its landlord, the city of Monterey. Last week the City Council considered the proposal in closed session, but did not grant automatic approval.
The museum, run by the Monterey History and Art Association, has been a financial and administrative nightmare for the past five years, according to city officials and board members. Now the city – and potential funders – want assurances it will shape up.
Board chairman John Greenwald says the museum has borrowed from its endowment to keep the lights on and pay salaries. “We’re tearing off wood from the side of our house to keep the fire going,” Greenwald says. “It’s unsustainable – that’s why we’re taking what people think is a radical step.”
The museum is loaded with potential, says Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer, but the City Council now wants a step-by-step rundown for the future, including audited financial statements and a blueprint for success.
“They have an amazing collection, but it’s not presented in a way that’s interesting and interactive,” Meurer says.
Last month, the museum laid off much-beloved local historian Tim Thomas, a move which, along with the proposed shift from a purely maritime focus, has drawn fire at recent council meetings. It has gone through five executive directors in as many years, according to Meurer, and placed two historic properties on the block – the Queen Anne-style Perry Downer house on Van Buren Street, which the museum purchased to showcase its collection of period costumes, and the Fremont Adobe, currently home to Parker Lusseau Pastries, on Hartnell. “We can’t afford to keep spending money keeping them up,” Greenwald says.
The Perry Downer house, offered at $1.2 million, is currently in escrow, and the museum is now considering two offers on the Fremont Adobe, Crowe Weisberg says.
Meurer expects the City Council to give conditional approval for the temporary museum closure in early January.