Woe is the "City Museum" and the lack of a comprehensive DC cultural plan
The debacle of the DC "City Museum" continues forward. Before the Convention Center opened, the Historical Society of Washington was induced to move from the Heurich Mansion to the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square. The "powers-that-be" wanted this because they thought that the museum would be a draw to attendees of conventions at the Convention Center, but it turned out there wasn't that kind of synergy.
The building was expensive to renovate and operate, and doesn't work very well as a museum anyway--it's small and the dimensions of the building don't lend itself to exhibiting "big stuff."
And the museum as a building and the Historical Society as an organization crashed and burned.
I first wrote about it on the H-DC list in 2004 (and this and this too) but then compiled those writings into the blog when I started writing in earnest back in 2005. From the last cited email:
the city needs a more comprehensive cultural heritage and tourism strategy... Historic preservation, cultural tourism, museums, the Washingtoniana collection, the DC Archives, and other resources need to be considered, promoted, protected, and developed in concert. That includes the provision of municipal resources and the consideration of new government initiatives that could complement this thrust.
In 2011, the city through the Convention Center (Events DC) took over the building on a master lease, with some space on the second floor devoted to the Historical Society functions. See "Events D.C. finalizes lease agreement in Mt. Vernon Square" from the Washington Business Journal.
Yesterday it was announced that the International Spy Museum--which is a for profit business--will be moving into the space. See "Events D.C. to move International Spy Museum into Carnegie Library" from the Washington Business Journal. Although in order to make the space work better, they will do an underground addition.
According to a communication from the Historical Society:
The Historical Society has been in confidential discussions with Events D.C., the city's convention and sports authority, for the relocation of the International Spy Museum to the Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square, our home for the last ten years. The Society intends to maintain its headquarters at the Carnegie in a cooperative arrangement.
The current proposal envisions a 40,000-square-foot underground addition for use by the Spy Museum. In addition, a new glass structure on the north side of the building will house a visitor's center and other dining and entertainment uses.
Our Kiplinger Research Library, exhibition galleries, collections storage areas, and offices would be consolidated in a renovated space within the Carnegie. For those who would like more information, we have compiled a complete FAQ on our website.
Which makes another 2005 entry, which proposed building a new central library, and combining into it visitor center, archives, and museum functions, all the more relevant. See "Central Library Planning efforts and the City Museum, how about some learning from Augusta, Maine ... and Baltimore?"
It probably just makes more sense to move the Historical Society out of the building altogether, which would make them a perfect co-located organization for DC's Central Library. (More on this in the next blog entry.)
But these kinds of cultural planning initiatives should be considered comprehensively, not in a piecemeal fashion. See "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king" (from 2007).