Smithsonian adds American Indian museum

Groundbreaking to begin on Mall's last empty plot

September 28, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- After 10 years of planning, the Smithsonian Institution will break ground today for the National Museum of the American Indian on the last empty plot on the National Mall, which runs between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument.

The museum's limestone-clad design -- created in consultation with Indian leaders and shaped to evoke the wind- and water-carved rock formations of the American West -- is expected to contrast sharply with the Greek Revival, Victorian and modern buildings lining the Mall.

The $110 million, 270,000-square-foot building will be on 4 acres between the Capitol and the National Air and Space Museum, and will be large enough to show only a tiny fraction of the Smithsonian's 800,000-piece American Indian collection.

Developers have quibbled over costs and design, but with $60 million in privately donated funds and strong congressional backing, the museum is on track for completion in 2002.

"Our final installment of $19 million is in the House and Senate appropriations bills," museum director Richard West said yesterday in a speech at the National Press Club. "We've always had enough to keep this project moving."

Today's groundbreaking was supposed to take place last year, but was postponed after the museum's designer, Douglas J. Cardinal, was fired in a contract dispute.

The project was put into motion in 1989, when President George Bush signed legislation establishing the museum as part of the Smithsonian.

"Completing the National Museum of the American Indian has been a key goal during my tenure," said I. Michael Heyman, secretary of the Smithsonian, which includes 17 institutes of science and history.

The collection will be put together with Indian tribes' advice and will boast an array of exhibits from shields, weavings and pottery to writing, performances and art.

Pub Date: 9/28/99

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