Anyone interested in doing research at the library of the Historical Society of Washington in the City Museum of Washington may work there despite the closure of the museum building. The library remains open to all interested researchers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Articles about the closure of the City Museum of Washington in Style on Nov. 10 and in Metro on Nov. 29 incorrectly said that only scholars could work there. (Published 11/30/04)
The board of the troubled City Museum of Washington voted yesterday to close the museum Nov. 28 because of ongoing financial difficulties.
Although exhibitions will be closed to the public, the landmark building across from the Washington Convention Center will remain available for party rentals. The library of the Historical Society of Washington, which rents the property from the District government, will be open to scholars by appointment.
A month ago, the board decided it could stretch the life of the museum, which has been plagued by a lack of funds and patrons, to next spring. However, Thornell Page, co-chair of the board, said that when an expected $1 million subsidy from Congress did not materialize, the board decided it couldn't undertake any new costs.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said she was angry at Congress's role in the demise of the museum, dedicated to Washington beyond the federal government.
"It is unthinkable that there would no longer be a City Museum, that the city and the Congress could not keep a museum open about one of the most historical locales in the country," said Norton, a native Washingtonian.
Leslie Shapiro, a co-chair of the museum, said the staff would lose 15 people over the next few weeks, with only a small administrative staff remaining.
The museum struggled to find its footing in a city of popular museums and historical attractions. By the end of August, the museum had attracted only 36,536 paying patrons. When it opened in May 2003, officials estimated it would draw anywhere from 100,000 to 450,000 people in the first year.
Overhead costs for keeping the building opened were estimated at $500,000 a year. That was offset by the income from rentals, which are estimated at $600,000 to $700,000 a year.
The City Museum's closing puts the exhibition "Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community" in limbo; the museum had planned it to run from December through April. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, which developed the show, was given abrupt notice about the space's unavailability, said Laura Cohen Apelbaum, its executive director. The society is looking for another location.
Page and Shapiro said the museum's planning committee continues to look into a future incarnation of the City Museum. "Hope springs eternal," Shapiro said.