Monday, January 30, 2006

The Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents yesterday announced that a new museum dedicated to black history will be built near the Washington Monument within the next 10 years.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will occupy a 5-acre plot across the street from the National Museum of American History on Constitution Avenue Northwest in the District.

“We believe that we picked the best possible site,” said Roger W. Sant, chairman of the regents’ executive committee, noting the proposed museum’s proximity to one of the Mall’s most recognized landmarks. “The Mall is a scenic place for all Americans … and we think that it would be appropriate to be there.”

Mr. Sant promised that the design process for the museum — whose estimated cost is between $300 million and $350 million — would be sensitive to its location on the increasingly crowded Mall.

The anticipated 350,000-square-foot museum complex would stand about 800 feet from the Washington Monument — the length of about 22/3 football fields.

“I thought this was an important site,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, director of the new museum. “The selection of the site ensures that the history will be available for all those that visit the Mall.”

Sixteen of the Board of Regents’ 17 members — led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as chancellor — yesterday voiced approval for the nearby Washington Monument acreage over three other proposed sites for the black-history museum. Vice President Dick Cheney, who also belongs to the board, did not attend the vote.

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small said officials will begin working on architectural plans with the National Capitol Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

“This helps to make the museum concrete,” Mr. Bunch said. “To have a home really realizes that this is on the way.”

Yet Smithsonian officials said there may be some local opposition to the site because it is on land that already is used frequently for Mall events and recreation. And depending on its height, the museum could obscure the view of the Washington Monument.

The black-history complex would be the 19th museum that the Smithsonian has built, the most recent of which is the National Museum of the American Indian. Opened in September 2004, the American-Indian museum cost a little more than $220 million.

Half of the expected $300 million cost of the black-history museum is to be provided by private contributions and the other half by the federal government.

President Bush authorized the museum as a part of the Smithsonian in December 2003.

The complex — which will be comparable in size to the American-Indian museum — will become the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of black life, art, history and culture.

“The museum’s collections will cover topics as varied as slavery, post-Civil War Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement,” according to the Smithsonian’s Web site (

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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