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Laguna Gloria gets a new lease on life

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Photo: Exterior of Laguna Gloria Photo: Grounds of Laguna Gloria

Laguna Gloria has always been an important part of Austin. Once the magnificent private villa of philanthropist Clara Driscoll. Now the building and it's grounds have been restored to its former beauty.

The Austin Museum of Art (AMOA), which outgrew the villa as its home years ago, has been on a roller coaster ride for nearly 20 years trying to develop a permanent home. With talk of building a new museum downtown to complement Laguna Gloria's needs for repair were also considered. Since space was created for displays in a Congress Avenue Bank building, Laguna Gloria has become the home of Austin's Art School and some of the other activities of the museum.

Now with the finished restoration of Laguna Gloria there is more optimism about a permanent downtown location for AMOA.

Photo: Lawrence Miller
View a clip of the restoration and museum background.

"I think the mistake that we made in 1985 is that we did not start building immediately," said Lawrence Miller who was the director of AMOA from 1974-1990.

"If we had gotten the city to let us go ahead with construction even though we didn't know what the final design was going to be. We would have had a museum."

Many Austinites remember when the plans for a permanent downtown location fell through.

"Of course everyone is disappointed that we don't have a museum yet," said Michael Barnes, art critic for the Austin American-Statesman."But these things do take time they don't happen over night."

The result of the roller coaster ride has created skepticism among many Austinites. And then the economic downturn left AMOA with two projects -- restoring LaGuna Gloria and building a new downtown location. AMOA decided to halt the downtown project and prove to the community that it could restore LaGuna Gloria.

Photo: Dana Friis-Hansen
View a clip of future plans and unanswered questions.

"What we decided to do was to start with the smaller one first," said Dana Friis-Hansen. "To prove to the community that we could succeed with a project that returns to the public our spectacular historic property to all its splendor."

Michael Barnes said he thinks the restoration will change the public's attitude.

"I don't think anyone lost faith in the museum altogether," said Barnes. "They still continue wonderful programs. The school is great. Dana Friis-Hansen is putting on wonderful show's -- high quality shows -- downtown."

Laguna Gloria was never intended to be the place where Austin's art collection hung. Most people would agree that a new downtown museum is still needed.

Photo: Judith Sims
View a clip of the restoration and how the new space will be used.

"So what we're doing is emphasizing the possibilities of learning about art and learning about culture and how this art relates to people's lives," said Friis-Hansen. "So that's what we're focusing on while the board and the staff does strategic planning to plot and plan a course of action that can be realized."

Despite the unanswered questions of when a more permanent museum will be built downtown, there is new ground being broken with the restoration of Laguna Gloria.

"It feels so good to get this done," said Judith Sims, art school director.

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Produced by Domenique Bellavia.


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