Election a Boost for Smithsonian's Latino Museum?

The effects of last night's election will be felt all over Washington -- including, possibly, a site favored by supporters of the National Museum of the American Latino, adjacent to the Capitol.

For years, they have been trying to secure political support for the museum, which would be part of the Smithsonian Institution. Now those supporters say the museum's time has come.

Henry R. Muñoz III, chief executive of Kell Muñoz Architects, a large San Antonio-based firm, is chairman of the commission lobbying for the museum. An Obama bundler (he promised to raise at least $500,000 this election cycle), he isn't shy about using political connections. During a lunch in New York before the election, he said he was buoyed by headlines about the importance of the Latino vote.

"Latinos deliver the election, and that's when things start to happen for the museum," Muñoz predicted.

In 2011, the National Museum of the American Latino Commission released a study that examined more than a dozen possible sites for the museum before settling on two, both on the National Mall; one is the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building, completed in 1881 and now in the midst of a renovation. But that building would require an annex, possibly on the site of the Department of Energy's James E. Forrestal building, which some in Washington expect to be torn down. The other site -- Muñoz's favorite -- is a trapezoidal lot, containing a park, immediately northwest of the Capitol. But a rendering in the 2011 report, in which the building seems to partially block views of the Capitol from Pennsylvania Avenue, probably isn't helpful to the cause.

Obtaining Congressional approval for a building on the Mall has been challenge. In 2011, Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, told The New York Times that he didn't want to see a situation "where whites go to the original museum, African-Americans go to the African-American museum, Indians go to the Indian museum, Hispanics go to the Latino American museum. That's not America."

But Muñoz and others believe that the story of Latino culture deserves to be told -- on the Mall -- and that the president's re-election will give the project the momentum it needs. The Smithsonian has long had a working group studying the museum, Muñoz said. "They're saying, 'We know there's going to be one -- it's in the best interests of the Smithsonian to begin to understand it.'" The Commission envisions a building of about 310,000 square feet, the same size as the African-American museum now under construction at the western end of the Mall (as well an additional 49,000 square feet for storage).

One problem for Muñoz will be deciding whether to continue on as head of the museum commission. His firm, which describes itself as the largest minority-owned architecture firm in Texas, might have a shot at designing the building, but not if he is involved in the selection process.

Now that Obama has been reelected, Muñoz said, he has to decide whether to remain on the commission or promote Kell Muñoz for the job.

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