USC Pacific Asia Museum to reopen in early December

The USC Pacific Asia Museum will reopen on Dec. 8 after a year-and-a-half-long renovation of the nearly century-old building. Photo from USC Pacific Asia Museum.

After a year and a half of renovations, USC’s Pacific Asia Museum, located in Pasadena, Calif., is scheduled to reopen on Dec. 8. It underwent seismic retrofitting in late June 2016 to help bring the building up to USC’s codes of stability.

“Pasadena is definitely a place where this cultural heritage is really at the core of the city and there’s a big commitment to that,” Christina Yu Yu, the museum’s director told Pasadena Now.  “Our museum can be a good case study and we are very eager to welcome our visitors and our guests back.”

The building that houses the museum was constructed in 1924 by collector Grace Nicholson and mimics the Imperial Palace courtyard found in Beijing. Many of the building’s materials were imported from China or are close replications of Chinese architecture.

“When she commissioned the building, she was thinking of Asian experience, Asian art, and also a place for her to live in Pasadena right on the premises,” Pasadena Heritage Executive Director Sue Mossman told Pasadena Now. “That was pretty remarkable and forward-looking for her.”

In 1943, Nicholson gave the building to the city of Pasadena, which used it for art until 1971, when the Pacificulture Foundation took over. In 1987, the city sold the building to the Pacificulture Foundation, which renamed it the Pacific Asia Museum.

USC partnered with the museum in 2013 to turn it into the USC Pacific Asia Museum. It strives to increase intercultural awareness of Asia and the Pacific Islands through immersing its visitors in art and culture. Through collaboration among a team of engineers, architects and preservation experts, the renovation is expected to help maintain the building’s history while ensuring it remains accessible to future generations.

“The goal is to not create more change, but rather to fit new systems into the existing fabric,” Mossman told Pasadena Now. “The less change the better is a typical rule of thumb for a preservation project, but sometimes change is critically important because it makes a big difference for the longevity of the building.”

The seismic retrofitting is only the first stage in a series of reconstruction, but it was the most extensive, costing millions of dollars. The museum offered moving exhibitions throughout the community, including at Doheny Library, during the renovation as the work had to be cleared from the building. 

“We even had to pack our 15,000 pieces of art and move it offsite,” Yu Yu said to Pasadena Now. “This is the only time we need to move the collection because we do not want to disturb these treasures from hundreds of years ago. In later phases we do not need to move our collection.”

During the renovation, staff also focused on conducting a permanent collection survey of the works in the museum. This will allow the museum to focus on future exhibitions based on current works, according to a museum press release. The construction also included a 700-square-foot expansion, which will increase gallery space for visitors.