Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego breaks ground on La Jolla expansion, pushes back opening date


On Thursday, Oct. 18, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) broke ground on the latest expansion to its La Jolla campus at 700 Prospect St. It also pushed back its estimated opening date from late 2020 to just “2021” and announced that the entire renovated building will be named after major donors Irwin and Joan Jacobs — although the museum’s official name will not change.

The groundbreaking ceremony was led by MCASD CEO Kathryn Kanjo, board president Paul Jacobs and Annabelle Selldorf, the expansion’s architect.

“Two years ago, on the occasion of our 75th anniversary, the museum announced a transformative vision for the future — a campaign that would dramatically grow the campus and increase its operational endowment,” Kanjo told VIP attendees gathered inside a tent in the shuttered museum’s parking lot. “With the acquisition of additional property, invested stakeholders, and the endorsement of the City of La Jolla and San Diego, the museum is poised to nearly double its size and quadruple current gallery space.”

Asked why the opening date was pushed back, Kanjo told the Light: “I think it’s more like three months. We’re trying to bring the schedule in as tightly as possible. But if they give us the building in November, we’re going to have to contend with the holidays and all of that.”

Also revised was the expansion’s official estimated price tag, which increased from $75 million to $95 million — including a $20 million operating endowment. Kanjo explained: “As the design was fleshed out, realistic numbers were applied to the design, as well as to incorporate inflation and escalated building costs.”

So far, just over $80 million of that total has been raised, Kanjo said. (When asked what happens if the other $15 million isn’t raised, she replied: “It will be raised.”)

Kanjo reported major donations from more than 70 individuals including Matt and Iris Strauss ($10 million) and a gift from Joan and Irwin Jacobs that Kanjo would not specify but that is probably larger than $10 million since no one other than the Jacobs’ got a building named after them. (Exactly what that name would be has not been decided yet, Kanjo said.)

The expansion will replace a 24-space surface lot with 41 underground spaces and a public art park, demolish the Thomas Shepherd-designed neighboring house at 636 Prospect St., and transform the former Sherwood Auditorium into a gallery. Total exhibit space will increase from 10,000 square feet to 40,000. Kanjo said that collectors have promised gifts of art to fill that space. These include major works — both individual pieces and collections — by Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Joan Mitchell and Barnett Newman.

This will be the fifth expansion since MCASD opened in 1941 on the grounds of the Vince Gill-designed former home of Ellen Browning Scripps. (That home, still largely intact, will not be affected by the new expansion, Kanjo said.) Selldorf’s new construction includes a glass-encased lobby 100 feet to the south of Axline Court, the former entrance that will become an educational space. (A petition to reconfigure the expansion so that it would not remove as many elements of the 1996 expansion — the only project in San Diego County designed by venerated architecture firm Venturi Scott Brown — circulated this summer and gained some noteworthy signatories, but did not affect the plans.)

Congressman Scott Peters, San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Supervisor Ron Roberts were also on hand for the ceremony.