Glendale Lauds Museum’s Rise

Glendale Lauds Museum’s Rise
Culture: The design for the Armenian American Museum and Cultural Center.

From its inception, the Armenian American Museum and Cultural Center project in Glendale has garnered a wealth of support from local residents, public officials — and the business community.

For many of those business owners, the cause is personal, a classic American story of giving to the community that allowed them to live a successful life after immigrating here. Ron Arakelian III, owner of Athens Services in City of Industry, said he was motivated to become a major donor to the project to “ensure the legacy of our collective families’ history.”

“We’re Armenian by descent and we’ve been supportive of Armenian causes,” he said. “This was a really interesting, important project and being so entrenched in the Los Angeles area as a business family, it just seemed like a really good opportunity to jump in.”

After breaking ground in 2021, the museum is slated to open its doors in 2025. Its planners hope it will become a signature museum space in Los Angeles County, home to a living history of the Armenian diaspora and other local communities who wish to exhibit or perform there about their own cultures.

Shant Sahakian at the construction site of the Armenian American Museum and Cultural Center in Glendale. (Photo by Ringo Chiu)

“It is exciting to see the entire community come together to support a project that is primarily intended for education, cultural enrichment, but also recognizing the significant impact it’s going to have on the local community, Glendale businesses and quality of life,” said Shant Sahakian, executive director of the museum. “The business community is one of the key partners to have stepped up and provided support financially but also in terms of spreading the word and spreading awareness for the project.”

An easy sell

When he received a mailer about the then-potential museum in 2018 and inquired further about it, Kevonian said it was an easy sell.

Among a worldwide Armenian diaspora, a large number reside here in the United States. And California, especially Southern California, is where they have become most influential.

“America has been great to our family. It’s been a lot of hard work and perseverance, but they call America the land of opportunity for a reason,” Arakelian said. “To be in a position 100 years later from an immigrant coming here with literally just a shirt on his back to being able to support a museum that honors the legacy of the Armenian American community feels good.”

The Arakelians are among a swath of significant donors among the business community and will have naming rights to the main entrance plaza. Arakelian also serves on the museum’s board of governors.

Other business-affiliated donors include Valencia-based Armen Living as well as the Massis Kabob restaurant chain and Pacific BMW dealer, both based in Glendale.

Sahakian said it has been helpful for the project’s development to garner the support from local entrepreneurs, who can be influential.

Of the $35 million construction budget, $19.6 million has come through state funding following successful lobbying efforts from state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman and then-Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian. The Los Angeles County government kicked in $1 million courtesy of Supervisor Kathryn Barger, and Congressmember Adam Schiff secured $950,000 in federal funding.

The rest has come from fundraising and donations — and one business chipping in opens the door for others, Sahakian said.

“It has a major impact because what it does is that it helps attract other members of the business community and other leaders to help us contribute to realizing this vision of a cultural center in the community,” he said. “Certainly, the Armenian American community is playing a significant role in promoting the project, but we have a lot of businesses who have significant number of employees of Armenian descent. We also have a sign number of businesses here who recognize that a lot of their customers are Armenian and are looking for ways to support that community.”

Phase one of the museum’s construction — what will essentially be the subterranean portion — is complete. Now, the work will rise upward, where two stories and 50,820 square feet of museum space will be built on Colorado Street on the edge of downtown. The general contractor is Irwindale-based PNG Builders and the principal architect is Glendale-based Alajajian Marcoosi Architects. 

Armenia’s importance 

The facility will house permanent and temporary exhibition space, as well as an archives center, auditorium and demonstration kitchen. While much of the education and news coverage on Armenia and Armenians relates to the genocide perpetrated upon them by the Ottoman Empire during World War 1, this museum promises to paint the whole picture — it being the first nation to adopt Christianity, its involvement in the Silk Road and the Crusades and how the diaspora has integrated with its new communities.

“Of course, you have the genocide, which is a big unfortunate portion of our history,” said Gevik Baghdassarian, co-owner of Massis Kabob, “but they’re focusing on the present, what Armenians have accomplished in this country, how they’ve become American and benefitted this country and from this country.”

The United States shines as a special beacon for many in the Armenian diaspora, in many cases for its relative stability as a refuge. Other nations that have historically housed pockets of Armenians — Iran, Lebanon, Syria — have periodically experienced instability that created a new stream of refugees. As examples, Armen Living President Kevin Kevonian’s family immigrated here in 1975, during the Lebanese Civil War, and his wife’s family from Argentina during its so-called Dirty War.

“We’re spread out across the world, but half of the countries that Armenian immigrated to had turmoil of their own. Many of us were forced to move again,” Kevonian said. “America has been able to bring all of us together and I think the museum unifies us even more.”

For local Armenian families, the museum exhibits will not necessarily be anything new or different for them. Rather, it’ll be a way for others to learn about Armenian history and, through its temporary spaces, even a way for other groups to explore their own histories.

However, it may also be a draw for those still living in Armenia or in other nations. Sahakian said people reach out from overseas constantly inquiring about the museum, which he is hoping to turn into “part of their journey as a must-visit” whenever they visit family here or come as tourists.

“We know that there is a lot of people that are itching for the day that we are open and can start welcoming people,” he said. 

No posts to display