November 23, 2014

Archeology

Bone of Contention

A new slate of board members considers moving the Graves Museum.

Pat Dunnigan | 8/1/2004
For more than a decade, the Graves Museum of Archaeology and Natural History has survived in the unlikeliest of locations -- wedged among gas stations, fast-food restaurants and budget hotels on a crowded strip of U.S. 1 between Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale.

It briefly garnered national attention four years ago after a local amateur paleontologist with ties to the family that found a 75 million-year-old fossil believed to establish evidence of a link between dinosaurs and birds persuaded them to donate the fossil to the Graves Museum.

But in recent years, the modest local landmark has found itself struggling for survival amid mounting debt, lingering personality disputes and competing views of its future.

A rift between the museum's founder, amateur archaeologist Gypsy Graves, her daughter Kate Gaskill and a group of board and staff members has plagued the museum's management for years, leaving the institution foundering in lawsuits while its debts went unpaid.

But a recent court-ordered election of new board members has put in place longtime museum volunteer Donald Dietz, who seems to have the support of both factions.

Dietz is hopeful that he can bring peace to the organization. The new slate of candidates, he says, makes it likely there will be a consensus to sell the building and attempt to start over. Graves and her supporters oppose that idea. But the recent election has left them outside, for the most part.

"I would have to say if you take a look at the board as they were elected, favor would be toward liquidating our debt by the sale of the building," Dietz says.

A local maritime training organization has offered $2 million for the property. But an offer by Rouse Co. to give the museum space in Mizner Park in Boca Raton was scuttled by the court ruling that mandated new elections. It's unclear whether that proposal could be revived.

Meanwhile, Graves and Gaskill hope to convince the new board to reconsider their proposal to take out a $1.5-million private loan to get the museum back on its feet at the current location.

While Gaskill says she and her mother don't oppose a move, they believe it makes more sense to stay.

It's probably a long shot. The new board still includes some who blame Graves and Gaskill for the disarray. Still both sides seem ready to move past the finger-pointing.

"My goal," says Dietz, "is to bring these factions together and resolve these problems in-house, without litigation."

Tags: Southeast

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