At 11:11 a.m. on 1/11/11, Dalí Museum executive director Hank Hine stepped to the podium in front of a crowd of about 1,000 outside the new $36 million building and said, "Welcome."
Many other things were subsequently said by him and 17 other museum leaders, public officials and dignitaries, including the Infanta Cristina, daughter of Spain's king and queen.
But the overriding sentiments on Tuesday were contained in that first word, loaded with both pride and relief. Pride, as more than one speaker noted, in the ambitious plan and a supportive community. And relief, as others remarked, that it got built.
The museum's opening day was a joyous mix of traditional civic huzzahs and eccentric personal gestures from a broad cross-section of people, from infants to retirees, who came from nearby neighborhoods and further continents for a first look at the museum. Just eight blocks north of the old one, with its bold architectural statement by Yann Weymouth, the new museum is designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and showcase the world-class collection of works by the great Spanish artist Salvador Dalí. It also takes advantage of the downtown waterfront site with glass panels providing a superb view out to Tampa Bay.
The ribbon cutting ended at exactly 12:12 p.m., and a long line began forming at the museum doors for first entry at 12:45 p.m. First in were Wolfgang and Renate Schmidt from Germany, who vacation in Pinellas County annually but planned this year's trip to coincide with the opening.
"We rushed over here as soon as the speeches were over," Renate Schmidt said of their lucky positioning.
They hadn't already purchased timed-entry tickets and were among the fortunate early visitors allowed to buy them at the admissions desk. Thirty minutes after opening, the museum had neared its capacity of 2,000 people. Only museum members or those with tickets were being admitted and even they had to wait until others exited.
Nobody seemed in a hurry to do so.
Vik Murty and Ana Peterman became members several days earlier and drove from their home in Orlando for the opening.
"I took the day off for this — I'm in online marketing — because there's not a lot of culture in Florida and this is a big deal. Dalí was brilliant," Murty said.
When their infant daughter, Rania, became fussy, they pulled out a bottle, plucked her from her stroller and kept looking at the paintings.
The day began appropriately with a procession led by the Snailhead Stilt Walker (aka Scott Smith) that paraded from the old museum at 1000 Third St. S to the new one at 1 Dali Blvd., next to the Mahaffey Theater. It was a disparate assortment ranging from the Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago from Tampa to students in the Advanced Placement art history class at Osceola High School who dressed as the images in Dalí's famous painting The Hallucinogenic Toreador. (Including Taylor Ibarguen, 16, who really went the distance for Dalí, shivering in the morning cold as the tiny bikini-clad woman who is barely visible in Toreador.)
Like many people in the procession and at the ceremony, the Krewe members and students took leaves from work and school to celebrate what they feel is a landmark for the area.
The museum opened in 1982 in an old warehouse, but its size always hindered showing the breadth of the artworks, given by collectors A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, that included the 96 oil paintings. The greater impetus to move, though, was the building's vulnerability to hurricanes. The new Dalí's galleries have 18-inch thick concrete walls embedded with 220 miles of reinforcing steel that have been tested for major storms. And they're twice the size of the former galleries, about 16,000 square feet of the total square footage of 66,450.
"This is just a jewel," said Megan McGee, who brought her 15-month-old daughter Justine.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or email@example.com.