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— The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's new downtown headquarters, a metallic rust-red three-story cube roundly criticized by many historical preservationists for spoiling the architectural integrity of the adjacent Mission Revival-style Santa Fe Depot, built in 1915, is on the verge of its grand opening. And no one could be happier than museum director Hugh Davies, especially because as the museum (formerly known as the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, and still called that by some) has grown, so has his already heady salary. According to the institution's federal tax return for the fiscal year ending June 2004, Davies was making $280,091 a year, along with a pension contribution of $33,340 and an expense account of $60,374. In 2005, his pay jumped to $344,186, with a pension benefit of $34,920 and an expense account of $37,633.

Those numbers compare more than favorably with the city's other museum directors, who made substantially less. The staid San Diego Museum of Art, for instance, paid its executive director, Derrick Cartwright, formerly of Dartmouth College's Hood Museum, $220,619 for the ten-month period ending June 2005, with an expense account of $42,000 and no retirement benefit. (He assumed his job September 1, 2004.) The Putnam Foundation, which oversees collections at the adjacent Timken Museum, paid its administrator James Petersen $62,054 with no benefits. And the Natural History Museum's Michael Hager got $166,556, plus $7593 in pension benefits and a $4800 expense account.

The contemporary art museum's Davies is a champion fund-raiser with close ties to some of the town's wealthiest and best-fed insiders. Last month, Union-Tribune society writer Burl Stiff reported that U-T owner David Copleythrew a brunch at his La Jolla residential complex on Virginia Way in honor of an upcoming show featuring the collection of Carolyn Farris. "There were such temptations as baby cheese blintzes with homemade strawberry jam, and eggs with Canadian bacon and cheese on miniature English muffins," wrote Stiff. "There was a poolside buffet that offered fresh pineapple, cantaloupe, melon and such; cinnamon rolls, croissants and assorted muffins; and a selection of cheeses. There was a seafood station (jumbo shrimp), a carving station (beef tenderloin and honey-baked ham), an omelette station, and a waffle and pancake station. There was lots of orange juice, and there were mango/banana smoothies. And there was Bloody Mary sorbet -- served in a shot glass with an oyster."

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