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The land is locked up. The architect has been named. Steven Spielberg is on board. Not since the Getty Center has Los Angeles seen a cultural undertaking to rival the $400 million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. It’s about time
Update (10/5/11): More than three-and-a-half years after Steve Oney detailed the Motion Picture Academy’s vision for a $400 million museum, the academy has announced a promising new partnership with LACMA and a new location for the project. Here’s the back story:
New Orleans has the Jazz Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, the Henry Ford Museum, Atlanta the World of Coca-Cola. But Los Angeles, the nation’s movie capital, has no equivalent, no institution that tells the definitive story of its hometown art form. When tourists visit or residents grow curious, they can take a Starline Tour of Hollywood or line up at Universal City, but if they are interested in cinema history and film production, they will be disappointed. Considering the impact of the motion picture business on everything from fashion, mores, and politics to America’s image abroad, this is an incomprehensible civic shortcoming. Which is why on an early winter afternoon a dozen scholars, archivists, and moviemakers are seated around a conference table at the Beverly Hills head quarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences leafing through a document labeled “Content Outline Draft 2” and marked “Confidential.” Seventy-one pages and broken into one- or two-line entries, the report contains the preliminary ideas for the Academy’s most ambitious undertaking since it first handed out Oscars in 1929—a movie museum. The goals are nothing if not grand. Slated for construction on 7.8 acres just south of the intersection of Sunset and Vine and budgeted at $400 million, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be larger and more expensive than Disney Hall. Not since the Getty Center has Los Angeles witnessed a cultural enterprise of this magnitude.
Thumbing to a section of the outline titled “Golden Silents,” Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s director of educational programming, expresses his concern that Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights is getting too much attention. “Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd did a lot better work,” he asserts. Although such debates will continue for months to come, the broad strokes, as envisioned by the Academy’s staff and a coterie of outside experts, seem well in place. The serials of the teens, the animation of the ’20s, the screwball comedies of the ’30s, the westerns of the ’40s, the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the ’50s, the Italian cinema of the ’60s, the blaxploitation pictures of the ’70s, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, and Reefer Madness—all made the cut. So too did such topics as “Sex and Nudity” (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), “Counterculture Filmmaking” (Easy Rider), “The Evolution of the Blockbuster” (Airport and Jaws), “Celebrity Journalism” (Entertainment Tonight), and “Gay and Lesbian Hollywood” (no specifics). Which still left room for Irving Thalberg and Erich von Stroheim, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, Sergei Eisenstein, Cedric Gibbons, Yakima Canutt, the Brown Derby, Bette Davis, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, the Production Code, the Hollywood Ten, the ratings system, the Johnny Stompanato murder, the Tate-LaBianca killings, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, and LSD use in the movie colony (also no specifics).
Things have, in fact, progressed to the point that the people in the room are voicing proposals for exhibits. Some are fancifully perverse. “Maybe we can do an interactive exhibit in which you’re Janet Jones and you get on a bus to Hollywood with visions of becoming an actress,” suggests Julio Vera, manager of the nascent museum’s collections. “If you win, you’re Judy Garland. If you lose, you’re the Black Dahlia.” Others are serious contenders. “We’re not going to have the space to construct a movie palace,” says Mike Pogorzelski, director of the Academy film archives, “but we could build a nickelodeon that will give you the hot, sweaty, smoky, communal feel of what fi lmgoing was like in the early 20th century.” Jeannine Oppewall, a four-time Oscar nominee for her work as a production designer on such pictures as The Good Shepherd and Seabiscuit, seconds the notion. “The audiences for those nickelodeons were multilingual. They didn’t have to know English. Nickelodeons really illustrate the power of movies.”
As the discussion continues, a dark-haired woman in thick, black-framed Chanel glasses sitting at a corner of the table listens and jots notes. Cybelle Jones is a senior partner at Gallagher & Associates, a Maryland-based design firm the Academy contracted in 2006 to transform ideas into exhibits. During the 15 years Jones has worked for Gallagher, she has played key roles in projects that include remodeling the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, building the Normandy Beach visitors’ center, and creating the Bethel Museum, which commemorates Woodstock and opens in the spring. For all of this, Jones believes the Academy project might be the most challenging Gallagher has attempted. “Usually when we present to a board,” she says, “they say, ‘How much will it cost and when do you begin?’ With the Academy there are meetings and then more meetings, and you have weighty, passionate discussions.”
After attending a dozen sessions similar to today’s, hanging out behind the scenes at last year’s Academy Awards show, traipsing through the Paramount and Warner Bros. lots, and meeting with the owners of such movie paraphernalia as a circa 1910 Fotoplayer used to provide sound eff ects for silent pictures, Jones says, “We’re about halfway through with the concept plan. We’ve come up with Publishideas touching on everything from acting and directing to makeup and lighting.” Of all the exhibits so far proposed, the most outlandish will replicate Academy Awards night itself, allowing museumgoers to walk a red carpet through a virtual gauntlet of reporters and paparazzi. “We’ve conceived about 50 interactive possibilities,” Jones adds, “but we’re purposely going slowly. Our goal is to get down the story the Academy wants to tell. Otherwise, all these exhibits will drive the project, and it will become more of a theme park than a museum.”
The Academy, which comprises 14 branches of the film business ranging from composers to stuntmen, is going at the task of museum building with an approach akin to that of a studio making a big-budget movie. Five subcommittees report to a museum committee chaired by former Academy president and producer Robert Rehme (Clear and Present Danger), which in turn reports to the organization’s 43-person board. “We have a committee for everything,” says Academy president Sid Ganis. “It’s good. You get bright men and women engaged in splendid conversation about what this institution should be.” The test will be whether in its zeal for consensus the Academy can create a museum that transcends the compromises that hobble so much Hollywood fare and assumes its place in the pantheon of the city’s cultural institutions and the world’s.
The Museum of Motion Pictures began to take on the air of inevitability on November 7 when Sid Ganis announced that the Academy had chosen Christian de Portzamparc as the architect. A winner of the Pritzker prize, architecture’s most prestigious award, the Frenchman has designed only one building in the United States, the LVMH headquarters in New York, but is renowned in Europe for such sinuous urban structures as the Cité de la Musique in Paris and the Philharmonie Luxembourg. His selection marked the end of a process that had started two years earlier. The Academy museum architecture subcommittee, chaired by Jeannine Oppewall, made the recommendation, but it was Heather Cochran, the museum project administrator, who did much of the spadework. The 39-year-old Cochran possesses unconventional credentials for the assignment. The daughter of a CIA analyst, she earned a master’s in business from the Wharton School and moved to Los Angeles to take a position as director of business development for Cahners, the then parent company of Variety. But she has also written two well-received novels. Bruce Davis, the Academy’s executive director, found the combination attractive. “I knew this job would involve aesthetics, fi nancial issues, and because of the personalities involved, diplomacy,” he says. “She’s strong in all three.”
In naming Portzamparc, the Academy did not follow the typical method of bestowing a major architectural commission. “We decided we weren’t going to do a competition,” says Cochran. “We didn’t want models. We didn’t want plans. We decided we’d ask for qualifi cations. Competitions are expensive for all involved, and when they’re over, the client is limited. We didn’t want a box. We wanted an architect who’d design a building from the inside out to meet our needs.”
The task of narrowing the fi eld from an initial list of 154 fi rms was, says Cochran, excruciating, but the Academy knew what it was looking for. “We wanted an architect who was collaborative,” she says. “The Academy is made up of people who are gifted and artistic in their own right, so we had no interest in an enfant terrible. We also wanted someone who was fiscally responsible. Finally, we didn’t want an architect who brought his own brand. The Academy is its own strong brand. An art museum needs to be housed in a piece of art itself. But we don’t. We have no intention of becoming architect X’s new museum in Los Angeles. We want to be the Academy Museum.”
By October 2006, the Academy had whittled its group of candidates down to 32 and invited each to submit applications. Out of the 21 firms that followed through, the architecture subcommittee selected five finalists. From London there was Foster + Partners, best known in the United States for its addition to the Hearst Publish ing building in New York. From Norway there was Snohetta, which is completing the Norwegian National Opera House. Wilford Schupp, a German firm that designed the Galerie der Stadt in Stuttgart, and Colorado’s Fentress Architects, best known for the new Denver International Airport, also made the list. As, of course, did Portzamparc.
Last summer Academy staffers and board members inspected the works of the finalists, spending six days in Europe and several more visiting structures in the United States. Neither an austere modernist like Renzo Piano, designer of LACMA’s new Broad Contemporary Art Museum, nor a purveyor of sculptural forms like local hero Frank Gehry, Portzamparc stood out. A reductive modernist in the mode of Rem Koolhaas (the Seattle Central Library) or Herzog & de Meuron (San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Memorial Museum), he creates buildings that encourage movement. Passageways open into large halls. Indoor rooms flow into the outdoors. The structure that most impressed the Academy delegation was his French Embassy in Berlin. “It’s something to behold,” says Ganis. “On the one hand, it’s formal because it’s the seat of French government in Germany. But it offers surprising turns and twists, and he did it on a government budget. To do something with style and imagination with limited funds is very impressive.”
In September Portzamparc and the other finalists flew to Los Angeles for extended interviews in the Academy’s Beverly Hills boardroom, a chamber dominated by stills of famous cinematic board meetings, including ones from Network and The Godfather. Dressed in a dark suit and white shirt without a tie, his brown hair swept back dramatically, Portzamparc spoke in halting English, depending as much on gestures as on words to make his case. “I have always said that for me architecture is related to film,” he said, clasping his hands imploringly. “Why? I’ve always seen architecture as the experience of motion, in which people are moving to discover things and atmosphere in sequence.” Many later confessed that the language barrier constituted a problem. “But the more he talked,” says Davis, “the more we all became impressed, the more we realized he’s a true visionary.” In the end, adds Cochran, “we understood that Portzamparc is an artist, and because the Academy is made up of artists and craftsmen, his sensibility meshes. Plus, because he won the Pritzker, the equivalent to an Academy Award, he’s achieved the sort of recognition our board appreciates.” It was nonetheless a close call. Portzamparc edged out Wilford Schupp by a single vote.
That the idea of an Academy of Motion Pictures museum ever got off the ground in the fi rst place is due to Debbie Reynolds. In November 2002, the actress approached the Academy with a proposition. Over the years, she had assembled a huge collection of movie memorabilia, including hats worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, a pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, palace furniture from The King and I, and scores of costumes. In the mid-1990s, the actress displayed her trove at a space in Las Vegas. But the business failed, and Reynolds hoped the Academy would subsidize its revival. “We discussed the idea at a board meeting,” says Bruce Davis, “but we turned it down. Movie dresses take cosseting. They’re fragile. And also for us it was too specialized. The Academy represents all the crafts that come together to make this art form—not just costuming. But as we talked about her proposal, everyone looked around and said, ‘OK, we won’t do her museum, but maybe it’s time to do the one we ought to do.’”
The imponderable was just what sort of museum that might be. “The idea was embraced immediately, but it raised a lot of questions,” says screenwriter Frank Pierson, president of the Academy at the time Reynolds made her pitch. “Should it be a museum for the Academy, which is interesting enough, or for American cinema, or Hollywood, or world cinema?” With Queens, Berlin, and Turin, Italy, already home to modest film museums, something more was required. “We decided that since Los Angeles is the citadel of the motion picture business,” says Pierson, “this is where the definitive museum should be.”
The Academy was in perfect position to take on such a project. With its Margaret Herrick Library, a mecca for cinema scholarship, and its Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, a leader in fi lm preservation, the organization already did much more than just hand out Oscars. Not only this, but by early 2004, as it started to hire the museum staff , the Academy was sitting on $134 million and was in the second year of a lucrative tenyear contract with ABC for broadcast rights to the Academy Awards, by every measure the biggest night in show business. (In 2007, the Academy earned $70 million from the Oscar telecast, which cost $30 million to produce.) Even so, some board members were concerned about the ambitiousness of the idea, but urged on by Ganis, Rehme, Pierson, and Oppewall, the organization made the decision to plunge into the real estate market.
Altogether, the Academy’s site subcommittee considered 13 locations. There were attractive properties in Burbank near Disney and in Culver City near Sony, but the organization ruled them out, as it wanted to avoid the appearance of a connection with any studio. By early 2005, three front-runners had emerged: downtown’s Grand Avenue Project, Exposition Park, and Hollywood. Each offered particular advantages. Grand Avenue was not only adjacent to Disney Hall and hence part of a burgeoning cultural center, but the developers essentially promised to give the Academy free space. Exposition Park, with its nearby science and natural history museums, provided just the right sort of campuslike setting. But Hollywood trumped them all. “It’s the best because of its historic connections to the fi lm business,” says Heather Cochran. “It also gives us room for expansion and provides great visitor access.”
In March 2005, the Academy board voted to locate the museum in Hollywood— a major step because it meant committing to a substantial financial outlay before any work could begin. “We’re spending roughly $50 million to acquire the site,” says Bruce Davis. “I hated to start that deep in the hole, but there was unanimity at the Academy that Hollywood should be the location for the museum. It belongs there.” Just where in Hollywood was, however, still another matter.
Los Angeles deputy mayor Helmi Hisserich, at the time director of the Hollywood office of the Community Redevelopment Agency, a quasi-governmental group that funds projects in the area, presented the Academy with six sites. One was on Highland Avenue across from the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, another near the old KFWB radio studios on Argyle. “The best,” says Hisserich, “was at the Palladium,” the historic concert venue on Sunset. “I thought it was going to work, but when we met with the landowners, we were rejected. They wanted us to tear down the Palladium, and the CRA was never going to do that. I remember walking out of that meeting with Heather Cochran and one of our lawyers, and I was hanging my head. I was just so low. I thought we were fi nished.”
Shortly after the deal for the Palladium property fell through, Hisserich received a phone call from Fred Rheinstein, owner of the Post Group, a large postproduction facility two blocks south of Sunset and, of vital importance, next door to the massive 1948 streamline moderne structure that houses the Academy’s Pickford Center. “I want to see you,” Rheinstein told Hisserich, “because I’ve decided to sell my business.”
Over lunch, Hisserich filled Rheinstein in on what she knew of the Academy’s plans. His property, she added, when combined with the Academy’s Pickford Center, would provide a perfect starting point. Rheinstein was interested. A Princeton graduate, he had moved to Los Angeles in 1952 to direct NBC’s broadcasts of the Rose Bowl game and parade. His first office was at the network’s studio, at the time located at Sunset and Vine. Twentyseven years later, he and a partner bought the Post Group. “I’m older than dirt,” says Rheinstein. “I saw Hollywood at its postwar peak, and I was here 25 years later when crime was so bad I had to hire security to walk clients to their cars. Now I’ve hung around for the revival, and I’ve really bought into it. So as Helmi talked to me—and I know this sounds silly—I just decided on the spot to help. The museum needs to be in Hollywood.”
In November 2005, the Academy, after agreeing to clean up a small spill of filmcleaning chemicals, took out a three-year option to buy the 75,000-square-foot Post Group property for $15 million. In a separate transaction, Rheinstein sold the firm, but he structured the deal so that when the Academy exercises its option, the new owners must vacate. In return, they were granted free occupancy. “Fred went the extra mile to make this happen,” says Hisserich. “He wants to leave a legacy for Hollywood.”
With the Post Group parcel in hand, the Academy began acquiring the contiguous properties—among them a Big Lots store and the offi ces of Encore Media, another postproduction company. At the same time, the Community Redevelopment Agency purchased an adjacent Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise for $1.7 million with the intention of reselling it to the Academy at cost. “It was money well spent,” says Hisserich. “KFC wanted it this way for tax purposes, and if property values increase, the Academy gets a deal. The museum fi ts every criterion for the successful redevelopment of Hollywood.” By the time the Academy announced the hiring of Portzamparc, it was in control of nearly two full blocks bounded by De Longpre Avenue on the north, Vine Street on the east, Fountain Avenue on the south, and Cahuenga Boulevard and Ivar Street on the west. The sole missing piece was a critical 14,000-square-foot lot on De Longpre.
The Golden Bridge Yoga studio occupies a 1927 bow-truss building with a barrel-vaulted ceiling that over the years has housed a car dealership where Elvis bought Cadillacs and a firm that supplied audio equipment to the film industry. Few structures could be more utilitarian, but in 2004, when a real estate broker contacted Gurushabd and Gurmukh, husband and wife kundalini masters, he told them, “I think I have found your church.”
Since starting their practice in an abandoned garage on South La Cienega Boulevard in 1985, Gurushabd and Gurmukh have moved fi ve times. Along the way they acquired a celebrity following that includes Madonna and Cindy Crawford. The two had long been shopping for a suitable home, a place where, as one friend told Gurmukh, they could begin transforming “Hollywood to Holywood.” The De Longpre building, with its exposed beams and airy, open expanses, was ideal. After making the purchase, they gutted the space and rebuilt it to exacting specifi cations, shipping in teakwood floors from India, installing fountains, and hanging Tibetan prayer fl ags and thangka paintings. In 2005, they opened an incense-scented retreat featuring six studios, a café, a wellness center, and a bookstore that sells, among other things, Gurmukh’s Bountiful , Beautiful, Blissful.
“Golden Bridge is a community and a village,” says the 65-year-old Gurmukh. “It’s way more than a business to me. It’s my life’s work, and my employer is God.”
Not surprisingly, Gurmukh reacted to the news that the Academy wanted to raze the Golden Bridge studio, so soon after she and her husband had remodeled it, with a mixture of dismay and fury. “I didn’t believe it at first,” she says. “I was in a state of shock. I asked, ‘God, why is this happening?’ It was devastating. Imagine if you’d just finished your dream house and someone came along and said they were going to tear it down. I felt anger, then denial.”
In the summer of 2006, the Academy offered Gurushabd and Gurmukh $6 million, double the appraised value of the Golden Bridge property. “They said, ‘Respectfully, go away,’ ” says Heather Cochran. “So we continued work on buying the other parcels.”
While the negotiations were on hold, Sid Ganis visited Golden Bridge incognito. “I just wanted to check it out,” he says. “Both of my daughters have done yoga there, and they said it’s great. They’re right. It’s got an excellent vibe.” In July 2007, Ganis and Bruce Davis made a formal call to confer with Gurushabd. “We told him our vision,” says Ganis. “We also talked about the wishes of the Community Redevelopment Agency for reviving Hollywood. It was pleasant. The guru impressed me as a businessman who understands business.” Indeed, the guru understood business well enough to reject the Academy’s next offer—$11 million.
As much as the Academy wanted the Golden Bridge property, it never contemplated threatening eminent domain. “We probably could win a condemnation action,” says Davis, “but nobody at the Academy has the stomach for it. For one thing, the guru would fi ght it, and the fight would slow the project down for three or four years, during which construction costs would escalate. For another, even if you win that kind of fight, you get portrayed as the bad guy.”
The Academy owed its unwillingness to play hardball with Golden Bridge in part to the organization’s sensitivity regarding its image. “The Academy’s value is based on its reputation,” says Cochran. “We take it seriously. We want to be a good neighbor.” But the hesitancy also arose out of the memory of a long-ago effort to build a movie museum that collapsed.
In the early 1960s, a campaign to erect a world-class motion picture museum was launched with even more fanfare than the current drive. On October 20, 1963, at a ceremony presided over by Gloria Swanson, ground was broken at the corner of Highland Avenue and Odin Street across from the Hollywood Bowl for the $6.5 million project. Organized by producer Sol Lesser and backed by Los Angeles County and such luminaries as Ronald Reagan, Mary Pickford, Walt Disney, Mervyn LeRoy, and Louis B. Mayer, the undertaking seemed destined for success. William Pereira, architect of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, designed a four-story facility that would include a soundstage, ex hibit spaces, and restaurants. A warehouse full of memorabilia—including the files of Cecil B. DeMille, the first film projector used in Los Angeles, and many rare cameras—was amassed. The only thing that stood in the project’s way was a lone property owner who refused to sell.
Initially, Stephen B. Anthony, a bartender and ex-marine whose home stood in the middle of the prospective museum site, challenged the project legally. But in 1964, after losing in the California Supreme Court, he took to his front porch with a shotgun. For seven hours he held off an army of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. Although the confrontation ended without bloodshed, the museum’s backers came off as belligerent moguls attempting to dispossess a veteran. Hard upon the public relations disaster, questions arose concerning fi nancial irregularities in the project’s budget. Soon afterward the De- Mille family asked for its collections back, and Los Angeles County withdrew its support. In 1968, the city expressed interest in reviving the project, but by that point many of the artifacts had disappeared from a poorly policed warehouse, and the idea fizzled.
Determined not to make the same mistakes, the Academy kept the lines of communication to Golden Bridge open. “They invested a lot into the studio, and they deserve to be compensated,” says Cochran. “Ever since Sid and Bruce met with Gurushabd, our dealings have been cordial, and we’ve talked often.” As the back and forth played out, Gurushabd and Gurmukh came to realize that, far from being affl icted by a stroke of bad fortune, they could be the benefi ciaries of a giant windfall. “I’m the sort of person who doesn’t resist,” says Gurmukh. “I watch and see. I want to realize the greater good. I’m not going to make a desperate stand to fight for my rights. Los Angeles is based on the film industry. This is our heritage. This is our voice. It’s so big —there’s nothing like it in the world. I watch, I listen, I pray, and I wait for the universe to answer.”
On November 7, the universe answered. The Academy made a $13 million offer. At year’s end the Academy and Golden Bridge were on the verge of a deal, removing the last physical obstacle in the museum’s path.
On a cold and cloudy morning a couple of weeks before Christmas, Christian de Portzamparc walks into a glass-walled conference room in the Pickford Center, a structure that will be incorporated into the Academy museum campus. Awaiting him are his new collaborators. Steven Spielberg, dressed in a hunter green snap-brim corduroy cap, gray corduroy vest, and flannel shirt, greets the architect with an enthusiastic handshake. Director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), in a scruffy leather jacket, smiles warmly, as does producer Kathleen Kennedy (E.T., Jurassic Park, and dozens more), elegant in a dark cashmere sweater. Around a blond wood table are the board members and executives who’ve been driving the project—Sid Ganis, Robert Rehme, Jeannine Oppewall, Bruce Davis, and Heather Cochran—and Patrick Gallagher, principal in the design firm conceiving the exhibits.
This is Portzamparc’s first visit to Los Angeles since winning the commission. Carrying a small black sketchbook and a yellow mechanical pencil, he is a canny judge of his audience. “I am honored to be here,” he begins, “and I have to be excellent. It’s unusual to do a project this way. Most of the time in Europe, we have a competition, and we are anonymous. Now I have the possibility to hear you and feel you. It is very important that I not make decisions too soon. I have to be open and floating and listen.”
For the next two hours, listen is what Portzamparc will chiefl y do. “I want to speak of an element I want museumgoers to see,” says Spielberg. “Movies are made of light and the shadows that are made when light strikes objects. I want museumgoers to feel this by casting their own shadows on surfaces. So whatever shapes we settle on, let’s remember that light is the god of our work. It’s what our art is made from.”
With that, others around the room feel free to make their suggestions. “L.A. is a strange city,” says Ganis. “It’s a gigantic metropolis that has few startling buildings. Look out the window there,” he adds, gesturing toward a Vine Street strip mall. “It’s Winchell’s Donuts. We have a chance to do something monumental.”
Spielberg picks up on the thought. “What I don’t like about L.A. is, it’s eclectic and kitschy. There’s too much of everything—Tudor houses, Spanish houses. It’s messy. What I hope the museum won’t represent is the collage that is L.A. I don’t want it to refl ect the disorder I see all around me.”
For a second, a bemused look crosses Portzamparc’s face. The Academy hired him because he is a great artist, but now he is an instrument in the hands of great artists. Hoping to defer to his clients while at the same time upholding his own position, he repeats a version of what he said three months earlier in his interview. “For me, architecture is a lot influenced by the movies. We are aware of light and motion. Like in movies, we have sequences and are waiting for something new.
This building could be a statement that joins architecture and the movies.” “I like what you said, that movies are about the process of discovery,” Spielberg replies. “You turn a corner and there’s a discovery. That’s a nice idea for the museum.”
With that, the floor is thrown open, and the ideas become much more specific. Kennedy hopes that as visitors walk from exhibit to exhibit, they will be able to access a museum Web site with handheld computers or phones. Spielberg suggests that there be walls that are not really walls but illusions visitors can enter just like they enter film. “It’s Alice in Wonderland,” he says, “through a glass darkly.” Hanson insists that the structure must contain at least one element so soaring and distinctive that it can be seen all over Los Angeles, like the Griffi th Observatory or the Hollywood sign or the Capitol Records building. Kennedy adds that a dramatic tower could not only serve this purpose but also provide a site for the Governors Ball following the Academy Awards.
As everyone in the room free-associates, Portzamparc mostly sketches, fi lling page after page. Before walking into the meeting he said, “It’s frustrating to speak about a building that right now is just a feeling in my mind. Or as we say in France, it’s hard to vendre la peau de l’ours—to sell the skin of the bear before having killed it.” That killing will be done at his drawing table back in Paris.
Portzamparc hopes to complete the renderings and models of the museum in the next few months, at which point DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeff rey Katzenberg, who has agreed to chair the fund-raising drive, will begin the selling. While the Academy is committed to putting $100 million into the project, the remaining $300 million must come chiefl y from the Industry. “Jeffrey is a very enthusiastic kind of guy,” says Bruce Davis. “Initially, he acted like he could come up with the money with a morning’s worth of phone calls.” But as he realized the size of the task, Katzenberg grew more sober. “You could tell he believes it’ll be difficult,” says Davis. Portzamparc’s drawings and models will provide the tangible lure Katzenberg will dangle before David Geff en, Robert Iger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sumner Redstone, Jerry Bruckheimer, and hundreds of others interested in seeing their names on an enduring monument.
“I share Jeff’s enthusiasm that we can do this,” says Davis. “But I’m not going to be the guy who breaks the Academy’s bank. If we can’t raise the money, the property will simply be an investment, and we’ll sell it for more than we paid.” Not that this is what Davis foresees happening. “I think this spring when people get a look at Christian's drawings, they'll open their wallets."
Illustration by Bruce McCall