On Friday, just days before the Oscars, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures staged its very first preview to about 50 media types and TV crews. The tour group was greeted by museum director Bill Kramer, former VP of development at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Kramer helped develop the Academy Museum here in L.A. for years, left for New York in 2016, then returned on January 1 to take the reigns at the 300,000-square-foot institution, which finally has an opening date (announced by Tom Hanks at last night’s Oscars): December 14, 2020.
When December rolls around, the massive edifice at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax will house two major theaters, a first-floor restaurant, retail space, and six floors of exhibition space that will contain the Academy’s main collection of movie artifacts: 12.5 million photos; 237,000 film and video assets; 85,000 screenplays; 65,500 posters; and 133,00 pieces of production art. It will also house 1700 pieces from the private collections of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Hattie McDaniel, and Alfred Hitchcock – as well as temporary exhibits.
“This museum belongs to everyone,” Kramer said. “Los Angeles has never had a movie museum of this scale and yet the motion picture industry and the city of Los Angeles has long recognized the need. In fact, the founders of the Academy envisioned a movie museum in Los Angeles more than 90 years ago and now it’s finally happening. Construction is substantially complete and…the galleries and the exhibitions are starting to be installed.”
Late last month the museum revealed it had met 95 percent of its $388 million campaign goal, which equals more than $368 million in pledges and cash.
Famed Italian architect Renzo Piano designed the six-story museum and its spherical back attachment with the glass dome, at Fairfax and Wilshire. Piano was chosen back in 2012, and work began in 2016 on the old May Company structure. His credits, wildly impressive, include the Pompidou Museum in Paris, the Whitney Museum in New York, and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens. True to form, the high ceiling of the first floor of the old May Company store, built in 1939, has been left exposed. The former department store’s square wood columns, which were hidden for years under plaster, were also left exposed.
The museum’s entrance opens right onto Museum Row: across from the Petersen Auto Museum, and down the street from LACMA and the LaBrea Tarpits. And in 2023, the Purple Line Metro station going in at Wilshire and Fairfax will make the museum much more accessible to both tourists and locals. Its tall, gold-tiled cylindrical section was “lovingly preserved”—66 percent of the tiles were intact, while the rest were imported from Venice, Italy. The building’s new official name, thanking a major donor, is the Saban Building.
Friday’s tour first took groups down one level, to an education space that will teach kids and adults about filmmaking. Across from it is the smaller of the two movie theaters, the Ted Mann theater, with 288 bright kelly green seats, state-of-the-art equipment, and amazing sound.
One floor up from the lobby entrance is a mezzanine level that bridges over to the Geffen Theater on what’s called the Barbra Streisand Bridge. “It’s our true movie palace,” said the tour guide. All the seats are done in Italian red fabric, as are the rugs. It has state-of-the-art everything and space to accommodate a 66-piece orchestra. Screenings will be held here, and both public and private events.
Up a long escalator is the second floor, which its curator reports will hold the past, present, and future of movie making. This area has 160,000 square feet of exhibition space, and among the many objects it will house will be one of the most iconic movie’s most iconic items: the ruby slippers from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.
The third floor, up another escalator, will have exhibition space and guest curators from the worlds of fantasy, animation, and live-action films. The fourth will house temporary exhibitions.
One of the most exciting features of the new Academy Museum is what’s being called the Dolby Family Terrace, which you cross Barbra Streisand (the bridge) to get to. This giant outdoor deck features some of the best views of Los Angeles anywhere, from the Getty Museum all the way to DTLA and the Hollywood sign. It will be used for cocktail parties, movie premiers, and possibly screenings. “We have a hundred corporations in line to rent the space,” one of the museum directors said. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a future Vanity Fair Oscar party held here—maybe even a year from now.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.