By Michael Ventre | November 3, 2015 | Culture
In an exclusive preview of its Miracle Milestone makeover, the Petersen Automotive Museum is set to drive LA car lovers to ecstatic distraction.
Raising the topless bar! This 1953 Nash-Healey is just one of the more than 300 supersexy automobiles in the permanent collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum, which reopens in its stunning new structure on Museum Row next month.
Anyone who has ever traveled the thoroughfares that form the intersection at Wilshire and Fairfax knows that the best way to do so is with a helmet, a pit crew, and an excellent insurance policy. As one of the busiest traffc centers in the city, with a bygone sense of style bequeathed from the days when tony department stores ruled the area, speed and movement are as essential at the start of what is known as “Museum Row” as sand is in Malibu.
So it was no surprise that when the movers, shakers, planners, and designers entrusted with the renovation of the Petersen Automotive Museum — which reopens with great fanfare in December—huddled around two years ago to freshen up the hallowed institution at the southeast corner, they wanted to ensure that the new face of the museum reflects the exhilaration of an Indy car driver headed toward the checkered flag (or at least a soccer mom late for school).
Basically what the design architects under Gene Kohn of the New York–based firm Kohn Pedersen Fox came up with is a cage of flowing ribbons and beams wrapped around the existing mega-structure — which once was Ohrbach’s department store—that causes the kind of flutter in the stomach that speed demons thrive on. It articulates movement in a building that doesn’t move.
“Many of the beams [on the building’s façade] follow the profiles of the cars in the collection,” says Kohn. “The beams represent the concept of the car, speed, elegance, and beauty. It’s celebrating the car as a work of art.”
The museum’s daring new design, courtesy of architects Kohn Pedersen Fox, features a flowing, skeletal façade that is inspired by the smooth, alluring curves of automobiles.
In true Angeleno fashion, the Petersen didn’t just get a face-lift. It got tucks, augmentations—basically the works. Although the museum’s automobile collection itself is about 99 percent intact from the previous incarnation, the building’s innards refect an updated 21st-century plugged-in, Wi-Fi wonderland, with enough high-tech exhibits and gadgetry to keep geeks and non-geeks in auto-erotic rapture for hours.
The new edition has three floors, organized by history on the third floor, industry on the second, and artistry on the first. There will be scads of interactive touch screens and video presentations, stitched-content projected images across long walls behind displayed cars, a giant LED screen “welcome mat” in the open, gallery-like lobby, and even an area where Arts Center of Pasadena will conduct auto-design classes for its students five days a week.
Much of this came about through the brainstorming efforts of Kohn and his staff along with Petersen board members David Sydorick, Peter Mullin, and others. Also, some fat-cat sponsors hit their own accelerators when it came time for fundraising. Names like Pixar, Microsoft, Lucas Oil, Ford, and Maserati, among others, will adorn the interior to recognize their contributions.
“There hasn’t been this level of corporate participation in the 21-year history of the museum,” says Terry Karges, the Petersen’s executive director, “especially at once.”
What hasn’t changed is that the driving force of the automotive museum, so to speak, is the collection of über-cool vehicles, both of the four- and two-wheeled variety. Some of the sweetest rides include a 1948 Tucker, one of less than 20 in existence; a Bugatti once owned by the Shah of Iran; actor Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XKSS; Fred Astaire’s 1927 Phantom I Rolls-Royce; a 1966 Ford GT 40, which once did the unthinkable by beating Ferrari at 24 Hours of Le Mans; and Rita Hayworth’s 1953 Cadillac with a custom-made Ghia coach, given to her by Prince Aly Khan as an enticement to marry (she said yes). And keep your eyes peeled for special exhibits involving James Bond cars, from Aston Martin and Jaguar; over-the-top cars made with precious metals (in a gallery sponsored by Rolex, no less); and BMWs mimicking art, donated by the Armand Hammer collection.
The Petersen’s collection is home to a rare 1956 Jaguar XKSS, which Jay Leno calls “one of the great cars of all time, one of those cars that’s a work of art.”
For the big reveal, the Petersen is revving up its engine with a VIP grand-reopening celebration on December 5 and a second event with tickets starting at $200 on December 6. On Monday, December 7, the museum will reopen to the general public.
And before you zoom out of the area after visiting the revamped Petersen, keep in mind that this new wonder is rising next to LACMA, the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (scheduled to open in 2017), and a new Metro stop.
“There just seems to be this incredible momentum now… to create a destination out of Museum Row and Miracle Mile,” notes Adam Langsbard, the Petersen’s chief marketing officer. “And it’s starting with us at the Petersen!” 6060 Wilshire Blvd., LA, 323-930-2277
photography by nash-healey; kohn pedersen fox associates (roof)