After many years of planning and some false starts, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has finally begun construction on the Academy Museum, a museum for the heritage of Hollywood film.
The artifacts of movie Hollywood’s past have long known a diaspora. Attempts over the decades to establish movie memorabilia museums in Hollywood or Los Angeles have been met with indifference or worse. A curator a the Natural History Museum was among the first, early in the 20th century, to recognize the importance of the movie industry and its physical legacy, asking the studios to contribute artifacts. Occasionally the items are placed on display at the Natural History Museum but they never fully recognized movie making in their mission.
As the Hollywood studio system fell apart in the late 1950s, renewed calls for the preservation of Hollywood’s movie-making history were heard. The County of Los Angeles got involved, and even pledged land opposite the Hollywood Bowl as a site for the “Hollywood Museum.” A committee was formed, artifacts were donated, and preliminary plans were drawn by noted architect William Perreira. But this caused a backlash reminiscent of the McCarthyism days in County government circles, where doubts about the value of a museum dedicated to movies and “those people” running the studios could be heard. Before long, this project also came to nought.
Hollywood’s physical heritage was very much appreciated – by Henri Langlois at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. Beginning in the mid 1930s he made frequent trips to Hollywood over many years, asking for or buying costumes, films, and props for the archives he had started in Paris. He had acquired enough to open a museum in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the studios started auctioning their own collections, starting with MGM in 1970, that Debbie Reynolds officially jumped in as a major collector. Several aficionados working on the inside had already begun “liberating” costumes from their questionable fate. Debbie Reynolds tried in vain to get MGM to open up their backlots and create a Hollywood museum. This too went nowhere and the lots with their standing sets were sold to developers. Debbie’s own multiple efforts to open museums, see here, would also end in defeat. Her unique collection of costumes and props were scattered to the winds in auctions in 2011. Serious collectors have been preserving Hollywood’s artifacts on their own since the 1970s.
The Academy’s Museum is being built on land leased from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The former May Company Dept. Store at this site will now be the Saban Building at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax. It will have six stories of dynamic spaces, including more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, a state-of-the-art education studio, the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater, a restaurant and café, a store, and public and special event space. The building is named after financial supporters Cheryl and Haim Saban. A Board of Trustees has been formed to guide the Museum, chaired by Ron Meyer.
All Academy Museum images courtesy Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
The architect for the project is the internationally known Renzo Piano. The signature building element is the glass “Sphere,” a transparent building located in the former parking lot of the May Co. It will house a bright red theater as well as a viewing terrace to the Hollywood Hills and the renowned Hollywood sign.
The Sphere connects to the Saban building with elevated walkways. Special and permanent exhibits will be located in the Saban building.
The Geffen Theater will seat 1000, and will feature a variety of special screenings of documentaries, classics, and newer movies.
Kerry Brougher has been hired as the Museum’s Director, coming from Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum. Brougher stated, “We want to achieve the feeling you are going on a journey, an adventure, a kind of movie itself, walking through a dreamscape of immersive environments and moving images as well as the objects we have in the collection.” One of the galleries will be devoted to the history of the Academy Awards and another will evoke what he calls “the Oscar experience, “You can walk the red carpet and get your own Oscar.” But most of the two floors will be devoted to permanent exhibitions and will follow a chronological path. These will focus on the invention of cinema, and then move on to Hollywood and the studio system. Filmmakers from outside the studio system, from Italian neo-realists, French New Wave, and International film to the present day will also be shown. Additional galleries will house a section devoted to visual effects and other crafts.
The core exhibition, which will be supplemented by a third floor of temporary exhibits, is being designed by Rick Carter, an Oscar winning production design.
The Academy has long held a rich collection of more than 10 million photographs, 190,000 film and video assets, 80,000 screenplays, 50,000 posters, 20,000 production and costume design drawings, and 1,400 other collection items . Lately, in anticipation of a museum to showcase its collections, it has begun acquiring (many through gifts) some significant artifacts such as the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz (1939). While several pairs are known to exist, including one at the Smithsonian Museum, this is the finest pair known, used in the close-up shot with Judy Garland at the end of the Oz sequence.
Another pair of shoes are those below. These belonged to Shirley Temple. These tap shoes were used in The Little Colonel (1935), where she co-starred with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
The doors below are are recent acquisition, the doors to the “Rick’s Cafe Americain” set used in Casablanca (1942).
The Academy Museum is not set to open until 2019. It has been a long time coming, and it will be a very welcome addition to the museum scene in Los Angeles. For classic movie lovers, it will finally become the showplace and preservation hall for all those flickering images shown in the dark.