Happy Birthday Dear LACMA

Where were you on March 31, 1965? If you lived in Los Angeles and loved the arts, there’s a good chance you were here in the Miracle Mile, on the opening day of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

…er, Los Angeles County Art Museum. LACAM? Truth be told it took a while before the museum settled on the acronym LACMA. In the beginning most people seemed to refer to it as the County Museum of Art—as differentiated from the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, which opened back in 1913 and from which this museum would secede (leaving its original institution to become the Natural History Museum).

The new museum was dedicated on March 30, 1965, and debuted to the public the following day. The above image came from a small book developed by the museum and inserted into the March 28 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Here are a few more pages from that book, showing off some well-heeled patrons posing for the cameras.

Today that wide-open atrium is filled by Tony Smith’s “Smoke”

Today those stairs are gone, replaced by a new grand staircase.

We’re considering reinstating a dress code for visiting the museum. No fur, no admission.

The painting is by Stuart Davis, the sculpture by Pegot Waring, the chair by Mies van der Rohe, the dress by Galanos… but who did the hair?

I also dug up a few photos from the museum’s inaugural year that really show off how open and airy the campus felt. When the museum’s original campus opened, its three William Pereira-designed buildings seemed to float above water. Unfortunately that water proved unsustainable as the legendary tar beneath our foundations seeped through no matter what protective measures were taken. Eventually the fountains were removed, literally paving the way for the Anderson Building, now known as the Art of the Americas Building, which was built in the 1980s. Here are a few shots to give you some sense of how open the campus felt when it was first created.

Scott Tennent

4 Responses to Happy Birthday Dear LACMA

  1. sissy says:

    terrific photos, esp. the one of the museum “floating” on water.

  2. Debra Levine says:

    Marvelous photos! I enjoyed your noting of the acronym development….

  3. D. Miller says:

    I always thought those fountains and moats gave a bit of liveliness and sort of a flair to the museum.

    I suddenly realize that the atrium’s staircase used to open up on the south side. Now it’s on the east side and takes over the entire width of the interior perimeter wall.

    For the display of the entire collection to have been pretty much limited to the Ahmanson building, before it had even been expanded in the 1980s, makes the original museum seem quite petite compared with what it has since become.

    The models posed throughout the galleries in evening wear show just how different a part of the culture was in the first half of the 1960s. The tail end of a bit of graciousness left in society, yet at the same time also humorously pretentious. Similarly, the LA Times magazine for LACMA’s premiere exemplified the somewhat unsophisticated nature of the era (or at least the city’s main newspaper back then), hinted at by the merely semi-professional look of the publication’s layouts (great cover font).

    All in all, 2010 is better than 1965!

  4. [...] How’d I miss this? LACMA in 1965. [...]

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