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Becoming Los Angeles: New 14,000-square-foot exhibit offers unique take on Los Angeles' stories
The Tourist was not only the first production automobile to be manufactured in Los Angeles, but also remains to this day the largest such venture in the region. Photo by Edgar Chamorro, courtesy of NHM.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County opened Becoming Los Angeles in a permanent hall that illustrates the city’s transformation by exploring its cultural and ecological histories — and illuminating their interconnectedness. Powerful storytelling, contemporary design, exceptional objects, and multi-media allow visitors to interact with the exhibition, and by extension, contemporary Los Angeles, in real time.

“When Becoming Los Angeles opens, Los Angeles County will have, for the first time, a permanent museum exhibition dedicated to telling the stories of Southern California, providing residents and tourists with a major resource for understanding L.A., and how L.A., in turn, shapes and influences the rest of the world,” said Dr. Jane Pisano, NHM President and Director.

The Museum’s unparalleled collection of early Southern California artifacts, as well as its extraordinary scientific specimens, are the foundation of the new 14,000-square-foot exhibition, delving into 500 years of Los Angeles history from European contact to its rise as a global capital.

Inside a suite of four galleries in the Museum’s newly-renovated 1913 and 1920s buildings, a visually striking canopy symbolizes the sweep of history and lead visitors through the exhibit’s major sections or historical eras: the pre-Spanish landscape; Mission Era; Mexican Rancho Era; the early years of the American Period; the emergence of a new American city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and L.A. as a global city of the 21st century. This canopy touches down at four points, triggering the walkthrough experience from once section to the next. Iconic objects at these trigger points include a cross from Mission San Gabriel and an inscribed sword from the Mexican war of independence. Other important objects in the exhibit include a wooden oil well pump from a 1920s Los Angeles city oil field, and Walt Disney’s animation stand that was built in his uncle’s L.A. garage in 1923. (Disney used it to film “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon released that featured Mickey Mouse.)

The exhibition ends with a summation of recurring themes and an interactive multi media experience that combines historic themes with a real-time component. By juxtaposing the past and present, the exhibition engages visitors in imagining what the future holds for Los Angeles.

Becoming Los Angeles follows the successful openings of Age of Mammals and the new Dinosaur Hall, and is a key museum experience leading up to the Museum’s centennial in 2013. The exhibition is a dynamic collaboration among NHM experts, designers, and educators — with lead curator and NHM History and Anthropology Division Chief Dr. Margaret Hardin; lead historian and History Department Chair and Curator Dr. William Estrada; and NHM Creative Director Simon Adlam, who is responsible for design, development, and project management.

“There are a lot of ways to tell the stories of a city, but nobody has told one quite like this,” said Dr. Margaret Hardin. “We will use our historical treasures as touchstones to explore the development of Los Angeles, weaving its natural and cultural developments into one narrative. And we’ll illuminate the causality between them — people’s actions and their impact on the environment, and the way natural
events spiral back to affect human society.”





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