After 14 months and $90 million in dramatic renovations, the Petersen Automotive Museum has reopened.
Hitting an ambitious deadline, the overhauled Wilshire Boulevard car-centric exhibition space reopened Dec. 6 to the public after its extended closure. The media got a preview earlier this month.
The makeover seeks to make the dated museum more appealing to younger audiences with a trove of interactive technology – and to give all patrons ample reason to make repeated visits, which few did before.
The reimagined space – wrapped in stainless-steel ribbons over a “hot-rod red” skin that has divided critics – is bigger and bolder. Museum leaders aimed for a world-class institution on a Miracle Mile stretch that includes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits and the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
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Museum boosters set out to join the league of such revered institutions as the Ferrari and Maserati museums in Italy; the Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz museums in Germany; and Washington’s Smithsonian and National Air and Space Museums, and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
“Our target was to be equal to – or superior to – those museums,” said Petersen board of directors Chairman Peter Mullin, an avid car collector who operates the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard. “We’re on Wilshire Boulevard at the entry point of Museum Row, in the car capital of the world, in California, which is the world’s leading edge of transportation and alternative-fuel technology.”
The new structure features an additional floor and 12,000 square feet of gallery space – as much as 50 percent more, after third-floor offices were moved to the basement.
It houses multiple galleries that will feature displays of 100 automobiles, 23 motorcycles, four scooters and one bobsled.
A “Precious Metal” exhibit in the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery features an estimated $120 million worth of silver-skinned American and European cars, among them a 1937 Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet and gleaming 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner.
The Charles Nearburg Family Gallery contains an estimated $80 million worth of race cars and a 180-degree wraparound projection wall showing race footage.
A Hollywood-themed exhibit highlights cinema cars such as a 1989 Batmobile, the Aston Martin DB10 featured in the James Bond movie “Spectre,” the 2004 Pontiac Aztek from the TV show “Breaking Bad,” and a 1914 Renault once owned by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.
French Art Deco cars in the “Rolling Sculpture” exhibit in the Mullin Grand Salon include a ruby red 1939 Delahaye Type 165 and a silver 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, one of the most coveted automobiles in the world.
The underground “Vault” – closed now but likely to open again for private tours in January – will display an additional 125 to 150 vehicles from the 300-plus piece permanent Petersen collection.
Those responsible for the redesign say the new museum takes a more 21st century approach to the celebration of 19th and 20th century motoring technology.
Where once were only 10 flat-screen TV monitors are now a flotilla of interactive electronics, including 47 Panasonic projectors, 35 interactive touch screens, 25 LED monitors, 291 three-dimensional displays of engines and scale models, and several enormous projection walls that will better capture the excitement of motoring and automotive art.
The new museum also features 10 Microsoft Xbox Forza driving simulators, in which visitors can race against virtual professionals or one another.
To get cars into and out of exhibit spaces, the Petersen now has an elevator, said to be one of the largest in Los Angeles, capable of lifting 14,200 pounds from street level to the top floor.
The museum’s motorcycle collection, curated by Petersen board member and treasurer Richard Varner, is an attempt to be “broad but credible,” Varner said.
A gallery displays a two-wheeler representing the best of every decade in motorcycle history – a 1903 Thor Camelback, a 1922 Brough Superior, an L.A.-built 1936 Crocker V-Twin, up to a supercharged, 300-horsepower Kawasaki Ninja H2R to represent the most extreme current engineering.
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