Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum Becoming LA
Sign Spinners, Charlie Chaplin, Rolls Royce Engines and a Cow on View at the VIP Preview of “Becoming Los Angeles”

 

 

 

For a classic California touch, sign spinners pointed the way to the July 12 VIP Preview of “Becoming Los Angeles,” the new exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. And like the billboards throughout the city, the sign read “Cow Poop Changed L.A.”

On this night, directional signs made more sense than usual. They showed guests the way through the brand new Nature Gardens to the new Otis Booth Pavilion entry, where they passed beneath the dramatically repositioned fin whale, presented just last month in a sound-and-light spectacular at a gala black tie 100th birthday party.

Jane Pisano
Inside, under the shadow of two massive dinosaur skeletons, guests found cocktails and a casual buffet. There many not have been California cuisine on the menu, but from my own personal historical perspective, the dessert bar included carrot cake, which I’d never seen before moving to this state.

Sarah Jensen
More important, inside the new permanent exhibit, guests learned the history of Los Angeles, through displays of the area’s natural life, industries and residents from the Native Americans and early Spanish colonials to the ranchers, farmers, oil barons, filmmakers and industrials who created the Southern California that exists today. 

Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” costume from his 1931 film, “City Lights,” stood alongside an early motion picture camera and classic movie star photos.  Designed as a rotating mini-exhibit, the iconic costumes will be changing throughout the year.

A vintage ladder represented the orange groves; and a video – behind a tiny souvenir bottle of 1913 Owens Valley water – told the story of how William Mulholland and Fred Eaton brought water to Los Angeles. “There it is. Take it,” Mulholland said, according to the text, as the water came pouring through the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Exhibits also included an antique oil rig, a Rolls Royce aircraft engine, paintings of the early Spanish missions, historic portraits and projections of L.A. history in headlines and footage of events, not always pleasant, such as the 1992 L.A. riots.

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As advertised, a taxidermy cow came complete with an explanation of how these animals impacted California’s original natural life. The cattle and other livestock, said the text, overgrazed the land, depositing native and foreign grasses in their dung. The foreign grasses overtook the native grasses and forever changed the area’s ecology.

According to NHM president and director Jane Pisano, “Becoming Los Angeles” was designed to tell stories, rather than deliver a dry accounting of the facts.

The exhibition is the final phase of NHM’s 10-year transformation, which has also included, in addition to the new entrance, building renovations and new permanent exhibitions of the Age of Mammals, Dinosaur Hall, Nature Gardens and Nature Lab.

  

Top photo: Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” costume from the 1931 film, “City Lights” exhibit in Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (photo by Ryan Miller, Capture Imaging, courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Second photo: Jane Pisano, NHM President speaks during the VIP preview for Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (photo by Ryan Miller/ Capture Imaging, courtesy of the Natural History Museum)

Third photo: Sarah Jensen, NHM board president takes her turn at the podium at Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (photo by Ryan Miller/ Capture Imaging, courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

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Fourth photo: Sign spinners pointed the way to Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Fifth photo: A cow exhibit explained the key role cattle played in Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Sixth photo: A VIP preview of Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles included cocktails and a casual buffet beneath the dinosaur skeletons 

 

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Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Published July 13, 2013 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA