Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration

Fin Whale Stars in the Natural History Museum’s Sound and Light Show, Revealing the New Otis Booth Pavilion in Glamorous Style 


The June 8 “Grand Centennial Celebration” at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County marked “100 years of wonder” for the city’s oldest museum.

Almost an immediate sell-out, the black-tie extravaganza raised $2.2 million and attracted 900 guests to the gala dinner. An additional 400 came the after-party and preview of the new Nature Gardens, Nature Lab and Otis Booth Pavilion, which now showcases the museum’s famous fin whale. 

Given L.A.’s typical, nonchalant dress-as-you-like attitude, it’s not often that so many women deck themselves out in long gowns. Yet the 100th birthday party and major transformation of the city’s oldest museum seemed to justify jewels and high style.

(Check the photo gallery below for pictures of partygoers.)

The cocktail reception took place in and around the opulent art deco Haaga Family Rotunda inside the original 1913 building. Guests dined amid the towering dinosaurs and mammal habitats, in my case, beside the western lowland gorilla. The wall-size diorama of Savanna elephants stood at my far left; an ostrich vignette appeared opposite; and the table centerpieces was a terrarium, complete with a mini-dinosaur inside. 

The unveiling of the new Otis Booth Pavilion followed dinner in a spectacular sound and light show, featuring among other elements: vintage and current photos, scenes of children’s visits and a diverse assortment of television and movie clips using NHM as a backdrop. Clips came from “Mad Men,” “Heroes,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “MacGyver,” “Pretty Woman,” “Escape from Planet of the Apes,” and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” among others. 

There, too, were birthday wishes, remarks and in one case, a roar, by political officials, arts leaders, museum trustees, major donors and others, including Jason Alexander and a dinosaur.

The “Seinfeld” star talked of the joy of stepping into “the world of extinct animals, to know that these fabulous creatures once roamed the earth and then were no more.”  The roar came from the dinosaur, who crept up behind Alexander, presumably in protest of declaring him extinct.

Lynn Booth, widow of the late Otis Booth, recalled museum president Jane Pisano’s request to the Otis Booth Foundation. “The Pavilion wasn’t even in the discussion,” she said, “but when we saw the plans later, we just thought it would be the right thing to do, and it would be a wonderful legacy for Otis.”

Museum trustee Kevin Sharer directed his remarks to Otis Booth. “I know he’s listening and I know he’s with us,” Sharer said. “I think it’s perfect that we remember you in this new Pavilion. The whale is a perfect metaphor for you: Big, powerful, deep, kind of quiet, but important.”

Just before the curtain dropped, a projection showed fin whales alive and swimming, spouting water above the Pavilion and finally, breaking through what appeared to be the glass walls around them. In the “wow” moment that immediately followed, the curtain dropped to reveal the fin whale skeleton in full diving position inside the Pavilion.  

“Very impressive,” said Alexander of the transition, as the Tony-nominated actor and his wife, Dana, awaited entry into the Pavilion. (He predicted that “Kinky Boots” would be hard to beat in the June 9 Tony Awards.)

And according to Pisano, there is yet another wonder, “Becoming Los Angeles,” documenting the history of Los Angeles, that is set to open in July, making the Natural History Museum “a must-stop, first stop for visitors from Los Angeles County, from the rest of the country, and from around the world.”

Lynn Booth and Marcia and Richard Volpert served as honorary chairs, with 100th Anniversary Chairs including Lynn and Douglas Brengel, Janet and Michael Fourticq, Heather and Paul Haaga, sarah Meeker Jensen, Elaine Leventhal, Joan Payden, Jane and Mark Pisano, Allison and Richard Roeder, and Carol and Kevin Sharer. 

Opening Night chairs were Molly and Neal Brockmeyer, Victoria and Jean-Marc Chapus, Stephen and Margaret Davis, Nancy and John Edwards, Kathryne and William Garland, Iline and Stanley Gold, Karen and James Hoffman, Diane Naegele, Marla and Drew Sobel, Cindy and Sheldon Stone, and Elizabeth Thornton Levy.

J.P. Morgan acted as presenting sponsor. Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of “Animal” and “Son of a Gun” designed the menu.


Top photo: The new Otis Booth Pavilion, revealed at the Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration (photo:

Second photo:  Lynn Booth was among the speakers, shown in the sound and light projection at the finale of the Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration Grand Centennial Celebration (photo:

Third photo: Various images were shown throughout the sound and light show at the Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration Grand Centennial Celebration (photo:

Fourth photo:  A projection of live fin whales preceded the reveal of the famous fin whale skeleton inside the new Otis Booth Pavilion at the Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration Grand Centennial Celebration (photo:


Fifth photo:  The fin whales appeared to break the glass walls surrounding them, before the curtain dropped to reveal the new Otis Booth Pavilion at the Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration Grand Centennial Celebration (photo:

Sixth photo:  Jason Alexander and his wife Daena, attending NHM’s Grand Centennial Celebration, said their children attended summer camp at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (photo:

Photos in the gallery below by Ryan Miller/ Capture Imaging



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A Million Dollar Otis Scholarship Benefit and Fashion Show Extravaganza

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Natural History Museum of LA County Grand Centennial Celebration

Published June 9, 2013 – Ellen Olivier, Society News LA