While everyone’s mind in Hollywood was on the Oscar celebration and vegan cuisine this past weekend, down on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire, the beloved landmark May Company department store building will be ready for a close-up later this year. Academy Museum co-chair Tom Hanks announced during the ABC Oscar broadcast last Sunday night that the 26 million-pound concrete structure would be opening Dec. 14 of this year. The Academy also stated it just passed the 95 percent mark in it’s pre-opening fundraising efforts, thanks in part to the Saban family donation of $50 million; along with leadership gifts from Barbara Streisand, East West Bank, Steve Tisch, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bob Iger and Willow Bay among many contributions totaling $368 million.
The iconic 1939 building with a circular 24-karat gold cylinder was created during the Golden Age of Hollywood and fittingly evokes a film cannister. Now the Wilshire entrance opens up to a main lobby in the Saban building, leading to six floors of exhibition space.
One of the world’s greatest architects, Renzo Piano, is responsible for the 300,000 square feet of design space behind the streamline modern facade. “This is a museum for everyone,” said Academy Museum Director Bill Kramer. “Renzo has brilliantly married the past and the future.” The second structure, the Sphere building, represents the future and houses a 1,000 seat David Geffen theatre. “Renzo designed this to appear as if it was floating which is a nod to the fantasy and imagination of the movies,” said Kramer.
The prime mid-town location is right across the street from the Petersen Automotive Museum, Drago restaurant and the new subway stop. The main building ground floor will house a Spielberg family gallery, an indoor-outdoor restaurant, and a gift shop with Academy merchandise unique to this location.
“We are building a museum that will fully reflect the wide variety of stories connected to cinema and motion pictures,” said Kramer. “Celebrated stories as well as more complicated ones. We want to tell stories from many points of view. To do so, we’re drawing on the strengths that are available to no other museum in the world. The extraordinary materials and collection items found in the Academy’s library and archive, as well as our own growing collection, and the knowledge, insight and expertise of our staff members that are helping us build this museum.”
“Our members from around the world, the artists whose work we are showcasing, are serving as advisors and donating artifacts. The resources will make our museum unparalleled in what it offers.” Part of those offerings include an exceptional combination of long-term and temporary exhibitions, two state of the art theatres, and a year-round slate of public and educational programs.
Some of the rare items on display will include Bela Lugosi’s cape from “Dracula” and Judy Garland’s Ruby Slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” The staggering collection includes more than 12.5 million photographs, 237,000 film assets and 85,000 screenplays.
The museum will explore in-depth stories in many voices and utilize guest curators over the different floors for subjects such as the history of the Academy Awards to behind the scenes of how films are made. There will be floors devoted to science fiction and Japanese animation, and a Shirley Temple studio for kids, an educational center that will study films from visual effects, production, sound and costume design and using the objects that help to create and meld these worlds.
Head to the top floor and cross the Barbara Streisand bridge to the Dolby terrace made possible by the Ray Dolby sound expert family out of San Francisco. The 1,500 panes of glass from Austria cut in 146 different custom-made shapes with a shading system, will cast a glow on the world class views from the Hollywood sign to Beverly Hills City Hall and the West Hollywood Pacific Design Center.
Downstairs, the dramatic, all red 1,000 seat David Gefen Theater holds a stage for a 60-piece orchestra, and will be able to screen every type of film, from nitrate to 70mm, with Dolby sound. The green hued Ted Mann theatre is 288 seats for more intimate events and screenings. Bernardo Rondeau head of film programs and associate curator of the Geffen theatre said, “We are surrounded by the great movie palaces in Hollywood and now we have the great privilege to unveil the movie palace of the future.”