Happy Birthday Dear LACMA

March 30, 2010

Where were you on March 31, 1965? If you lived in Los Angeles and loved the arts, there’s a good chance you were here in the Miracle Mile, on the opening day of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

…er, Los Angeles County Art Museum. LACAM? Truth be told it took a while before the museum settled on the acronym LACMA. In the beginning most people seemed to refer to it as the County Museum of Art—as differentiated from the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, which opened back in 1913 and from which this museum would secede (leaving its original institution to become the Natural History Museum).

The new museum was dedicated on March 30, 1965, and debuted to the public the following day. The above image came from a small book developed by the museum and inserted into the March 28 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Here are a few more pages from that book, showing off some well-heeled patrons posing for the cameras.

Today that wide-open atrium is filled by Tony Smith’s “Smoke”

Today those stairs are gone, replaced by a new grand staircase.

We’re considering reinstating a dress code for visiting the museum. No fur, no admission.

The painting is by Stuart Davis, the sculpture by Pegot Waring, the chair by Mies van der Rohe, the dress by Galanos… but who did the hair?

I also dug up a few photos from the museum’s inaugural year that really show off how open and airy the campus felt. When the museum’s original campus opened, its three William Pereira-designed buildings seemed to float above water. Unfortunately that water proved unsustainable as the legendary tar beneath our foundations seeped through no matter what protective measures were taken. Eventually the fountains were removed, literally paving the way for the Anderson Building, now known as the Art of the Americas Building, which was built in the 1980s. Here are a few shots to give you some sense of how open the campus felt when it was first created.

Scott Tennent