Like every great Hollywood production, it was years in the making, cost hundreds of millions of dollars, was befuddled by production snafus and creative differences, and ended up taking a lot longer to finish than anyone anticipated. But on Sept. 30, the long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures finally opens its doors in Los Angeles. What’s inside? Is it worth the trip? How’s the gift shop? Below, the answers to these and other questions on many movie lovers’ minds right now.
Why wasn’t there a movie museum before this?
The answer stretches back to Hollywood’s primordial days. As far back as the silent era, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences founders like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were pushing for a movie museum but never got one off the ground. Later, in the 1950s, Walt Disney and Jack Warner tried to build one near the Hollywood Bowl but got mired in local politics and lawsuits and ended up throwing in the towel.
The Academy came close in 2007, even hiring French architect Christian de Portzamparc to design an eight-acre campus in Hollywood, but the financial meltdown of 2008 put a wrecking ball to that plan and the Academy ended up selling the land. But then, in 2012, a new Academy CEO, Dawn Hudson, revived the dream, finding a just-right location, 300,000 square feet in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, and raising $484 million to get it done.
What’s so special about the location?
What isn’t special about this location? It’s hard to imagine a more fitting spot for a movie museum. Back in the 1920s, silent film mogul Cecil B. DeMille — another of the Academy’s founders — built an airfield on this very corner of Fairfax and Wilshire for his fleet of dirigibles and barnstormers. Ultimately, DeMille’s Mercury Aviation Company took a nosedive after the stock market crash of 1929.
In 1939, the May Company Wilshire department store sprang up on the property, with architect Albert C. Martin Sr. designing a groundbreaking deco edifice with a cylindrical section that looked like a gigantic tube of lipstick emerging from the primitive L.A. skyline. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art took over the May building in 1994, christening it LACMA West, until the Academy snatched the property in 2014, eventually renaming it the Saban Building (after movie executive and philanthropist Haim Saban and his wife forked over a $50 million donation to the museum).
Famed Italian architect Renzo Piano was hired in 2017 to refurbish and repurpose the building — already an L.A. historic landmark — with an opening date originally scheduled for 2020. But funding snafus, a global pandemic and other hiccups (like the discovery of Ice Age sloth fossils under the foundation) delayed its completion until now.