Before visitors step inside the transformed Petersen Automotive Museum, they will see what Councilman David E. Ryu described at the Ribbon-cutting ceremony as a “fireball of speed and steel.” Day or night, passersby stop in the crosswalks at Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard and pull out their smartphones or cameras to take photos of the new exterior.
The Petersen, after a 14-month transformation, stands out on Museum Row with its bright red shell, armored in stainless steel “ribbons” – a realization of the first submitted proposal by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.
“… We have transformed a building that was once an old department store into one of the most groundbreaking structures in Los Angeles,” said Petersen executive director Terry Karges.
Visitors are encouraged to keep their cameras out of their pockets once inside when they explore the Petersen’s displays, technologically enhanced exhibits and interactive attractions, such as driving simulators and panoramic video walls. Features include collector cars, championship winning racecars, artistic cars, vehicles from popular films and TV shows, and some of the fastest and rarest two- and four-wheeled vehicles ever.
“What’s inside is just as stunning, including a three-story spiral staircase that transports visitors through 25 galleries representing the history, industry and artistry of the automobile,” Karges added.
Peter Mullin, chairman of the Petersen’s board of directors, explained the significance of the Petersen and automobile history in Los Angeles.
“Southern California grew out, not up. And that’s because of the car,” he said. “Every other major city grew up, we went out. More than 150 manufacturers made cars in Los Angeles since the early 1900s. So this is truly a car capital of the world right here. Wilshire Boulevard is truly the center of Los Angeles. The building we’re standing in is truly the entryway to Museum Row. So if you could write the perfect script on a blank piece of paper, that’s what you’d write down.”
Mullin said the driving force behind the redesign was a goal to re-envision what a museum should be, citing that 70-80 percent of the people who visited the Petersen before the transformation were first-time attendees.
“I said that’s the worst statistic I ever heard in my life,” Mullin said. “Because what that means is only 30 percent of the people that walk through the door have been here once before.”
Mullin said the Petersen’s goal is to turn that statistic around so 70-80 percent of the daily attendees are visiting “for the third or the fourth or the tenth time.” To help with that goal, the museum will continue to evolve after the reopening changing displays and interactive features that make a trip to the Petersen “an experience as opposed to a visit.”
Adam Langsbard, chief marketing officer for the Petersen, said although the staff is confident they created something great, it has to stay fresh. The staff made sure that the museum was “built on the ability to enact changes or alterations quickly.”
“If it doesn’t change, it will be like how we operated before the transformation where things can get stale,” he said. “To that extent we feel we can keep this place exciting in the months and years ahead.”
The new Petersen Automotive Museum has three floors each dedicated to history, industry and artistry totaling 95,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Walking around the first floor where “rolling sculptures” are displayed feels more like exploring an art gallery than a car museum. Vehicles from the Art Deco era show how automobiles have been interpreted as the subject of fine art and even used as a canvas for artistic expression, according to the museum.
On the second floor, called the Industry floor, the museum shows how automobile design has changed for speed and efficiency. Exotic and rare cars finished in silver are visitor magnets at the Precious Metal section – a $120 million exhibit, according to Langsbard – including a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 driven by James Bond in the movie “Goldfinger” and a 1967 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa described as one of the most winning Ferraris of its time. Langsbard said he heard a woman remark that the “Precious Metal” exhibit was like “standing in a room full of diamonds.”
The Pixar “Cars” Mechanical Institute features a life-size Lightning McQueen car and uses augmented reality to teach children how cars work, with the help of favorite characters from the “Cars” movies on “CARSpad” tablets.
The second floor is also where visitors will find the Mullin Design Gallery and view automotive students from the Art Center College of Design Studio sketch and mold vehicular transportation.
At the motorsports exhibit, fans will find some of the fastest racecars of all time with a 134-foot, 180-degree projection wall that displays the sights and sounds of the cars on the track. At the Forza Motorsport Racing Experience, fans will get behind the wheel in a racing simulator.
On the History floor, visitors will explore galleries that show what the future looked like to car producers in the 1950s and 1960s. The Hollywood Gallery includes the Batmobile, the “Magnum P.I.” Ferrari, vehicles from the latest James Bond movie, as well as vehicles made famous for their appearances in TV shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Entourage.”
Langsbard said it is amazing to see the museum’s exhibits come together in the final weeks of the transformation. He said when the 82 cars that are on display, some valued at $30–$40 million, started to roll into the building, it was almost like a special event for staff each time.
Langsbard said after a soft opening for the staff’s family and friends last week, a press preview day, a sold-out gala, a sold-out preview day and the opening days on Monday and Tuesday, nearly 7,000 people have toured the new museum.
“That number far eclipses any amount of attendance we would have had in a similar time frame before the transformation,” he said. “It runs laps around it, frankly.”
The museum also announced the Drago brothers will run the museum’s restaurant and catering service. Katie Conway, director of marketing for Drago Centro, said the restaurant is still in the preliminary stages and design and menu details are “in the works now.” The Drago restaurant at the Petersen is expected to open in spring.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Adult admission is $15, seniors and students are $12, children are $7, active duty military, educators and children under 3 years old are free. Guests are invited to enter the museum through the parking structure off Fairfax or the new entrance on Wilshire Boulevard. For information visit Petersen.org.
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