New Academy Museum Could Feature Oscar on its Historic Facade

 Museum Associates/LACMA

Double the size and half the fundraising burden.

Those are the rough metrics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ plan to open a museum in the former May Co. building on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus -- instead of at a Hollywood property on which the organization had planned to build a $400 million project.

The museum could open in as little as three years -- and it might even include an image of Oscar etched on the building’s distinctive gold cylinder. It would be operated by AMPAS under a long-term lease agreement with LACMA, according to Academy president Tom Sherak, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “The fact that we don’t have this in L.A. -- the home of the motion picture -- we need to change that,” he said.

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The Academy’s board of governors on Tuesday night joined their LACMA counterparts by agreeing to sign a memorandum of understanding to work in good faith to establish a movie museum in the 300,000-square-foot former department store building, which is located at 6067 Wilshire Blvd. on the western edge of the LACMA campus in the Miracle Mile district. The memo opens the door for the two organizations to discuss a future contract and for the Academy, which generates the vast majority of its revenue from the sale of broadcast rights to the Oscars show, to develop fundraising plans.

But several questions remain: Sherak did not offer specifics on the terms or length of the lease the Academy would sign with LACMA, except to say, “I won’t be around by the time this lease is finished.”  And though he did not divulge the estimated cost of the project -- which could take as long as five years to complete -- Sherak said AMPAS “will only have to raise half of what we needed to raise” for the now-scuttled Hollywood museum development on Vine Street.  

“We are starting the fundraising campaign now and that will determine how fast this building goes up,” said Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. AMPAS would retain autonomy over all aspects of the museum, while relying on LACMA’s expertise in museum management and construction, Hudson said. The former department store, built in the Streamline Moderne style, opened in 1939; LACMA acquired it in 1994 and renamed it LACMA West.

The May Co. structure is known for the gold cylinder that makes up a portion of its facade, which has been designated historic by the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. LACMA CEO Michael Govan said that there have been discussions regarding the possibility of incorporating the iconic Oscar statuette into the cylindrical part of the building’s facade. “It was just screaming to be an Oscar,” said Govan, adding that there are ways to alter that portion of the building “that would be consistent with its historical designation.” According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, the city's Office of Historic Resources would review any proposed changes to the cylinder.

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Despite its new direction, the Academy still plans to open exhibition space at the Vine Street property that it once envisioned as the home of a movie museum, though its long-term plans for the property are unclear.

“The one thing we are not going to do -- the Academy will not do and the board will not let it be done -- we are not going to abandon that site,” Sherak said.

But the new LACMA plan marks a major shift in AMPAS’ previous movie museum efforts and is a blow to Hollywood stakeholders who had hoped a movie museum would help in the continued revitalization of the area. The Academy had long planned to build a 144,000-square-foot development on Hollywood property it began acquiring in 2005 at the cost of up to $50 million. French architect Christian de Portzamparc designed a sleek, modern edifice, but just before a significant fundraising campaign would have begun, the project was derailed by the economic collapse that began in earnest in fall 2008. The 3.5-acre site, which is located across from ArcLight Cinemas on Vine, has sat vacant for a handful of years; in August area stakeholders told THR it had become an eyesore.

Sherak said that the Academy still plans to create an exhibition space in one of the buildings at the site and there has been discussion about hosting occasional outdoor screenings. The Academy has begun razing some structures and cleaning up the property, which is adjacent to its Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study.

"I'm glad to see the museum is moving forward and that AMPAS is firmly committed to investing in and developing its Hollywood property near Sunset [Boulevard] and Vine. The entertainment industry has long been crucial to our local economy and played a significant role in our global culture,” Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti said. “AMPAS' new resources will celebrate that history and bring it to life for future generations.”

But Sherak said he wasn’t sure how the property would be used once the movie museum opens, though he suggested that potential features such as an outdoor theater could remain in use once the museum opens. “Why would that have to go away if we want to keep it? It doesn’t have to go away. So there is a lot of planning that needs to be done,” he said.

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Sherak said that discussions with LACMA began informally in spring 2010, and were initially spearheaded by former Academy president Sid Ganis, who met with Govan and discussed the need for an AMPAS museum. “We talked about how sad it was that this hadn’t quite pulled itself together yet,” Govan said.

Talks became more serious once Hudson was named the new CEO of the Academy in April. Sherak said that at a June 1 AMPAS board of governors meeting, Hudson, former head of Film Independent, homed in on the potential project. “All of the sudden it was like an arrow to the bull’s-eye. Next thing I know, Michael and she were talking and we had a committee put together,” Sherak said.

The LACMA campus has been considerably transformed during the last half-decade with the addition of two new buildings. In 2008, the museum opened the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and last year the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion threw open its doors. As part of a three-phase plan, the May Co. building was to have also been remodeled. However, Govan said that Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan to build the Westside Subway Extension, which would include a stop at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, caused LACMA to rethink its plan.

“We paused and said, ‘that is a really important building and it really ought to have something fantastic in it,’” Govan said. "It needed to be a destination in it of itself.  This will become again, as it was, one of the most famous buildings in Los Angeles. We are happy to move our plans around to other spaces.”

The prospective museum is the strongest signal to date that LACMA intends to strengthen its connections to the movie business. Earlier this year LACMA announced that it would reboot its film-screening program this fall. It has formed a partnership with Film Independent, the group behind the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, and has hired film critic Elvis Mitchell as curator.

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“LACMA is an eclectic museum with lots of collections in lots of different areas -- film seems like a slam dunk,” said Terry Semel, co-chair of the LACMA board of trustees and former chairman of Warner Bros.

The museum’s board now features a slew of entertainment business players, including Willow Bay, Brian Grazer, Michael Lynton, Carole Bayer Sager, Barbra Streisand and Steve Tisch.  And on Monday it was announced that CAA partner Bryan Lourd is joining the 64-member board.

Also, in September, LACMA announced that its inaugural Art + Film Gala -- slated to be held Nov. 5 -- will honor Clint Eastwood and conceptual artist John Baldessari. The gala is intended in part to raise funds to support LACMA’s "initiative to make film more central to the museum's curatorial programming," the museum said in a press release.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller 

 
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