After 18 years at New York's iconic Guggenheim Museum, Brendan Connell Jr. arrived June 20 to take up his new post as COO of the Academy Museum.

Surveying the construction site at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, he insists the move from high art to pop culture isn't that dramatic, saying, "This building in a way reminds me of the Guggenheim, which was Frank Lloyd Wright's temple of the spirit, and something about this project struck me in the same way as far as the ambition behind Renzo Piano's amazing sphere."

The Academy Museum, slated to open in mid-2019, took another step forward in recent days as the scaffolding that has surrounded the sphere, that's been dubbed the "Death Star" and which will house the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater, was removed. For the first time, it's possible to see how the sphere rests on four giant plinths, allowing visitors to walk under it to reach the old May Co. building, rechristened the Saban Building.

The concrete panels, which face the sphere and came from San Jose, are all in place. And the stage is set to begin construction on the open-air glass dome that will top the structure. Explains Lauren Burdelsky, project manager for the Paratus Group, "It's structurally stabilized at this point and no longer requires additional support, so it can essentially stand alone."

Meanwhile, work is also taking place in the Saban Building, where mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are being installed and the framing out of the interior spaces is proceeding.  On the building’s exterior, the restoration of the historic limestone siding on the west and south facades is complete. On the northwest corner, a series of balconies and doors that once adorned each floor are also being constructed — they had been removed when a later addition was attached to the building, but that has now been removed so that the building will once again be true to its original 1939 form.

Progress also is being made on the towering gold cylinder that adorns the southwest corner of the building, where restoration of the gold mosaic tile is 75 percent complete. And while there had been some discussion of the possibility of creating an image of an Oscar on the gold tower, that idea has been dropped so that the building’s distinctive gold corner will look as it originally appeared.

When its glass top is complete, the sphere will stand 120 feet high. Next, work begins on one of the three bridges that will connect the sphere to the Saban Building behind it.
Photographed by Daniel Hennessy

The view from above shows the area where a concrete slab is about to be poured to serve as the floor of the Dolby Family Terrace, and that will be covered by a glass structure, made of panels imported from Germany.
Photographed by Daniel Hennessy

This story first appeared in the July 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.