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Like a parade of penguins, a large number of Los Angeles museum patrons — or Angelenocus Philanthropicus — donned their black-tie apparel for the Natural History Museum Centennial Gala celebration this Saturday night. The big 100th birthday party attracted more than 900 patrons, party animals and a few octogenarian fossils to the renovated museum. And it’s not every night you get to go eye-to-eye with a two-story T-Rex in a gallery and then step outside and dance to T. Rex until the wee hours of the morning.
Major museum advocate and actor Jason Alexander attended the event with his wife, Daena Title. Alexander brought a welcome George Costanza jocularity to the gathering through an altercation with a stuffed triceratops in the video presentation later in the evening. Other notable guests included John Gavin; Glenn Geller and Heather Gray of CBS Television Studios and Universal Media’s Peter Traugott; Dixon Slingerland, director of the Youth Policy Institute; patrons Frank and Kathy Baxter and Elizabeth and Otis Chandler, as well as politicians Kevin James and Los Angeles County supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky.
But walking through the nature gardens with Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin, NHM vp marketing and communications Cynthia Wornham and Susan Nimoy, it was clear that the rock star of the event was landscape architect Mia Lehrer. Lehrer designed the new edible-garden feature of the museum renovation. Snapping off mint and sage leaves for fellow guests to taste, Lehrer described the way she designed the serpentine path and raised-bed planters for schoolchildren to be able to connect directly to the earth and learn where their food comes from.
An incredible meal was prepared by chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal and Son of a Gun restaurants featuring gem lettuce salad; braised short ribs and brioche-crusted cod; salted caramel brownies, macerated strawberries on sugared biscuits and bacon chocolate crunch bars. “The menu was inspired by our tour of the NHM and its history,” Shook said. “We were inspired by the beautiful gardens, the exploration of different animal species and the overall importance of how impactful the passage and preservation of knowledge is to generations past and ones to come. We created a menu that is colorful and explores new flavors and ideas as well as some rooted in tradition.”
An elaborate audiovisual presentation followed the dinner and culminated with the unveiling of the new Otis Booth Pavilion, the highlight of the new indoor/outdoor museum campus. The new glass-walled six-story grand entrance features a dramatic installation of the enormous fin whale skeleton, accompanied by the sounds of real fin whales, and an immersive light experience provided by 33,600 LED lights, which can simulate water, other fish and animals and shadows. Named in honor of the late civic leader and NHM Trustee Otis Booth in recognition of an unprecedented $13 million gift from the Otis Booth Foundation, the Pavilion connects the museum directly to the Metro Expo Line by way of a soaring cantilevered bridge, which spans the nature gardens and the museum’s new outdoor amphitheater.
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