Motion Picture Academy Takes Step to Create Museum in Former May Co. Department Store

UPDATED: The building, owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is located in Los Angeles' Miracle Mile district.

Setting aside its plans to build an expensive motion picture museum in Hollywood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to develop plans to create a museum in the former May Co. department store building in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile district.

The distinctive building at the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard is owned by LACMA, which in 1994 acquired the property, built in 1939, and renamed it LACMA West.

The Academy’s board of governors on Tuesday night  joined their LACMA counterparts in agreeing to sign a memorandum of understanding to work in good faith in establishing the Academy's movie museum in the May Co. building. The memo opens the door for the two organizations to discuss a future contract and for the Academy to develop fundraising plans.

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The Academy said it hopes to sign a long-term lease for the facility and will retain autonomy over all aspects of the museum while benefiting from LACMA's experience in managing arts institutions.

The Academy also will mount a new fundraising campaign for the museum, which will be designed to give visitors an entertaining and interactive experience illuminating the way movies reflect culture and the impact they have upon it. The museum is expected to feature both permanent and rotating exhibitions inside the facility's 300,000 square feet.

The move represents one of the first major initiatives under the leadership of the Academy's new CEO Dawn Hudson, who had previously worked with LACMA in her role as executive director of Film Independent.

"Finally, our industry will have a dedicated space where we can inform and excite people about the endless range and possibilities of motion pictures," she said of the planned museum, which is to the east of the Academy's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters in Beverly Hills.  "This new facility will make our resources and activities -- our programming, our archives, and our library -- even more visible and accessible all year round." 

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Calling the planned museum, which will sit just to the west of the LACMA campus, "appropriate and long overdue for the city that is home to the motion picture industry," Terry Semel, co-chair of the LACMA board of trustees, said, "the setting could not be more ideal, nestled next to the largest encyclopedic art museum in the Western United States."

Academy president Tom Sherak added, “The new museum will be a world-class destination that is a tangible representation of the Academy’s mission. And the idea of our museum being part of a larger cultural center for the arts, in this city that we love, was incredibly compelling to the Academy board.”

In 2005, the Academy began process of acquiring property in Hollywood for a $400 million museum project, which would house a trove of artifacts and offer public programs, lectures and revolving exhibitions to cater to both locals and tourists. During the next few years, it assembled the multi-acre site off of Vine Street at the cost of as much as $50 million.

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AMPAS hired renowned French architect Christian de Portzamparc, who designed the LVMH Tower in New York, to create a sleek, modern edifice, which, when joined with the Academy's adjacent Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, would create an 8.25-acre campus. But just before a significant capital campaign was to begin, it was derailed by the economic collapse that began in earnest in fall 2008.

The project was set aside, and the Academy's roughly 3.5-acre site -- located across from ArcLight Cinemas, less than a mile from the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars are handed out – now sits vacant. It was not immediately clear what use the Academy will now make of that site.