For a city of such international prominence, it is surprising that Los Angeles was without an art museum until 1965. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art establishment was an outgrowth of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, which opened in Exposition Park in 1913. By the 1950's, the museum could no longer sustain its growing art collection, and in 1958 the county filed contractual agreements for a permanent museum dedicated to art. The county of Los Angeles then donated seven acres of land in Hancock Park, adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits, for its new museum.
Ric Brown, the LACMA director from 1961-1966 initially suggested Mies van der Rohe as the museum architect, but the board of trustees decided to commission the local firm of William Pereira Associates, perhaps best known for the 1972 Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco.
Pereira's plan for LACMA (pictured above) included three disconnected pavilions set around a plaza that combines elements of midcentury modernism and neoclassicism. The indoor-outdoor element is a vital force in Los Angeles architecture. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened to the public in 1965, but has since grown considerably to seven buildings stretching from the western edge of the La Brea Tar Pits to Fairfax Avenue, and is now the largest art museum in the Western United States.
In 1986, then-LACMA director Earl A. Powell III commissioned the architectural firm of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates for a major museum expansion on Wilshire Boulevard. The Robert O. Anderson Building rises 100 feet above Wilshire with a stone facade interrupted by horizontal rows of glass brick and a five-story entrance.
In 1988, the Pavilion for Japanese Art, a highly unusual building designed by Bruce Goff, was completed. The collection within the pavilion was largely donated by Joe Price, who developed an interest in Japanese art and architecture while studying under Frank Lloyd Wright (Joe’s father Harold Price commissioned Wright’s only realized skyscraper: the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma). Bruce Goff passed away in 1982, and Joe Price’s condition for the donation was that the building be constructed according to Goff’s 1978 design for the museum.
In 1995, LACMA acquired the former May Company Building located at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The building was designed by Albert C. Martin in 1939 in the International Style, and is highlighted by a massive, golden column framed by black glass. The May Company Building, now known as LACMA West, houses exhibition space and staff offices.
In the early 2000’s, LACMA trustee Eli Broad offered to fund a new building to house his and the museum’s collection of contemporary artwork, and in 2005 Renzo Piano was selected as the architect for the museum addition. Piano’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) spatially filled in the gap between the original campus and the acquired May Company Building. In typical Renzo Piano fashion, BCAM defining characteristics involve light and space. Renzo Piano further affected the appearance of LACMA by unifying the disparate buildings and shifting the main entrance to the BP Grand Entrance.
LACMA is seen on the LA Highlights Tour.
Private tours of LACMA can be arranged.
Pudleaux Tourism offers a variety of architectural and sightseeing tours of Los Angeles. Each LA tour offers a unique way to experience this vast metropolis and learn about Los Angeles' fascinating architectural history. These guided tours visit a medley of areas in and around Los Angeles, including: Downtown LA, Silver Lake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica, and Venice, to see and discuss the work of architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, R.M. Schindler, John Lautner, Charles Eames, and Frank Gehry among others.