KNX Los Angeles – Kaleidoscope – March 25, 1965 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
April 1965 – Los Angeles was celebrating. It finally had its own art museum. The L.A. County Museum of Art had finally opened to the public after a series of gala events and black-tie affairs. A new era was now underway. To clarify, Los Angeles did have an art museum – it had one since 1913, but it was a shared space with the Museum Of Natural History in Exposition Park.
Very soon after its opening, LACMA became the largest art museum in the western United States. It attracted nearly a million visitors annually. It held more than 150,000 works spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present. In addition to art exhibits, it featured film and concert series.
The museum, built in a style similar to Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles Music Center, consisted of three buildings: the Ahmanson Building, the Bing Center, and the Lytton Gallery (renamed the Frances and Armand Hammer Building in 1968). The board selected LA architect William Pereira over the directors’ recommendation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the buildings. According to this episode of KNX Radio’s program Kaleidoscope, the total cost of the three buildings was over $11.5 million. Construction began in 1963, and was undertaken by the Del E. Webb Corporation. Construction was completed in early 1965. At the time, the Los Angeles Music Center and LACMA were concurrent large civic projects which vied for attention and donors in Los Angeles. When LACMA opened, the buildings were surrounded by reflecting pools.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was established as a museum in 1961. Prior to this, LACMA was part of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, founded in 1913 in Exposition Park near the University of Southern California. Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr., Anna Bing Arnold and Bart Lytton were the first principal patrons of the museum. Ahmanson made the lead donation of $2 million, convincing the museum board that sufficient funds could be raised to establish the new museum. In 1965 the museum moved to a new Wilshire Boulevard complex as an independent, art-focused institution, the largest new museum to be built in the United States after the National Gallery of Art.
This episode of the KNX-AM Radio program Kaleidoscope, features interviews with Ahmanson and several other notables just prior to the public opening of the gallery, as it was broadcast on March 25, 1965.
And so – it seems ironic, and not in a good way, that this month of April 2020, fifty-five years after the celebrations and the optimism, LACMA is being torn down – destroyed to make way for a new museum, one that has controversy attached to it.
As a reminder of how thrilled at the time Los Angeles was to have its own Art Museum, here is that 1/2 hour report on the upcoming grand opening of the L.A. County Art Museum.