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Academy Museum Los Angeles opening
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

The Academy Museum is opening soon: Here’s what to expect, floor by floor

Written by
Stephanie Breijo

UPDATE: Once scheduled for late 2020 and then for the spring of 2021, the Academy Museum’s opening date has now been pushed back to September 30, 2021. Our original story appears below.

After years of waiting, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is almost here, bringing 300,000 square feet of exhibitions, memorabilia, movie screenings, events, guest curation and film history to life in Miracle Mile’s museum district. It’s only fitting that the city at the center of the movie industry finally has a public temple to cinema, and now we have an early glimpse inside.

While there’s no announced opening date, the museum is on track to open in the former May Company building at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax sometime later this year, with five floors of exhibitions; two movie theaters; one full-service restaurant and multiple public spaces—including a scenic sphere anyone can stand atop and take in views that stretch from the Getty Center to DTLA.

A model of the completed museum
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Before the exhibitions begin installation, we toured the expansive and ambitious project and learned what’s to come when the Academy Museum rolls out its own red carpet to the public. Here’s a peek inside, and what you can expect by the end of 2020.

The lobby

A podium from today’s events in the lobby; behind it is what will become the Spielberg Family Gallery
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

A spacious welcome center featuring multiple help desks and a handful of attractions in their own right, the lobby will greet guests both from Wilshire Boulevard and from an entrance just under that gorgeous glass sphere. Just off the Wilshire entrance, expect a retail shop that sports Oscars-inspired merch, souvenirs related to the museum’s current exhibitions, and a score of books related to the history of film, among other take-home goods such as clothing and art.

Just next to the shop will be the Spielberg Family Gallery, a two-story experience that’s meant to introduce you to the industry, as well as orient you to the rest of the museum. Across the lobby, expect a large restaurant, which will offer some sort of refreshment all day and into the evening—and you’ll be able to spot the restaurant from the street: The museum’s dining component will sit behind that large curved window at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax.

The basement

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

You’ll find the Shirley Temple Education Studio just beneath the lobby. Consider it a learning center within the museum’s overall learning center: This is the sort of all-ages attraction that teaches guests the ins and outs of the film industry with hands-on exhibits and technology for a peek at how production design and other behind-the-scenes jobs work and what they entail. 

This floor is also home to the Ted Mann Theater, a 288-seat screening room with 16mm, 35mm and 70mm capabilities for retrospectives, films tied to current exhibitions, and other curated series.

The second and third floors

Escalators on the way up
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Here’s where the real fun starts: The second and third floors contain the “core” exhibitions—which will function somewhat like a permanent museum exhibit, but will rotate occasionally—and these will tell the stories of movies and moviemakers. Expect rarely seen costumes, props, cameras, scripts, posters and other invaluable glimpses of movie history. Theme will draw upon significant moments in cinema, both from known names in Hollywood as well as those who were excluded from the narrative based on race, gender and sexual orientation. 

These floors will also include a section on Oscars history, and on the second floor, spotlight a rotating film’s history, starting with The Wizard of Oz (which, coincidentally, was released the same year the museum’s home—now referred to as the Saban Building—was erected, in 1939). You’ll see the ruby slippers and other iconic props, but you’ll also learn the collaborative history of how these select films were made, diving into the unseen teams responsible for making a movie happen: editing, hair and makeup, sound, cinematography and beyond, creating different vantage points into movie history.

The fourth floor

Catch ’em while you can: The fourth floor is where you’ll wander through the Academy Museum’s temporary exhibitions, which might rotate as often as twice a year or so.

The inaugural show is already worth planning a trip for, as it’s the first major American retrospective of renowned Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, the groundbreaking director and animator behind the likes of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. It will mark the first time his studio, Studio Ghibli, has allowed an outside organization access to many of these drawings from their archives, and will also involve large-scale projections of special moments from Miyazaki’s films.

The second exhibition in the books is just as enticing: “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900–1970,” with curation help from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The fifth floor

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Take the escalators or elevators all the way to the top, and you’ll find the museum’s private-events space, as well as the Barbra Streisand Bridge to the top of the stunning glass-and-concrete sphere designed, as with the rest of the museum’s campus, by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano.

The Geffen Theater

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Weighing in at 1,000 seats and practically glowing red, the luxurious Geffen Theater, housed inside the sphere, will host movie premieres, one-of-a-kind programs, events and members-only screenings. Expect all film capabilities of the basement’s Mann Theater, with the addition of a projector that can screen nitrate films, a rare experience you can only find in a handful of theaters across the country.

The Terrace

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

And finally, Piano’s sphere: A whopping 1,500 glass panels form an alfresco partial-roof that overlooks the city, including, of course, a view of the iconic Hollywood Sign. The beauty of this space is that it is open to the public—no museum ticket or membership necessary—for those simply looking to take in the scenery, and it might even host events such as outdoor screenings one day. 

Catch an additional glimpse of what to expect at the Academy Museum, below, and stay tuned for more opening announcements.

Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Another view of the Geffen Theater
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo
The view from the top
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo
Bridges between the Saban Building and the Geffen Theater and the terrace
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is slated to open at 6067 Wilshire Blvd in 2020. Memberships are already available.

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