Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum

Becoming Los Angeles | Photo courtesy of Cinnabar California Inc., Facebook

On July 14, 2013, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) opened Becoming Los Angeles, a 14,000 square-foot exhibition that explores the growth of Los Angeles over the course of five centuries, and illustrates the relationship between the city’s ecological and cultural histories. Becoming Los Angeles is the latest milestone in the greatest transformation in NHM’s 100-year history. The $135-million project, dubbed NHM NEXT, began with the restoration of the museum’s historic 1913 Building, continued with the opening of the Age of Mammals and Dinosaur Hall, and in 2013 saw the opening of the Otis Booth Pavilion, Nature Garden, and Nature Lab (see below).

A visually striking canopy that symbolizes the sweep of local history leads visitors through the story of Los Angeles, as told in the exhibit’s six major sections. The history of Los Angeles is brought to life through compelling stories and ancient and historic artifacts, including objects made and used by Native Americans, colonists, and settlers; rancheros, citrus growers and oil barons; captains of industry, boosters, and radicals; filmmakers, innovators, and more.

Becoming Los Angeles also features innovative multimedia installations, including an interactive scale model of Downtown L.A. in the 1930s, which takes visitors back in time through the 19th and 20th centuries of 10 distinct neighborhoods.

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Walter Horace Judson stained-glass skylight | Photo courtesy of NHM


The first major milestone of NHM NEXT was the restoration of the museum’s original structure, the 1913 Building. The Beaux Arts structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, received a seismic retrofit during its restoration. The Haaga Family Rotunda and its centerpiece, the Walter Horace Judson stained-glass skylight, is now a multi-use space and the site for a new series of rotating exhibitions on the ground and mezzanine levels. The 1913 Building restoration was completed in 2009.

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Age of Mammals | Photo courtesy of NHM, Facebook


In 2010, NHM opened its Age of Mammals exhibit in a renovated wing of the 1913 Building. The exhibit displays some of NHM’s—and the world’s—most awe-inspiring fossil mammals, many of them on view for the first time. Don’t miss the 50,000-year-old Simi Valley mastodon, shown for the first time since it was discovered in 2001. Also exhibited are modern mammals, specimens captured in motion, and hands-on displays.

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Dinosaur Hall | Photo courtesy of NHM


The 14,000-square-foot Dinosaur Hall is one of the most extraordinary dinosaur exhibits in the world, and the premier dinosaur experience in the western United States. Dinosaur Hall, which opened to widespread acclaim in 2011, houses the world's only Tyrannosaurus rex growth series and features more than 300 real fossils, as well as 20 complete dinosaurs and ancient sea creatures. The complete mounts have either never been on display before, or have been re-posed according to the latest research. Many were discovered only recently by NHM’s in-house Dinosaur Institute. Dinosaur Hall also features hands-on and interactive displays.

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Photo courtesy of NHM, Facebook


The museum’s new main entrance is a six-story, multimedia glass cube watched over by the 63-foot skeleton of a fin whale, previously on view in the 1913 Building and now displayed in a dramatic diving position. The spectacular Otis Booth Pavilion debuted in June 2013, featuring whale sounds and 33,000 LEDs that create an immersive oceanic experience.

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Erika J. Glazer Family Edible Garden | Photo courtesy of NHM, Facebook


In June 2013, NHM opened its Nature Gardens, a 3.5-acre urban wilderness that invites visitors to spot birds and butterflies, learn to observe and track species with NHM scientists, engage in gardening workshops and nature walks with educators, and poke around LA’s newest civic green space. Spaces within the Nature Gardens include the Erika J. Glazer Family Edible Garden, the Get Dirty Zone, the Listening Tree, the Living Wall, and an Urban Water Feature, a metaphor for the Los Angeles River that starts with a source pond, then the water disappears underground, and re-emerges later.

A scientific hub called the Nature Lab bridges the gap between NHM’s indoor research and collections, and the outdoor Nature Gardens. Visitors of all ages can participate in real science research, learn scientific methods, and engage in hands-on activities that build their observation skills. The lab features live animals, touchable specimens, citizen science projects, and multimedia.

L.A. is a city of stories. Not just screenplays and novels. But real life stories that can only happen in L.A. A close encounter with dolphins. A brush with a celebrity. A cupcake from a vending machine. It could be an event, an exhibit, a song. But the moment it happens, you can’t wait to tell everyone back home about it. What's your L.A. story?