This weekend the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles throws open its doors to celebrate its centenary and the completion of a major (and wonderful) renovation. There’s a big birthday bash planned, complete with food trucks and a performance by DEVO, the 1970s New Wave band from Ohio (why not?!), and even a giant gift waiting to be unwrapped—the museum’s glassy new entrance pavilion will be unveiled during Sunday’s celebration.
The museum opened, along with Exposition Park which surrounds it, with great fanfare and two weeks of celebration on November 7, 1913. During the two days before, the city celebrated another momentous opening: that of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which piped water to the city from the Owens Valley hundreds of miles north. The timing was no coincidence: a Celebration Commission produced a pamphlet promoting the two-day affair in honor of the “completion of two great institutions which are without peers in this or in any other country.” A site across from the museum’s entrance was dedicated that day in 1913 for a fountain, in commemoration of the aqueduct (though the fountain wasn’t actually built until 1929). With its gleaming new monument to arts and sciences and ample water supply now assured the city had not just arrived, but was going places.
Over the decades, the museum has changed names and grown, and evolved away from its watery history. Once closed, the original 1913 entrance is open again, but the primary way into the museum is now on the north side, facing a symbol of LA’s new future: the light rail Expo Line that opened last year. But the connection to water has not been forgotten.
As part of the renovations, an old parking lot has been transformed into three-and-a-half acres of gardens along the museum’s north and east sides. Opened to coincide with the new Expo Line’s opening day in 2012, the plants have had over a year to mature before this weekend’s celebration. One of the garden’s attractions is a large water feature designed to mimic Los Angeles’s water system. A pond on one end and an “urban water feature” where a sheet of water runs over stone are connected by a dry creek bed. The museum says it’s “a metaphor for LA’s waterways, whose seasonal streams disappear underground.” One end has become a popular gathering spot for birds, and the other for splashing children, if a recent visit is any indication.
Water is an integral part of Los Angeles’s natural history, and its place in the museum’s gardens is entirely fitting. It’s also a key part of the museum’s history, and it’s nice to see that link restored.
— Eve Bachrach
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Daniels, http://www.elizabethdanielsphotography.com.