New Exhibit Shows the Sweeping Story of L.A.

Los Angeles has often been misunderstood by outsiders. Either mythologized as the land of movie stars or loathed as the land of freeways and smog, the reality of it as a region rich with history, culture and innovation often gets overlooked. But a new exhibit at the Museum of Natural History seeks to bring the history, character and narrative of Los Angeles into focus. Becoming Los Angeles, which opens to the public this weekend, transformed 14,000 square feet of exhibition space into an interactive illustration of the history of L.A. from the dinosaurs through the modern era.

[raw]The exhibits seeks to highlight the major events in Los Angeles’ history. They include the Missionary settlements of the late 18th century, to the construction of the railroad in the late 19th century which connected Los Angeles to San Francisco, to the creation of the first mass produced car in 1902 to the modern day sprawl of Los Angeles as a place of unburdened dreams and reinvention.

The exhibit, which took 10 years to compile, is a cornerstone of the museum’s mission to remake itself as a 21st century institution that offers an array of experiences for all museum-goers. In addition to the exhibit, the museum now boasts acres of garden space, walking trails and an edible garden that seeks to bring museum visitors closer to the natural world both indoors and out.

“This is just as important an exhibit for us as an institution as the dinosaurs,” said Natural History Museum President Jane Pisano. “We see this as a nexus between nature and culture and how people and land interact with each other.”

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas who is an avid supporter of the museum, said the institution has grown over the years and should be considered among Los Angeles’ landmarks.

“There is a sense of energy and inspiration in what has become a regional destination point,” said Ridley-Thomas. “This is not just ambitious; it’s visionary and it is making its mark.”

The exhibit opens on the cusp of the museum’s 100th anniversary in November. When the museum opened on November 6, 1913, only a day after the newly built aqueduct in the Owens Valley sent water gushing into the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles seemed poised to become a true metropolis. On that day, the project’s master builder William Mulholland is said to have boasted, “There it is. Take it.”

As Los Angeles author and historian D. J. Waldie noted in his opening remarks for the exhibit, water made the creation of Los Angeles possible—even as mankind tried to shape the region into something that conflicted with the natural landscape and the original, native founders.

Today, the definition of “it” has evolved, he said.

“ ‘It’ might be the city we will find at last to be our home,” he said. “Taking was how we formerly understood the idea of Los Angeles. This exhibition shows us becoming Los Angeles.”[/raw]