Academy Museum: The May Co. building is getting an addition

Academy Museum: The May Co. building is getting an addition

L.A.’s most visual symbol of architecture for the arts has to be downtown’s shiny, splashy, ultramodern Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened its doors in 2003 and is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Or perhaps it is architect Richard Meier’s starkly contemporary, white limestone design for the Getty Center in Brentwood, often credited with putting Los Angeles on the international arts map when it opened in 1997.

However, in 2019, two new Los Angeles arts institutions are taking a sharp detour from contemporary design by choosing to renovate historic buildings over new construction.

One is the estimated $388-million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, slated to open in late 2019, which is spending roughly half of that sizeable budget on the restoration, renovation and expansion of the 1939 May Co. building located at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave.

The structure operated as a May Department Stores Co. location from 1939 to 1992. In 1992, the building’s streamline moderne facade was designated a City of Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument.

The old May Co. has been renamed the Saban Building in honor of a $50 million donation to the museum from entertainment executive Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl. The restored building will be a central feature of the 300,000-square-foot Academy Museum campus, designed by architect Renzo Piano. The campus also includes new construction in the form of a futuristic spherical addition that will include two movie theaters.

On a less-grand scale is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles’ planned new home, which is scheduled to break ground this year in a former branch office of Security Pacific Bank, constructed in 1965 and located at 101 South La Brea Ave. in Inglewood.  

The $14.5 million Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center, designed by Gehry like Disney Hall, will include a performance space, music library, studios, instrument storage and rehearsal rooms.

These projects will be added to a growing list of recent restorations that have become home to arts venues: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2013 and incorporates the former Beverly Hills post office complex, built in the 1930s; the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown, which opened in 2014, presenting live performances in a 1927 Spanish-style Gothic movie house; and the Marciano Art Foundation exhibition space in L.A.’s Windsor Square neighborhood, which opened in 2017 and occupies a Scottish Rite Freemasons Temple built in 1961.

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