Oscar’s Temple Takes Shape: Inside the Academy’s $388M Museum

 In Insights

Seven years after it was first proposed, the museum is closer to completion, with an A-list board of trustees including Ron Meyer, Annette Bening and Ted Sarandos and a giant sphere rising in the middle of L.A. The question now is: When will it open?

When Netflix’s Ted Sarandos moved to L.A. in 1998, it struck him that only Universal Studios and the Chinese Theatre recognized the role movies played in the life of the city. “It was a big hole,” he recalls. “I imagined people traveling here would be disappointed in the presentation of Hollywood’s heritage.” That’s why, though he’s been a member of the Motion Picture Academy for just three years, he signed on as an enthusiastic supporter of the Academy Museum, rising at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

Designed by architect Renzo Piano, it promises to add a signature edifice to L.A.’s Museum Row, becoming a mecca for tourists. And museum director Kerry Brougher also envisions it as a creative gathering spot, “a focal point for the film community.”

Limestone from the original quarry in Texas is being used to fix missing section of the facade, and a source for the tiles used for the distinctive gold cylinder has been located. An Oscar image may be added. Says Brougher, "Conversations are still ongoing and nothing is final, but we remain mindful of the Saban Building's historical landmark status in our discussions."
Photographed by Adam Amengual
Limestone from the original quarry in Texas is being used to fix missing section of the facade, and a source for the tiles used for the distinctive gold cylinder has been located. An Oscar image may be added. Says Brougher, “Conversations are still ongoing and nothing is final, but we remain mindful of the Saban Building’s historical landmark status in our discussions.”
The ground floor of the old May Co. Building, renamed the Saban Building after Cheryl and Haim Saban, is being transformed into a two-story lobby that will include a restaurant, retail space and the Spielberg Family Gallery. The gallery will house rotating collections that, Brougher says, will serve as “a kind of prelude to the historical permanent collection” that will occupy much of the second and third floors. The museum also is developing an app that will offer augmented reality in various locations throughout the site.
Photographed by Adam Amengual
The ground floor of the old May Co. Building, renamed the Saban Building after Cheryl and Haim Saban, is being transformed into a two-story lobby that will include a restaurant, retail space and the Spielberg Family Gallery. The gallery will house rotating collections that, Brougher says, will serve as “a kind of prelude to the historical permanent collection” that will occupy much of the second and third floors. The museum also is developing an app that will offer augmented reality in various locations throughout the site.

The project, officially launched in 2011, is finally taking shape. A sort of concrete bowl that forms the bottom half of the sphere that will house a 1,000-seat theater has been erected. And production designer Rick Carter (Avatar) is developing the plan for the permanent collection in the Saban Building that will offer both crowd-pleasers like the Jaws shark and a decade-by-decade tour of what Brougher calls “the history of film as seen from the perspective of the filmmaker.”

A rendering of the Saban building.
©A.M.P.A.S
A rendering of the Saban building.

There have been hitches. In January, Rich Cherry resigned as COO after barely a year on the job, which included overseeing construction. “He got us through a time of construction when his help was greatly appreciated, but he has his own museum consultancy business and he’s gone on to focus on that,” says Brougher. Cherry declined comment.

To build the Renzo Piano-designed sphere — which houses the David Geffen Theater — concrete panels cast in Northern California were hoisted into place. Says Brougher, "It was a little bit of a reverse process where the skin is put on first."
Photographed by Adam Amengual
To build the Renzo Piano-designed sphere — which houses the David Geffen Theater — concrete panels cast in Northern California were hoisted into place. Says Brougher, “It was a little bit of a reverse process where the skin is put on first.”
A box-like extension that pokes out from the back of the sphere will hold the theater's projection booth.
©A.M.P.A.S
A box-like extension that pokes out from the back of the sphere will hold the theater’s projection booth.

Though no opening date has been set — the Academy is currently eyeing a fall 2019 debut — the museum has already been embraced by industry leaders. NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer has come aboard as chair of the new board of trustees, which includes such names as Tom Hanks and designer Diane von Furstenberg. “Our main priority now is to help Bob Iger [who heads the capital campaign] close out the fundraising,” Meyer says. “About 80 percent of the $390 million goal has been raised.”

Named after mogul David Geffen, who donated $25 million, the theater will be used for both museum screenings of older films and industry premieres of new movies. Its walls will match the curves of the surrounding sphere, and moviegoers will enter the auditorium via walkways connecting from the Saban Building.
©A.M.P.A.S
Named after mogul David Geffen, who donated $25 million, the theater will be used for both museum screenings of older films and industry premieres of new movies. Its walls will match the curves of the surrounding sphere, and moviegoers will enter the auditorium via walkways connecting from the Saban Building.
Inside the sphere, the theater is now starting to be installed, beginning with the base of the raked floor on which 1,000 seats will be placed.
Photographed by Adam Amengual
Inside the sphere, the theater is now starting to be installed, beginning with the base of the raked floor on which 1,000 seats will be placed.

As the board’s vice chair, Sarandos played a key role in courting Cheryl and Haim Saban, whose $50 million donation is the largest the project has received. Other major con­tributions have come from David Geffen ($25 million) and the Dalian Wanda Group ($20 million). Calling the Sabans’ gift “profoundly inspiring,” producer and board treasurer Jason Blum adds: “It’s very important that the museum serves people who love movies.”

In the next phase of construction, a lid-like roof will be put atop the concrete bowl.
©A.M.P.A.S
In the next phase of construction, a lid-like roof will be put atop the concrete bowl.
The roof will serve as the theater's ceiling and the floor of the observation deck (which will itself be covered by a steel-and-glass dome, as seen above).
Photographed by Adam Amengual
The roof will serve as the theater’s ceiling and the floor of the observation deck (which will itself be covered by a steel-and-glass dome, as seen above).
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