Looking very much like the set from 2007's "Night at the Museum" (complete with T-Rex skeleton at the entrance and halls of wildlife dioramas behind glass), the Natural History Museum is the largest and most impressive of the museums located in Exposition Park. It is also the oldest; it opened back in 1913.
Housed in a single massive building, this stately museum is the largest such archive on the west coast (and the fourth largest in the nation). It houses a vast collection of over 14 million items. You could spend days wandering its three levels, with their numerous halls and galleries. And that's not even counting its impressive rose garden outside.
Among its various large exhibits, you'll find Dinosaur Hall, showcasing monstrous fossil skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex, stegosaurus, and their kin (a must for "Jurassic Park" fans), a Native American Cultures room (which will tell you a bit more than "Dancing With Wolves" did about American Indian history), the Great Hall of Birds (with animatronic figures), the sparkling Gems and Minerals Hall, a live insect zoo, a hands-on Discovery Center for kids, a giant Hall of American History, two massive hallways lined with spectacular wildlife dioramas, and even a genuine Egyptian mummy, named Pu, from 300 BC.
This Hollywood exhibit (tucked away in a small single corner) features the actual striped costume that was worn by Charlie Chaplin in his 1936 masterpiece, "Modern Times." This display also includes several props from that film, such as the wrenches he used to fix the giant gear machine featured in the comedy, roller skates worn by Chaplin's character, a soft "brick" Charlie could safely hurl at another actor, and a tea set used in the movie.
In adjacent glass cases you'll find a large antique animation table on which Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse (complete with posters and photos of Walt Disney); also a large padlock featured in Universal's horror films "Bride of Frankenstein" and "The Raven."
They apparently rotate exhibits here. A few years ago, they also had on display the golden curls of America's first superstar, little Mary Pickford, as well as the original make-up kit used by Lon Chaney, the "Man of 1,000 Faces," who pioneered the use of make-up in such silent horror movies as "Phantom of the Opera" (1930) and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923).
Those two items were missing on my last visit to the Museum. But they remain in the Museum's vast Hollywood collection, what the many call the world's most extensive collection of pre-1940s movie memorabilia. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the collection is on display at any one time. Other items include Fred Astaire's tap shoes, a set design sketch from "Citizen Kane," model miniatures from "King Kong," and a script handwritten by D.W. Griffith.
Up until the mid-1960's, the museum had a separate Motion Picture Hall, which could display a much larger number of items from their Hollywood collection. Today, however, due to neglect, it has been reduced to a tiny nook with just these four glass cases, and most of the collection is gathering dust in storage. It's really a shame...
Right next to this Motion Picture display is one of the more impressive exhibits in this California hall: a massive scale model of downtown Los Angeles as it looked in 1940, reproduced in astounding detail.
City Hall towers near the center of this sprawling miniature metropolis (at a time before true skyscrapers were allowed downtown), but look closely and you'll also be able to spot such local landmarks as Olvera Street, Union Station, the Biltmore Hotel, the Bradbury Building, and even the Old Plaza Church.
Let me hastily add that the small Motion Picture display is not worth a trip in and of itself. It's a very small exhibit. But the Natural History Museum has a lot to offer besides the Hollywood display. So if you happen to find yourself in the Museum, be sure to pay a visit to the Motion Picture corner in the California Hall of History (on the lower level.)
Plan to devote most of the day to exploring the Museum's many other halls if you want to do it justice - and wear comfortable shoes.
(Try to come on the first Tuesday of the month - when admission is free. And be sure not to arrive on a Monday, when the museum is closed.)
As a side note, the museum itself has been featured
in a number of films. Its marbled hallways, dinosaur skeletons and dramatic
animal dioramas have been seen in "Clean Slate" (with
Dana Carvey), "Bonfire of the
Vanities" (with Tom Hanks)
and "No Place to Hide" (with Drew
Barrymore and Kris Kristofferson.)
In "Spider-Man", the museum's eastern rotunda was the scene of
the field trip where Peter Parker (Tobey
Maguire) is bitten by a radioative spider.
Hours: Open seven days a week: 9:30 AM - 5 PM.
Parking: Paid parking lots.
Getting there: The Museum is located near the northwest corner of Exposition Park, just northwest of the Museum of Science & Industry and north of the Los Angeles Coliseum. / From Hollywood & Vine, take the Hollywood (101) Freeway south (about five miles) to the Harbor (110) Freeway south, then go south (about three more miles) on the Harbor Freeway, to the Exposition Boulevard exit. Go west on Exposition Boulevard, and the museum will be on your left (south) side.
[For more information on this subject, you can access the Museum's official website at: http://www.lam.mus.ca.us.]
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