Seeing Stars: Hollywood Museums..

("The Getty Villa")

17985 Pacific Coast Highway,
Malibu, CA.  /  (310) 440-7300

To be honest, the J. Paul Getty Museum probably doesn't really belong in a site about Hollywood.

Getty (one of the richest men who ever lived) built this glorious museum in Malibu, the home of a multitude of movie stars. But there is no real connection between the museum and the movie industry - except for it's location near the Malibu Colony, or the occasional star who drops by (such as Paul Sorvino).

Still, I can't bear the thought of someone visiting Malibu without seeing the Getty, so I'm including it here. Trust me, you'll be glad I did. Nothing in Hollywood can even come close to the sheer, drop-dead opulence of this grand estate. If you love the regal sets of such cinematic Roman epics as "Ben-Hur" , "Spartacus", or "Cleopatra," you'll feel right at home here.

Run, do not walk, to see this museum.

In terms of pure grandeur, it puts most other art museums to shame. Only the Huntington Library & Gardens (near Pasadena) can rival the Getty Museum for the sheer beauty of its grounds and buildings. Perched atop a small hill overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean, the Getty, the world's richest museum, sits in all its elegance like some grand Roman villa of old.

Perhaps most amazing, it is absolutely free. Well. sort of...

No admission is charged, but there is a $15 parking fee. The only catch is that you have to call ahead for a reservation (because parking in their small garage is very limited, and the museum's affluent neighbors don't like the idea of visitors' cars cluttering their streets).

The first glimpse of the museum's forecourt is breathtaking. You will think that you have stumbled onto the Hollywood set of some fabulous Roman epic. The Getty is a replica of a 2000-year-old Roman villa which once overlooked the Bay of Naples near Pompeii. (The original villa was buried in ashes during the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, but its floor plan was used to reconstruct this dazzling edifice.)

The formal sculpture garden is filled with manicured trees & hedges, and lined by tall, white Roman columns, surrounding an immense crystal blue reflecting pool, which leads up to the grand south porch of the main museum building. The garden is decorated with authentic Roman busts. Even many of the plants, flowers and trees planted here are the same kind that grew in Roman gardens in the first century after Christ.

Oil billionaire J. Paul Getty built this spectacular complex in 1971, on the property of his Malibu ranch house, but, ironically never lived to see it. His fear of flying prevented him from visiting America in his later years. After his death, Getty left a $2 billion endowment, making the center the wealthiest museum in the world. And it shows.

Money is no object here. For instance, in 1992, they acquired a Michelangelo drawing entitled "Holy Family with the Infant Baptist," which hadn't been seen in public for 157 years. The museum bought it at auction for a "mere" $6.3 million, an all-time high for a Michelangelo drawing.

Inside the museum, there are almost 40 exquisite gallery rooms, on two levels, rooms lavishly embellished with marble & gold. Many of these galleries are so spectacular that they would be worth seeing if they were empty. But they are filled with a striking collection of ancient art: mostly marble busts and statues, but also bronzes, vases, murals, pottery and frescoes. Most of this collection dates to around the time of Christ and the Emperors, but some of the items date back as far as 2500 BC. .

The galleries range from vast halls to intimate chambers, in a variety of styles - all rich in gleaming marble and hushed elegance. In between are serene patios, aromatic herb gardens, fountains, pools, atriums, a book store, an outdoor café, an orientation theater, and resplendent classic architecture fit for an Emperor.

The museum used to house a wider collection that included European art from other periods, but those works were moved to the new Getty Center museum, built on a hill overlooking the San Diego Freeway (near Sunset Boulevard).

The main upstairs balcony here in Malibu (the southern terrace), provides a fine overview of the magnificent peristyle garden and reflecting pool below, and offers a striking vista of the Pacific ocean as well.

The Getty closed closed for almost 10 years (from 1997 to 2006) for a $275 millon expansion that added a brand new entrance way, an amphitheater for outdoor performances, a larger café, an auditorium and new research facilities, as well as a new parking garage. The villa itself has underwent a number of changes: a new entrance and color scheme, new windows on the top floor and a new grand staircase. But it is once again open to the public on a daily basis (except on Tuesdays).

Take time to explore the Getty in full - at least two or three hours is needed. The museum has so much to offer, that it can seem overwhelming at first. Wander around its gardens, delight in its blue pools, drink in its hillside views. And along the way, you might enjoy an inexpensive al fresco lunch in its Garden Tea Room, an informal, outdoor patio cafeteria with marble steps and a menu offering sophisticated sandwiches, soups and salads.

The Getty is a simply glorious place to visit, and it is highly recommended.

Parking: $15. Advance reservations are required for parking. Phone (310) 440-7300 for reservations, at least a week in advance. Or make online reservations at here.) You can't get in without a reservation. There is a multi-level parking structure to the left of the entrance road.

Admission Price: Free. But advance parking reservations are essential (no walk-ins). Reservations can be difficult to get, due to the popularity of the Villa. If you arrive without a reservation, the parking guard won't let you in.

Hours: Open Wednesday through Monday: 10 AM - 5 PM. (Closed Tuesdays.)

 Getting there: The Villa is located at the northeast corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Coastline Drive, less than a mile north of Sunset Boulevard, and about a five minute drive up the coast from Santa Monica. / Take the Santa Monica (10) Freeway west to its end at Santa Monica and then go north on Pacific Coast Highway to the museum entrance, just south of Coastline Drive, on the right (east) side of Pacific Coast Highway. Turn right at the sign, onto the museum entrance road, drive up a slight hill, and tell the guard at the gate your name so he can check it in his reservation book.

[For more information on this subject, you can access the Getty's official website at:]

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Copyright  1999-2024-Gary Wayne
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