The Petersen Automotive Museum was founded in 1994 by magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen and his wife Margie. Located on Museum Row in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles, the museum is housed in a building that opened in 1962 as a department store that was designed by architect Welton Becket, who also designed the Capitol Records Building, the Beverly Hilton, and Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.
Following an extensive $125-million renovation, the Petersen reopened to the public on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the striking new exterior wraps the museum with ribbons of stainless steel that evoke motion, speed and the lines of a bespoke automobile. At night, the color and steel forms will be lit with LEDs from within to accentuate the sculptural facade of the building.
As part of its transformation, the museum added 15,000 square feet of display space and 25 new galleries. The Petersen utilizes state-of-the-art technology with displays of historically significant vehicles to tell the story of the automobile in Southern California and around the world. New exhibits feature characters from Disney/Pixar’s Cars, Xbox Forza racing simulators, BMW Art Cars, the new $400,000 Ford GT, a motorsports gallery, and virtual tours for the iPhone or iPad.
The new museum features three themed floors spanning 95,000 square feet of exhibit space. Visitors are encouraged to start their experience on the History floor, explore the Industry floor, and work their way down to the Artistry floor. By experiencing the museum in this way, visitors are able to better appreciate the impact and application of the automobile.
Read on for highlights of new galleries and opening exhibits at the all-new Petersen Automotive Museum.
Visitors will begin their journey on the third floor, which is dedicated to the history of the automobile in Southern California and around the world. Any conversation about the automobile would be incomplete without examining the relationship between cars and film. The Hollywood Gallery presents cars of the big and small screen, including fan favorites like the Batmobile, the Magnum P.I. Ferrari and the Pontiac Aztek from Breaking Bad. A video wall spans the length of this exhibit, honoring some of the best automotive moments from Hollywood history.
The "Automobiles in the Movies" exhibit features three vehicles from the latest James Bond film, SPECTRE. The Petersen is featuring the Aston Martin DB10, Jaguar C-x75 and the new Land Rover Defender. These vehicles are joined by two previous bond cars, the original Aston Martin DB5 and the Jaguar XKR from Die Another Day.
The second floor is dedicated to the industry of the automobile. Galleries explore racing, customization, manufacturing and alternate-fuel technologies. There are interactive spaces for families and a groundbreaking new satellite campus for the Art Center College of Design, the world’s leading transportation design school.
Located on the second floor, the Customization Gallery features prominent examples of many different customization genres. The cars on display here have inspired people from garage tuners to business executives, spawning an industry of its own.
Few vehicles evoke the spirit of Southern California motoring like hot rods and customs. Though they were familiar to only a small number of enthusiasts before World War II, postwar magazines such as Hot Rod and Rod and Custom helped popularize them among teenagers, young adults, and returning servicemen anxious to apply the mechanical and fabrication skills they learned in the military.
The Bruce Meyer Family Gallery is a rotating second-floor exhibit space that launches with "Precious Metal" – a look at the most significant cars ever to wear silver paint. Many of the ten automobiles on display in "Precious Metal" have not been readily viewable by the public outside of the occasional concours.
Also located on the second floor, the Forza Motorsports Racing Experience invites visitors to get behind the wheel and experience the dynamic feeling of racing a car in one of eight specifically curated experiences. Eight racing simulators offer a custom version of Forza Motorsport 6. The exhibit also features artifacts and information that explains how these immersive elements of automotive culture are created.
In the second-floor Discovery Center, visitors are able to check out customized Cars iPads and explore the Disney/Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute, a unique augmented reality experience. Once activated, Cars characters guide visitors around the exhibit, explaining car technology and the science and physics that allow them to work. A digital scavenger hunt can also be activated, allowing curious minds to explore the second floor and learn a new angle on other exhibits from their friends in the Cars universe. All characters in this exhibit are voiced by original actors, and animated by Pixar Studios.
Visitors will end their Petersen experience on the first floor, where the car is elevated to fine art status. Peter Mullin, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Petersen Automotive Museum, has long been a devotee to the idea that automobiles should be treated as art. His love of automotive design, particularly that of the Art Deco period, is well known. That passion will now be shared with countless visitors at the Mullin Grand Salon, which is devoted to the world’s most beautiful automobiles. The salon’s inaugural exhibit, "Rolling Sculpture" features stunning cars built before World War II. Many of the cars on view are one-of-a-kind and rarely displayed outside of private collections.
The Armand Hammer Foundation Gallery is the Petersen’s closest link between the automobile and fine art. Set to focus on multiple artistic displays through the future, the first exhibit focuses on the pieces created from BMW’s long-standing support of the art community. The most notable examples are vehicles from the famed BMW Art Car collection, featuring work from Alexander Calder, David Hockney and Robin Rhode.
The Vault is the Petersen’s underground collection storage facility, home to cars representing 100 years of automotive history - many have rarely been seen by the public. Visitors can take a behind-the-scenes tour of this collection and get an intimate look at cars that aren’t on display in the museum galleries. A docent will guide small groups through the vault while sharing stories about this world-class automobile collection.
The Petersen is open daily 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students with ID, and $7 for children. Admission is free for children under age 3, active duty military, and personal care assistants. Tickets are available online at the Petersen website.
Guests are invited to enter the museum through either the parking structure off Fairfax or the new entrance on Wilshire Boulevard. There they can see several display vehicles in the David and Ginny Sydorick Grand Concourse, purchase tickets, and take an elevator to the third floor, where the experience begins.