Cool Things For Southern Californians To Do 30: Specialty Museums 2

  • Tuesday, February 7, 2023
  • Scott S. Smith, Sandra Wells, and Christian Smith

The Greater Metro Area of Los Angeles has 300 museums (broadly defined), tied with London as the leaders of this type of educational and entertainment institution. These are not the static exhibitions of our childhood, but high-tech, interactive, and mind-expanding experiences for all ages. Alas, some went out business during the first two years of the pandemic and we feel it is important to support the role they can play in our lives, such as the ones we covered in some of our prior articles like this:

Alf Museum of Paleontology is the nation's only accredited museum that is on a high school campus (next to Claremont University and near the California Botanic Garden). Devoted to the fossilized footprints and skeletal remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, 95% of its 170,000-items having been discovered by students. One dino footprint one display is 3' by 2.5', found in Utah and dated 75 million years ago (there are even spider footprints from 250 million). If you are not clear about when the various creatures appeared in the course of evolution and why they became extinct, the timeline on the walls and in the exhibits start at the beginning of the earth itself 4.6 billion years ago (there is even an object displayed that is the oldest known at 3.6 billion). The science of how to find, preserve, and exhibit these things is made fascinating by video, watching the lab at work, and through experiences such as participating in a mock dig. There are both actual skeletons (including skulls of Australopitchecus africanus 2-3 million years old) and replicas (see photo of an Allosaurus). Check the website for lectures by experts.

Martial Arts History Museum in Burbank is the nation's premier exhibition about all the martial arts worldwide and especially how they have flourished in the U.S. Curious as to why and how the Chinese Shaolin monks created kung fu? Did you know that Thailand, the Philippines, and Hawaii have their own distinctive styles? Curious as to the skills that made Japanese ninjas such effective assassins? You can watch a video about Korean tae kwon do, study the history of martial arts in anime, and be reminded of the stars of movies and TV who made these part of popular culture. The museum has everything from weapons to uniforms (see the photo of the dress of a Japanese samurai), films of practitioners in action, and their Olympic history (starting with judo in 1964). Visitors of all ages, those who are masters and those who know very little, will thoroughly enjoy and learn a lot from this wonderful museum. It offers group tours and its Dragonfest Expo will be held in Glendale on Aug. 5, 2023.

Wende Museum in Culver City is a hot destination as an art museum and historical archive of the Cold War, as well as a center for "creative community engagement that explores and inspires change." When we were there in February 2023 the special exhibits were the artistic propaganda produced during the Chinese Cultural Revolution 1966-76, during which 40 million Chinese died as Mao Tse-Tung created a personality cult. These ranged from posters and porcelain figures to videos of ballets and operas (created by his fourth wife, a former film starlet). From March to October the displays will focus on "Vietnam in Transition" and "David Bowie in the Soviet Union." Be sure to sign up for the guided tour.

Western Museum of Flight is a hidden gem next to Louis Zamperini Field in Torrance (named after a hero of the War in the Pacific who was the subject of a movie and bestselling books). The airport's role as a training center for fighters headed to Asia and Europe is illustrated with aircraft (including a Northrop 5A with its nose open to see the gun belt and a cockpit you can climb into). An F86 Sabre Jet that was first made in 1957 is also on display and you can sign up for a guide to take you outside to see other planes. The museum also has everything from drones and a large collection of models to sections about the space shuttles and to educate children.

UCLA's Fowler Museum has a single floor in the middle of the campus, so tends to be overlooked even by locals, but is well worth a visit. The permanent collection of treasures includes a gallery devoted to masterpieces in silver from Europe. Among them is a chalice given to the Russian empress by the notorious mystic Rasputin and elaborately-decorated English dishes from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Fowler has one of the nation's largest collections of arts from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands, with masks for sacred festivals from Nigeria to New Guinea that are far more imaginative than anything we ever saw even at West Hollywood's Halloween parade. The special exhibits going on now are for the Iranian artist Amir Fallah (ending May 14, 2023) and Haitian Myrlande Constant (till July 16).

Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale is one of the leading cemeteries that have made L.A. a destination for those who want to visit the final resting places of the stars (after being given a tour, English novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote the bestselling novel The Loved One, a satire of the local funeral industry, which was turned into a classic film). Among those who called it their eternal home were Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers (staff won't point out where they are, so check online sources). Founder Hubert Eaton made it essentially a vast museum of art celebrating religion and history, placing original statues and paintings, as well as reproductions of major works, around the grounds and in its churches and mausoleums (ask for the map). The largest is the painting "The Crucifixion" by Joan Styka, whose curtains measure 440'x50'. The Forest Lawn Museum itself has many notable works, including Frederic Remington's bronze "The Bronco Buster," Fletcher Ransom's oil on canvas "Lincoln at Gettysburg," and even a small head from Easter Island. The biggest surprise is the exhibit on Bob Barker's Marionette Theater, which in 1963 began putting on legendary shows with puppets controlled by string (see photo).

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