Museums of LA
Los Angeles is home to about a hundred museums, from the grand Getty Museum in West Los Angeles to the quaint Bunny Museum, located in the home of a Pasadena couple. Two Daily Bruin staffers decided to explore four of the lesser-known museums around town, each with its own specific mission and style. Some are gory and some are adorable, but all of them add a special flavor to the museum subculture of the city.
Click on the museum to read more.
Squashed between a multistory apartment complex and a supportive housing center is a two-story white Victorian house with blue trim. This dollhouse-like building is home to Angels Attic, Santa Monica’s dollhouse museum.
The museum was started in 1984 by Jackie McMahan to raise money for a school for children with autism that her granddaughter attended. The museum is run by Patricia Godoy, who used to be the nanny of McMahan’s granddaughter, and Charles Phillips, who also travels around the world to collect pieces for the museum.
Visitors are greeted at the door with a friendly smile from Godoy or Phillips, who offer to answer any questions they may have.
Intricate, handcrafted dollhouses of various sizes and shapes are displayed everywhere, transporting visitors to different times and places, such as upstate New York in the early 20th century, Paris in the 1800s and even the nursery rhyme of the old woman who lived in a shoe.
The front of the dollhouses can be opened to reveal a plethora of domestic activity – a cat roughhouses with its kitten while a maid is slicing bread in the kitchen, and a lady in a pleated ivory gown touches up her makeup in an ornate gold-plated mirror and presumably gossips with her companion, who is lying naked on a chaise lounge.
A toy train complete with a conductor and passengers ticks along the top of the walls in one room. As the passengers look out of the windows of the train at you, you can peek into the dollhouses to see handcrafted pieces carefully arranged to capture a snapshot of life at a particular time.
Tiny collections of particular types of items – such as sofas, chairs or floral plates – are sprinkled throughout the museum. You can walk up a curved staircase with a dark wooden banister to view an exhibit of a playroom, where life-sized dolls play with dollhouses and tea sets. Other rooms on this floor follow a similar theme, with collections of larger dolls and stuffed animals filling cases along almost all of the walls.
Although shops dedicated to dollhouse hobbyists were commonplace in Los Angeles about 30 years ago, Angels Attic is all that’s left of a dying art. Visitors shuffle in and out, but the the delicate, ceramic figurines in Angels Attic remain static – still stuck in a time when children played make-believe with dollhouses.
Angels Attic is located in Santa Monica, CA. Tickets cost $8.
By Chandini Soni
Museum of Death
An imposing black-and-white skull painting lined with fuchsia flowers welcomes visitors to the Museum of Death on Hollywood Boulevard. But inside the museum, visitors are faced with much more gruesome views.
The Museum of Death was originally founded in 1995 in San Diego’s first mortuary before relocating to Hollywood. The concept of the museum is intriguing; entire exhibits dedicated to exploring serial killer histories, replicas of execution equipment and the Heaven’s Gate cult recruitment video all appeal to an innate curiosity about death. It eventually became so popular that the founders opened another Museum of Death in New Orleans.
But the actual interior of the L.A. museum is far more stomach-turning than anticipated.
All the exhibits are snugly situated in a creaky old house. According to its website, the museum has “the world’s largest collection of serial murderer artwork.” Pictures of bodies from bloody crime scenes line the walls of one of the displays, which are graphic enough to force some viewers to look away. Dioramas dedicated to Charles Manson detail his history of brutal murders of women and his abusive childhood.
Aside from these exhibits, there are also shrines throughout the museum to provide more stories of death for visitors, such as a glass case displaying World War II paraphernalia from Adolf Hitler’s reign. Vintage newspapers with headlines addressing mass murders and advertisements for old weapons clutter every wall surface.
But the museum goes beyond exploring human death. There is an entire specimen room purposed for taxidermy displays and snakes suspended in containers of mysterious colored liquid. The beady snake eyes glaring from murky solution containers might be enough to make you lose your lunch if you are not careful.
Because of its grotesque character, the Museum of Death is not for the faint of heart or the overly cynical. If you have the guts, though, it might be right up your alley.
Museum of Death is located in Hollywood, CA. Tickets cost $15.
By Yael Levin
Museum of Flying
To the untrained eye, the Museum of Flying looks like part of the modest Santa Monica airport. Once discovered, though, there is much to be found, including replicas of the earliest planes, life-sized models of cockpits – both old-fashioned and modern – to explore and a flight simulator to ride.
The exhibits start with a replica of the first plane, invented by the Wright brothers just after the turn of the 20th century.
The plane does not have any seats or walls – it is simply a wood-and-canvas frame with a space in the middle of the wing for the pilot to steer, illustrated by a mannequin in the museum’s replica. Pilots flew the plane by lying on their stomachs with their heads toward the front of the aircraft as a way to decrease drag. In the museum, the mannequin automatically gears up the plane every few moments, getting ready for an imaginary takeoff. Pilots steered the plane by moving a cradle attached to their hips, and in turn, the cradle pulled wires to both warp the wings and turn the rudder at the same time.
Other old-fashioned planes with famous pilots populated the museum as well. The Vega, a six-passenger monoplane, was the plane that Amelia Earhart flew single-handledly across the Atlantic – she became the first female pilot to do so. A replica of the very first mode of flight, the hot air balloon, also resides in the museum. The first hot air balloon flew in 1783, more than 100 years before the first plane did.
Reminders of past flights adorn the walls and line the floors of the museum. Seats in front of documentaries are old airplane chairs, with recliner buttons intact. A list of passengers from trip No. 7,992 from the mainland to Hawaii enumerates only 15 names, symbolizing how flying was once a luxury only available to some.
At the end of the visit, visitors can pay $8 to experience the flight simulator, a ride in which passengers can steer the plane using a joystick – almost like a video game – but the ride physically turns the passengers around in circles as they steer. The effect is enjoyable, if not a bit nauseating.
The Santa Monica Airport is arguably most famous for its role in the first circumnavigation of the world by plane. On Sept. 23, 1924, about 200,000 Angelenos ran to the runway of the airport to greet the pilots at one of the final stops on their six-month journey. Their trip was grueling, fraught with accidents, mistakes and disease, but finishing the expedition in Santa Monica symbolized hope for the future of flight.
The entire museum takes about 30 minutes to an hour to walk through. Although it is physically a small museum, its impact on Los Angeles and its visitors is anything but.
Museum of Flying is located in Santa Monica, CA. Tickets cost $10, $8 with student discount, and $8 for flight simulator.
By Yael Levin
Museum of Jurassic Technology
With a heave, a heavy blue grated door from a dilapidated street corner on Venice Boulevard swings open to reveal a dark, humid room – the entryway to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
You can pay the entry fees here and pick up bamboo or wooden hand fans to use on your journey through the museum. After moving further into the building, you can sit on a short wooden bench to watch a video about the history of the museum.
The purpose of the museum is to present visitors with detailed information about a variety of topics – from the children’s game, cat’s cradle, to the process of sublimation – that they may not normally think about, while leaving them to draw their own conclusions, said David Wilson, the director of the museum.
It was dubbed the Museum of Jurassic Technology as a way of saying “thank you” to one of the first donors, who gifted the museum with a large collection of jurassic fossils, he said.
From man-made gems and horns to the life of opera singer Madelena Delani, curious exhibits along the walls are illuminated with lights from behind, contrasting with the dark, quiet hall.
Moving toward the back, a room off to the side showcases mail that the Mount Wilson Observatory received between 1915 and 1935. Upon entering the room, the scent of trees immediately hits, along with the sounds of a gurgling, gushing stream. Letters, postcards and telegrams adorn the wall, containing inquiries about the history of the solar system and even Christmas cards.
One yellowed postcard from 1931, containing scrawled, childish handwriting, asked those who ran the observatory to show Albert Einstein his telescope because “he is a big sientific (sic) man in education” who “is considered even greater than Charley (sic) Chaplin.”
After making your way to the very back of the museum, you will find a narrow staircase leading up to more exhibits and the Tula Tea Room. As visitors nibble on delicate sugar cookies and drink Georgian black tea, they can stroll into the Borzoi Kabinet Theater – decorated with shrubbery and a birdhouse – where films are screened every hour.
Despite the wealth of information presented with each exhibit, the museum deliberately leaves much up to the interpretation of its visitors. You will walk out with a sense of awe, momentarily blinded by the bright light on the street, unsure of what you just experienced.
Museum of Jurassic Technology is located in Culver City, CA. Tickets cost $8, or $5 with student discount.
By Chandini Soni