How to Dress for the Oscars • Commentary by Greg Goldin

From the MMRA Newsletter, March 15, 2014:

How to Dress for the Oscars
by Greg Goldin

One of the most pressing issues facing the Miracle Mile is the Academy’s plea to bend the City’s rules to permit its new museum to dress the exterior of the historic May Company building in a combination of digital signs, banners, and super-graphics. As spelled out in the Academy’s Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), the iconic Art Deco landmark will be transformed into a massive billboard, incessantly selling Hollywood from all four sides of its limestone façade, from the sidewalk to the roof.

The Academy, it seems, regards one of Los Angeles’s most beloved buildings as little more than a table rasa for hyping Hollywood. All told, the Academy has announced a total of 21,722 square‐feet of signs – and more to follow on the exterior of the theater it plans to build behind the May Company. Remarkably, even the building’s most famous feature, the gold-leaf “perfume bottle” at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, will be defaced, draped in a 63-foot tall Oscar statuette silhouette.

Normally, it would be impossible for the Academy to even contemplate this kind of signage. Landmarked buildings are designated landmarks for a reason: to ensure the continued existence of their architectural and artistic merits. The Academy is working quietly, behind the scenes, to convince the guardians of our cultural heritage – notably, the Los Angeles Conservancy – who thus far are not pleased with the museum’s proposed signage.

But the Academy has, it seems, gained one key ally: LACMA. Before it could even think about applying for the creation of a Sign District – the City’s official designation for L.A. Live-style super graphics and kinetic billboards – they needed a minimum of a 3-acre building site. Their lease with LACMA only provided 2.2-acres. According to the FEIR, LACMA came to the rescue, agreeing to “lend” the missing 0.8 acres “immediately north of the Project Site for a total area of 3 acres.”  No LACMA loan, no Sign District – leaving the May Company, which the Conservancy calls “the grandest example of Streamline Moderne remaining in Los Angeles,” close to its 1939 original.

Click on map to enlarge.

Boundaries of the “North Lawn” show park space eclipsed by the .8-acre parcel LACMA is lending the Academy Museum to meet the minimum required 3 acres for a Sign District.

Shortly before press time, the MMRA asked LACMA director Michael Govan a few questions about the art museum’s agreement to lend the Academy the additional land to qualify for the creation of a Sign District. As yet, Mr. Govan has not had the opportunity to reply – and we, of course, welcome his views.  Here’s what we’d like to know from LACMA:

  • Does LACMA have any concerns about the extensive signage that would wrap the historic May Company building? Have they expressed these concerns to the Academy and the City?
  • LACMA originally committed (at the time Ogden Drive between Wilshire and Sixth Street was vacated to make way for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Resnick Pavilion) to keep the May Company building unaltered. How does the Sign District comply with this earlier pledge?
  • According to the FEIR, the Academy will use that additional .8 acres for even more, as yet undisclosed, signage.  Does LACMA approve of this use on its parkland adjacent to Levitated Mass and the Resnick?

What follows are three illustrations submitted by the Academy’s architect, Renzo Piano, depicting the signs that will festoon the May Company building if the Sign District is approved.

Click on illustration to enlarge.

As seen by a pedestrian or driver going west on Wilshire Boulevard, both corners of the May Company building will become massive signs, 38 feet high by 44 feet wide.


Click on illustration to enlarge.

Along Wilshire Boulevard, at ground level, the old display windows will be filled with digital signs, the pediment above the canopy transformed with a “branding” banner, the eastern corner subsumed beneath yet another huge piece of polychrome plastic, and the golden mosaic blanched with the outline of world’s best-known trophy (barely visible in this rendering but clearly visible in the next, below).

Click on illustration to enlarge.

The full effect of banners, digital displays, and the Oscar statuette, can be seen in this last rendering.  The Art Deco masterpiece is now ready for its close-up!

For additional information:

Academy Museum Final Environmental Impact Report: Academy Supplemental Sign Report

Academy Museum Final Environmental Impact Report: Sign District; Resnick North Lawn Easement

 Greg Goldin is the coauthor of Never Built Los Angeles and a curator at the A+D Museum. From 1999 to 2012, he was the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine. He is a longtime resident of the Miracle Mile and was featured in the MMRA Channel’s YouTube presentation: “The Miracle Mile in Three Tenses: Past, Present, and Future.” Greg is an occasional contributor to this newsletter; “LACMA’s Billion Dollar Debt (and Michael Govan’s Very Good Day)” appeared in the November 2014 edition.

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