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.

MMRA Submits Comments on Academy Museum DEIR

MMRA Submits Comments
on Academy Museum DEIR

 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has submitted its comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] for the proposed Academy Museum at the former May Company site. The nearly 7,000-page DEIR was released on August 28, 2014. The 45-day commentary period closed on October 14, 2014.

The DEIR highlights the scale of the Academy Museum project:

  • The creation of a “Sign District” allowing for the historic May Company building to serve as a background for super-graphics and digital signs.
  • Demolition of the 1946 northern addition of the May Company building to allow for the construction of the 1000-seat “Sphere” theater with a 10,000 square foot enclosed view deck. In total, the overall project will house three theaters with a combined seating capacity of 1,350 persons.
  • A ground level “Piazza” beneath the “Sphere” theatre providing access to the northern entrance to the Academy Museum. The “Piazza” would host outdoor events and screenings with up to 2,500 attendees.
  • Banquet and conference space with a capacity for 1,200 persons, including a “ Tearoom” rooftop terrace with a capacity of 800 persons that will also be utilized for outdoor film screenings.
  • A Museum Café with seating for 150 persons and a 5,000 square foot Museum Store.
  • A projection of 860,000 visitors per year with no new on-site parking.
  • Movies premieres, concerts, and other special events.

The DEIR is a very lengthy and complex legal and technical document that is difficult to concisely summarize. (For an in-depth view, follow the links below to see the MMRA’s comments to the DEIR and our independent traffic expert’s assessment.) The MMRA objections to the project center on traffic congestion, traffic and parking intrusions, infrastructure, public services, and the overall impact of locating a major special events center in a heavily congested and densely populated residential area.

Here’s the backstory.  In the mid-2000s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] began aggressively acquiring parcels in Hollywood as a future location for a museum. Working with the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which wielded its power of eminent domain, AMPAS secured a full city block south of Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street. Including other parcels, as well as their holdings at the adjacent Pickford Center of Motion Picture Study, AMPAS assembled approximately 8 acres.

Then, with the stock market crash in 2008 and ensuing recession, AMPAS’s fundraising campaign for the Hollywood museum site derailed. They were left holding a large parcel that was suddenly worth much less than they had paid.

Three years later the dream of an Academy museum was revived. In 2011 AMPAS signed a long-term lease to take over the former May Company from Museum Associates, which operates the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA].

This preamble about AMPAS’s thwarted plan to locate a museum in Hollywood is relevant because it spotlights what is so obviously wrong with their plan to locate the Academy Museum in the Miracle Mile: They are trying to fit all of their grand plans for an 8-acre project in Hollywood into a mere 2.2 acres at the May Company site.  It is not an easy fit.

AMPAS has had to resort to slight-of-hand in the DEIR to create the illusion that an Academy Museum is compatible with the Miracle Mile – so that they can preserve their objective to be a major tourist attraction and special events center. But the only way they can do that is to minimize its true impact on the community.

A 2008 Traffic Study for the proposed Hollywood museum location projected 7,800 visitors per day. The DEIR for the May Company location projects only 5,000 – for a total of 860,000 visitors per year. Museum experts not connected to AMPAS predict that the project will easily draw at least 1 million visitors annually, if not match or exceed LACMA’s current annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors.

Why does AMPAS claim that the Miracle Mile location will attract 2,800 fewer visitors per day than the former location in Hollywood? Answer: To justify the lack of any new on-site parking. In Hollywood AMPAS was going to build a 5-story parking facility with 850 spaces; at the May Company site they propose none.

But even with this miraculous reduction in the number of visitors, AMPAS still needs to conjure hundreds of visitors arriving on foot, bicycle, or wandering over from LACMA, to cram down their numbers to meet city-mandated parking requirements.

The DEIR tortures visitor projections and parking discounts so that it will support its most important finding: That there is already adequate parking at LACMA’s underground Pritzker garage and Spaulding surface lot for the Academy Museum to share parking with LACMA.

This defies reality. The residents in areas adjacent to LACMA have endured the parking and traffic intrusions of LACMA visitors for decades. Everyone knows that LACMA doesn’t have enough parking. The “Full” sign is up almost every weekend at the Pritzker garage and Spaulding Lot. But according to the DEIR, LACMA has hundreds of existing parking spaces to spare.

In truth, the Academy Museum is as much a major special events center as it is a museum, with 87,000 square-feet devoted to theaters, events space, cafes, and a store and 84,000 square-feet for exhibitions areas, collections, and exhibit support.

As stated in the DEIR, the primary purpose and objective of the project is “…providing film screening and premieres in a state-of-the-art theater competitive with venues in size and amenities.”  Translation: The museum hopes to steal some of the audience, and wrestle some of the revenue, from such popular film premier venues as the Chinese Theater, the El Captain, and the Cinerama Dome. The list of additional events, besides film premieres, includes Academy member and public film screenings, traveling shows, concerts, performances, cultural programming, spoken word productions, classes, video and press events, and film festivals. Each of these will attract anywhere from 100 to 1,325 attendees.

These “special events” are intended to “Provide for revenue-generating events that support sustainable Museum operations….” Not surprisingly, AMPAS places no limit on the number of special events per year nor does the DEIR indicate the maximum number of special events that the project could potentially accommodate on an annual basis. That could top 300 per year – especially given their desire for revenue.

From the blare of rooftop movie screenings to the glare of digital signs that violate the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay, to the onslaught of traffic and nightly events, the MMRA has concluded that the Academy Museum doesn’t fit the Miracle Mile. With all due respect, it should go back to where it came from: Hollywood. That’s where it was originally supposed to be. And that’s where tourists expect to find it.

For additional information:

Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report

Miracle Mile Residential Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Tom Brohard and Associates – MMRA Commissioned Traffic Focused Review of the Academy Museum DEIR

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Carthay Circle Neighborhood Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Los Angeles Times [Feb. 28, 2014]: Some Feel Cheated by Change in Film Academy’s Hollywood Museum Plans