Big Change of Plans

Big Change of Plans

The historic May Company building will become the new museum for the Academy.
Courtesy Museum Associates

Abandoning its plans for a Christian Portzamparc-designed museum in Hollywood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has announced its intention to build its movie museum inside the historic May Company Building, a property owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and currently known as LACMA West. The move also signals LACMA’s scuttling of its own exhibition-related plans for the May Company space. The Academy’s Board of Governors last night signed a Memorandum of Understanding to “work in good faith” with LACMA on the project. 

The Streamline Moderne May Company building, designed in 1939 by A.C. Martin on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Boulevards, is one of LA’s great landmarks. In 2008 LACMA and Culver City firm SPF:architects had made plans to transform the five-story building into major exhibition space containing artworks as well as a restaurant, book shop, and special event spaces. Those plans will be replaced by the museum, said LACMA Director Michael Govan. 

“This was a much better opportunity,” said  Govan, who said that he’d been talking with the Academy about the plan since last year. He pointed out that SPF:a’s studies of the space will be “extremely useful,” providing detailed construction drawings, among other guides. The museum, meanwhile, has already begun restoring the building’s street level, installing new glass, polishing metal, and performing other restoration work.

Courtesy Fire Monkey Fish

Meanwhile the Academy in 2007 had named French architect Christian de Portzamparc to design its new museum, sitting on an 8-acre campus near the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, adjacent to Vine Street in Hollywood. The Pritzker Prize-winning Portzamparc was selected from an original list of over 150 architects.  

But according to Academy President Tom Sherak that project’s $400,000 price tag was simply too high in the present economic climate. Furthermore the May company space will provide the Academy with 300,000 square feet of space, about double what they would have gotten from the Portzamparc building. 


According to Sherak the Academy will sign a “very long term lease” with LACMA for the space, which should be ready in three to five years.  As for who will work on restoring the space and designing exhibits, “we have not gone there yet,” said Sherak. SPF:a principle Zoltan Pali said that “we’re hoping to be involved,” but admitted that “it’s a crapshoot.” 

The museum’s program has not been finalized, but Academy CEO Dawn Hudson noted that the organization possesses 42,000 movie posters, 10 million movie stills, archives, trailers and press clippings, many of which haven’t been easily accessible to the public. Some of these artifacts have been on display in the Academy’s offices or at other museums. 

Meanwhile the Academy hopes to use the land once set aside for the Portzamparc museum for programming like public movies, said Sherak. “It’s a way of showing who we are in the community while the museum is being built,” he added.