Timeline for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures: A long, tangled 10-Year (or is it a 90-Year? Journey

When the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens to the public on Thursday, it will be the culmination of a process that began either 93 years ago, 70 years ago, 15 years ago or 10 years ago, depending on when you decide that the project began.

Two buildings comprise 300,000 feet of museum space. One is a 1939 Streamline Moderne structure, which used to house May Company’s department store. The other is a new spherical addition, which contains a 1,000-seat movie theatre and a roof deck, which was used for musical performances during the Oscar show in April.

The seeds of the museum could be attributed to 1929 when the Academy first discussed the idea of creating a museum for motion picture. The museum was unable to be built until the 1950s when it was re-established by Jack Warner and Walt Disney, who were rival studio bosses. But the recent museum timeline didn’t begin until the 21st century, so let’s fast-forward there to begin our timeline.

The Academy’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, where the museum was original slated to be built (AMPAS)

2006

The Academy pays a reported $50 million for a 3.5-acre site next to its Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study on Vine St. in Hollywood. The entire block must be acquired by the Academy. They will need to negotiate with business owners, and sometimes, pay more for the property than the market value.

2007

AMPAS announces that French architect Christian de Portzamparc will design the museum on Vine, which will have an estimated cost of $200 million. This figure soon rises to over $250 million.

2008

The global financial crisis of 2007-08 causes the worst recession since the Great Depression. Fundraising for the Academy’s museum project dries up. The vacant lot at Vine Street is now empty.

The Streamline Moderne May Company department building at Wilshire Boulevard. and Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles

2011

April
After the retirement of longtime AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis, the Academy hires former Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson to be its first CEO. During Hudson’s time at Film Independent, that organization had worked with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on a film program.

October                   
The Academy’s Board of Governors approves a plan to partner with LACMA and locate the museum at the historic May Company department store building adjacent to and owned by the museum, which acquired the building in 1994 and had been using it for exhibitions and office space. The Academy plans to keep the budget at less than $200 million by using an existing building instead of building a new structure on the Hollywood site.

December               
Disney CEO Bob Iger is appointed chair of the fundraising campaign for the museum.

An early Renzo Piano sketch of the museum (AMPAS)

2012

March
The Academy says that it is on track to raise the first $100 million in financing, and that it will soon hire an architect for the project.

May
The Academy announces a new series of programs, Oscars Outdoors, which will take place at an open-air theater to be constructed at the site of what would have been the museum on Vine. It spent $2 million to prepare the location for the screenings.

Renzo Piano, an Italian architect, and Zoltan pali, a Los Angeles architect, were chosen to collaborate on the new museum’s design.

October                   
The fundraising campaign hits its initial $100 million goal, the first step toward raising the estimated total cost of $250 million. The Academy reveals Piano and Pali’s plans, which include incorporating most of the existing May Co. building (a landmark whose exterior cannot be significantly altered) but also adding a huge globe and dome, designed by Piano, that will adjoin the building and house a theater.

A 2013 sketch of what would become the David Geffen Theater / AMPAS

2013

April
David Geffen donates $25 million to the museum, its single largest gift to date. The Academy shares details about the dome’s design and plans via Twitter. The Academy also gives a glimpse at its holdings, and suggests that it will open the museum in 2017.

September
The Chinese company Dalian Wanda donates $20 million to the museum.

November
Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg donate $10 million each.

Academy Museum plans / AMPAS

2014

January
After waiting a few years for property values to rise from their recession levels, the Academy sells its Vine St. property to Kilroy Realty Corp. for $46 million, sustaining a slight loss. Kilroy announces plans for a multi-use building and residential campus.

February                  
The Academy says it has raised two-thirds of its goal, which by now has been raised to $300 million.

April
Kerry Brougher is hired as museum director.

The Academy files an Environmental Impact Report Draft with Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Times’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, rips the design, specifically Piano’s dome, writing, “Its architectural centerpiece … is an oversized bauble that looks as if it’s just touching down for a short stay. As a piece of urban design the theater is trapped in a kind of retro-futuristic limbo, with little to say about contemporary Los Angeles.”

May               
Zoltan Pali leaves the project, reportedly after conflicts with Piano.

July                
Dolby donates $12 million to the museum.

October
The Academy temporarily halts some of its grant programs because of the museum’s impact on its finances.

It also uses the May Company building, which has yet to undergo renovation to house the museum, to present an exhibit called “Hollywood Costume,” co-presented by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Academy’s “Hollywood Costume” exhibit (AMPAS)

2015

June   
The L.A. City Council approves the Academy’s plans. A homeowners’ organization, Fix the City, threatens to sue.

The AMPAS Board approves raising the goal of the fundraising campaign from $300 million up to $388 million.

September  
AMPAS reaches an agreement with Fix the City. Starts the demolition of some parts of this building.

October
The museum’s opening is pushed from mid-2017 to spring 2018.

After a one-year break, the Academy resumes grant programs.

December               
A Board of Trustees is formed to handle oversight of the project; it had formerly been the province of the AMPAS Board of Directors, many of whose members have been outspokenly critical about the museum’s financial drain on the Academy.

The project’s chief fundraiser, Bill Kramer, leaves to take a job on the East Coast.

The last surviving full-sized shark model from “Jaws” / AMPAS

2016

January
The Academy announces that it has received a donation of the last surviving full-size shark model from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 hit “Jaws.”

March           
Construction begins on the sphere.

Construction of the Academy Museum sphere building (Photo: Steve Pond)

2017

February                  
The Academy delays opening from late 2018 to spring 2019.

March           
The project switches its chief builder for final phase of construction.

The board of governors hold a contentious meeting at which Dawn Hudson’s oversight of the museum, and the cost overruns, are a topic of discussion. The board extends her contract for three more years.

September
Cheryl and Haim Saban give the museum its single largest donation, $50 million. In their honor, the Saban Building is named after the former May Company building.

The Academy hosts a press conference and a tour of the under-construction museum.  

December
Ron Meyer, Tom Hanks and Jason Blum are among the industry figures named to the Academy’s Board of Trustees.

A view of the completed Saban Building at the unveiling party (AMPAS)

2018

March
During the Oscars telecast, the museum runs an ad for the museum that purports to be from the Overlook Hotel, the mountain hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining.”

April
Producer Bill Mechanic resigns from the Board of Governors and releases an open letter whose complaints include, “We have failed to solve the problems of the Museum.”

December
The museum unveils a programming lineup that include special exhibitions devoted to Black cinema and Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. The museum also hosts a party to reveal the May Company building that has been fully restored, now known as the Saban Building.

Academy Museum president and director Bill Kramer (AMPAS)

2019

April
The George Lucas Family Foundation gives the Academy Museum a grant that will create an endowment underwriting free admission to the museum for all visitors 17 and under. The grant is made in honor of Sid Ganis, former Academy president and current chair of the board’s Museum Committee.

June
The opening date is delayed until at least after the Oscars in 2020. In explaining the latest delay, an Academy spokesperson cites “a highly complex construction effort.”

August
Museum director Kerry Brougher steps down and is given the title of honorary founding director.

October
Bill Kramer returns and is appointed new director of the museum. He moves forward with plans to revise much of Brougher’s plan for a permanent exhibition that would take up most of the museum in favor of more individual exhibits and an increased emphasis on diversity and underrepresented voices. 

The uncompleted museum in February (Getty Images)

2020

February
Two days before the Oscars, the Academy gives the media a tour of the museum, which is largely finished but does not yet have any exhibits installed.

During the Oscar ceremony, Tom Hanks announces that the museum’s opening date will be Dec. 14, 2020.

The museum issues a $100 million additional bond offering and launches a funding campaign to support the opening. This will bring the total budget up to $482 million.

March
The COVID-19 pandemic shuts down businesses across Los Angeles, with the Academy staff shifting to remote work. Construction continues on the museum.

June
Because of the pandemic, the museum opening is postponed from Dec. 14 to April 30, 2021.

September
Ted Sarandos is elected chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees, replacing Ron Meyer, who resigned from that position after also leaving his position as vice chairman of NBCUniversal following a disclosure that he paid a woman who tried to extort him over an extramarital relationship.

November
The Academy announces that it has exceeded its fundraising goal of $388 million. The shark from “Jaws” is installed over an escalator.

December
On Dec. 11, Bill Kramer says that the museum is “absolutely on track” for its scheduled April 30 opening, assuming the pandemic allows.

The opening was delayed from April 30 to September 30 a week later.

Netflix leases all 355,000 square feet on the Vine St. site, which was originally intended to house the Academy Museum.  

H.E.R. performing on the museum’s deck for the 93rd Academy Awards / AMPAS

2021

March
The Academy announces that the opening gala will honor Italian actress Sophia Loren and Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima.

April
For the 93rd Academy Awards, performances by H.E.R., Celeste, Leslie Odom Jr. and Laura Pausini are filmed on the roof deck atop the museum’s David Geffen Theater.

August
Tickets for the museum go on sale. Admission costs $25 for adults, $19 per senior and $15 per student. A separate $15 ticket will be required for “The Oscars Experience,” an immersive simulation that allows visitors to feel as if they are walking onto the stage of the Dolby Theatre to accept an Oscar.

The Academy has announced that the lobby will be named after Sidney Poitier.

September
On Sept. 30, the museum opens to the public after a week of private events. Well before the opening, tickets — which are sold for specific times in order to control the size of crowds — sell out for all weekend days until late October.

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