The museum has been a buzz about town for years. Witnessing the building’s transformation unfold during its grand renovation last year while doing my drive-by’s was a treat and built up the anticipation of finally making a visit. Museeum KIDS had a chance to experience this unique museum, and my husband and I have never been so equally excited to visit a museum ever before. We were especially amazed at the highly educational experience.
The Peterson Automotive Museum, originally founded in 1994 by the magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen and wife Margie, had been located inside the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County then in a historic department store designed by Welton Becket. Robert Petersen selected the building for its windowless façade to protect the artifacts to be displayed from any direct sunlight. The $90 Million renovation in 2015 at the site was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (exterior façade) and The Scenic Route (interior spaces), both extraordinary designs. The Stainless Steel ribbons which wrap around the building is reminiscent of both the details of a beautifully designed vehicle and the complex and intricate highway systems in aerial view. It also feels fast, as though something going in high speed has been caught in time with a long exposure camera.
The museum front desk recommended that we go through the museum from the third level downward, so we took the advice. The third floor covers the rich history of the automobile, from the first of its kind to the originally mass produced Ford model T to modern times. The cars are visually stunning and the interactive screens were a huge hit with the kids as they scrolled through the images and played pretend. The displays holding historic machinery and print were beautiful. The entertainment section was mesmerizing, with classic recognizable vehicles on display and movie clips playing on projection beyond. The exhibit included the original Batmobile (obvious kids’ favorite), the Back to the Future Delorean, Bond cars and Little Miss Sunshine’s yellow Volkswagen van among many others.
The second floor which covered Industry, was a continuing educational tour covering design and production of the vehicle. It was also home to the life sized Disney’s Cars Lightning McQueen, which had my kids running with glee, and the Cars themed Mechanical Institute A.K.A. the kids play room. It was a fun filled time of playing cars on the track, designing and coloring cars, building gear systems, and going through the interactive exhibits meant just for kids. It was such a treat watching them exercise creativity through play and exploration from what they were just inspired by at the previous floor.
The scavenger hunt had my daughter wearing an ipad and us wandering through the floor going through the entire design and production process of building a car with fun personalized games. What an ingenious way to get young ones excited about car design and mechanical engineering! I was especially interested in the Art Center College of Design’s car design students’ work in process. I loved the working computer room and caught some current students sketching – I’m sure there is not a more inspiring space to work in than this museum. It also provides an enriching experience for museum goers to view designers at work and really brings it all to life. The Forza Motorsport Racing Experience is a special exhibit where visitors can get behind the wheel and play a game/simulator of a custom version of the vehicle.
The first floor features Artistry, which speaks for itself. The floor features the most stunning cars old and new. Going through the gallery makes it hard to not call these beauties real works of art. My husband kept repeating (from upon entry actually) that there are “literally millions of dollars worth of cars here”. This may be an obvious fact, but since cars are such a ubiquitous part of society seeing so many rare, beautiful and historic pieces in one space feels quite surreal at every turn. I loved the Art Car area, in which artists like David Hockney, Robin Rhode and Alexander Calder show work on cars in collaboration with BMW.
There is no real restaurant, but a small café with “family area” offers a limited selection of sandwiches, salads, desserts and drinks. Knowing this, we opted to dine prior to entering the museum. We did make a pit stop as emergency cookies and waters were needed to refuel the kids while browsing the gift shop. As you can imagine, it is a wonderland of toy cars. I was surprised at how mentally stimulating the museum was for each of us. It’s a family friendly museum that is so much more than what meets the eye.