Los Angeles – The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) hosted a beam signing event on May 17, 2023, for NHM Commons, the new wing and community hub slated to open in 2024 on the southwest side of the Natural History Museum (NHM) campus in Exposition Park. NHMLAC President and Director, Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga hosted the event and was joined by L.A, County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, CEO of Los Angeles County Fesia Davenport, Exposition Park General Manager Andrea Ambriz, members of the NHMLAC Board of Trustees, donors to the capital campaign, special friends of the museum, and community partners. Guests in attendance were invited to add their signatures to the final beam of construction in permanent marker, a symbolic nod to this important phase in construction, to acknowledge the longevity of the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park and the significant value the new Commons area will have for the community.
The transformative $75 million NHM Commons expansion and renovation project, designed by Frederick Fisher & Partners with landscape design by Studio-MLA, will create approximately 75,000 square feet of renovated space and new construction that will serve as both a destination and a portal into the Museum, with new experiences designed by Studio Joseph. The indoor/outdoor NHM Commons spaces will enable NHM to expand its community-centered, co-created programming, thereby further connecting the public with science, nature, culture, heritage, and community, while creating opportunities for people to come together to experience NHM, with or without a ticket.
“Today, we sign the last beam that will top off the frame of our new NHM Commons wing and celebrate this major construction milestone,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, NHMLAC President and Director. “This transformative expansion will be a dynamic community hub with a multitude of new and refreshed spaces that will burst with vital, enriching, and accessible experiences celebrating the intersections of science, nature, culture, heritage, and community.”
In December 2022, NHMLAC announced the formation of two community councils, the Native American Advisory Council and the NHM Commons Advisory Coalition to work closely with Museum staff and contractors to harness community knowledge and consult on community collaboration and co-creation. The foundational work of the Native American Advisory Council, which represents various descendant communities in Southern California including Gabrieleno-Tongva, Tataviam, Chumash, and Ajachmem, is rooted in determining ways to build a sense of welcome, acknowledgment, and respect for Native people who enter this space and opportunities to remind, express to and educate visitors that Los Angeles is on Native land. The NHM Commons Advisory Coalition is a group of community leaders identified and recruited by NHMLAC’s Programs and Community Engagement teams to help develop new programming and community initiatives leading up to the opening of NHM Commons and beyond.
“This is a tremendous milestone towards the completion of the new NHM Commons building that will expand access to inclusive spaces where the public can explore the wonders of science and celebrate our community’s diverse cultures,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, 2nd District. “I am thrilled that residents throughout the Second District and LA County, as well as visitors from around the country and the world, will soon experience these investments that will impact generations to come.”
Major elements of NHM Commons include sustainable gardens, a 400-seat multi-purpose theater that will offer both daytime and evening events, free admission to the Judith Perlstein Welcome Center, which will house Gnatalie, the first real skeletal mount of a long-neck dinosaur on the West Coast, and Barbara Carrasco’s mural L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective. Additional significant features of the Commons include a cafe with indoor/outdoor seating, a retail space inside the airy Wallis Annenberg Lobby, and a plaza that will be a spacious and communal gathering point for events and relaxation, and serve as the Museum’s “front porch” for Exposition Park.
NHM Commons is supported by NHMLAC’s Opening New Doors Campaign, which has exceeded $100 million and includes funding for NHM Commons construction as well as endowment and programmatic fundraising efforts. The NHM Commons project is supported by leadership gifts and grants from the following public and private contributors: County of Los Angeles – $30 million; State of California – $9 million; Annenberg Foundation – $5 million; Ron Perlstein, in memory of Judith Perlstein – $5 million; Ahmanson Foundation – $2 million; The Rose Hills Foundation – $2 million, and The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation – $1 million.
NHM Commons is part of a larger 10-year institutional vision for increasing access to research and collections that will provide more resources and amenities for neighboring communities and create integrated indoor-outdoor destinations at both NHM in Exposition Park and at La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park. The reimagining of La Brea Tar Pits—the only active urban paleontological site in the world—has begun with the early stages of master planning under the direction of the architectural team of Weiss/Manfredi.
About the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) include the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall. They operate under the collective vision to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. The museums hold one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—more than 35 million objects. Using these collections for groundbreaking scientific and historical research, the museums also incorporate them into on- and offsite nature and culture exploration in L.A. neighborhoods, and a slate of community science programs—creating indoor-outdoor visitor experiences that explore the past, present, and future. Visit NHMLAC.ORG for adventure, education, and entertainment opportunities.