Two of the most important buildings to the classic car community reopened in 2015, one after a disaster, the other after what easily could have been a disaster.
It was on February 12, 2014, that a sinkhole caved in on itself beneath the Skydome at the National Corvette Museum and swallowed eight of the cars on display. The good news was that the karstic catastrophe occurred early in the morning before anyone was in the building. But while there was no loss of life nor limb, some historically significant Corvettes were, well, at first they simply were missing, buried somewhere with the dirt and rubble beneath what had been the Skydome floor.
There was additional good news, immediately that day and in the days and months following, as the museum’s staff was forthright about letting everyone know what had happened and what was being done about it. Someday, some student of public relations will do a master’s thesis case study of how the museum responded to the disaster.
And it wasn’t only the museum staff that responded. Corvette enthusiasts boosted museum attendance and contributions to record levels, and thousands of people who had never heard the word “karst” now cared deeply about the geological phenomenon.
More good news: Experts at nearby Western Kentucky University were able to use the sinkhole to prove the accuracy of new technology they’d developed and now can use to make sure future buildings in karst landscapes are placed and designed to avoid similar disasters.
Meanwhile, cars that could be restored were, the Skydome floor was repaired — and strongly reinforced from below, where much of the hole was filled and secured — and the room reopened as part of the museum’s 21st anniversary celebration over the Labor Day weekend. And early in 2016, the entrance to the Skydome will be redone as a Disney-style sinkhole display designed so that visitors not only learn about sinkholes but will hear and feel what it was like when the hole opened.
While the Corvette museum was being repaired after a natural disaster, some fans of the Petersen museum feared a man-made disaster was taking place at the heralded hall in Los Angeles. In conjunction with the museum’s 20th anniversary, its new leadership team announced that it was time to move the museum into the new and interactive century with a $90 million remodel both inside and out.
For the outside, they shared drawings of a new facade that looked as if the building would be enclosed within red and silver metallic ribbons. Inside, they announced plans to create more space for all-new exhibits, some of which would shift the museum’s mission, some observers fretted, from education and a focus on the car – and its importance to Southern California culture and history – to admiration of the sorts of cars that the wealthy museum board members collected.
For the most part, those fears proved unfounded. The Petersen Automotive Museum reopened this month and while its walk-through exhibit of LA automotive history was missing, it was able to add a full floor of show space featuring not only a smaller display of LA automotive history but a showcase for cars that have been part of the big (Hollywood) and small (television) screen culture. There also are new displays featuring hot rods and automotive technology, and the educational program features not only a new Pixar Cars-themed program for children but two working classrooms for the Art Center College of Design where museum visitors can watch as future car designers learn their craft.
And, yes, the elegance of classic cars is more prominently displayed, and those ribbons and beams on the building’s exterior have turned it into a true Los Angeles landmark.