Petersen curator shares his vision for museum’s car collection

Some of the classic cars recently on display in the Petersen  Automotive Museum
Some of the classic cars recently on display in the Petersen Automotive Museum

The original structure that still contains the Petersen Automotive Museum was designed by Welton Becket Associates, creators of many Los Angeles architectural icons including the art deco classic Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Capital Records building, the LAX theme building, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the city’s Music Center.

The firm was commissioned to create a modernist, international style building at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax for a Japanese Seibu Department Store in 1962, The store was not a success. Three years later the Miracle Mile building reopened as Orbachs Department Store that occupied the building until 1986 after which time it was unoccupied for six years.

Robert E. Petersen of the famous enthusiast publishing empire purchased the property for its exotic Wilshire face, well-engineered structure and windowless exterior as a final home for his Petersen Automotive Museum collection, founded on June 11, 1994, some of which had been exhibited — curiously — in Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Petersen was a publishing visionary, but far more than the paper and ink concept was his ability to bring the absolutely correct character and intellect into his team exactly where he could best use what that individual could contribute — or be inspired to contribute to his vision.

When Leslie Kendall was asked to assume the responsibility of curating Petersen’s garage-full-of-cars-he-loved and to develop it into a public museum collection that had to represent our enthusiasm-driven hobby — lifestyle — he was tasked with drafting that vision as a permanent mission statement. The words he used have never been altered and continue to lead the growing number of personal collections that try to follow the public responsibility he so eloquently described:

“Unlike individual enthusiasts who acquire cars for personal reasons, a museum exists to collect, preserve and interpret in a way that speaks directly to a stated mission that transcends the tastes and preferences of a single individual.”

The new Petersen exterior design | Larry Edsall photo
The new Petersen exterior design | Larry Edsall photo

Now, with a new landmark Museum Row face on Becket’s historic Miracle Mile structure, Kendall wants to raise the bar on the Petersen Automotive Museum’s already comprehensive catalog of automotive design icons. He offered his collecting challenge to a spell-bound group of museum members and journalists who might reach a sympathetic audience.

 

The collecting plan, he told his audience, is designed to:

•  Dispassionately guide the growth of the collection
•  Give us clarity of purpose
•  Unify our efforts
•  Minimize the distractions posed by those who offer vehicles
that do not suit our needs
•  Give us the confidence to take advantage of opportunities
•  Foster outreach to as many populations as possible in our effort
to reflect the breadth, depth and artistry
•  Most importantly, the collecting plan will enable us to achieve
our ambition to become a globally respected center for automotive
research and collecting; the focal point for automotive history,
culture and enthusiasm in America; and a premier educational
institution in Los Angeles.

 

All seven broad categories can be broken into sub-categories. Taken as a whole, they illustrate the immense variety of vehicles that were built to satisfy a need, whether real or perceived.

The passing of time and the acquisition of targeted vehicles will inevitably require us to adjust our collecting needs, Kendall added. As our knowledge about collections, objects and the interpretations of the past change, we will continue to re-examine the content of the collection and the collecting plan will evolve to keep pace.

What follows are some of the images from his PowerPoint presentation describing the broad expansion he would like to include in the museum’s permanent collection:

Vehicles that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type
Experimental,
Popular,
Sports,
Luxury,
Commercial,
Cyclecar,
Three-wheeler,
High-wheeler,
Microcar,
Camping,
RV,
SUV,
Children's powered vehicle,
Monowheel
1958 Curtis-Wright Model 2500 Air Car
1958 Curtis-Wright Model 2500 Air Car
Vehicles that embody the distinctive characteristics of style
Coupe,
Sedan,
Convertible Sedan,
Limousine,
Town car,
Laundaulet,
Motorcycle
Maybach Landaulets
Maybach Landaulets
Vehicles that embody the distinctive characteristics of era
Pioneer,
Brass,
Classic,
Interwar,
WWII,
Postwar
1929 Packard four-door convertible
1929 Packard four-door convertible
Uncommon or pioneering approach to engine
Alternative power,
V12,
V16,
W6,
X8,
Radial engine,
Opposed-piston engine,
Propeller driven
1958 Ford Nucleon
1958 Ford Nucleon
Uncommon or pioneering approach to driveline
Vacuum shift,
Magnetic drive,
Supercharged,
Turbocharged,
Rear-engine,
Mid-engine,
Diamond-wheel layout
1940 Citroen with woods generator
1940 Citroen with woods generator
Uncommon or pioneering approach to comfort and convenience
Air conditioning,
Radio/sound system,
In-car entertainment,
Mobile telephone,
Sun/moon roof,
T-top,
Bubbletop
Plymouth push-button transmission shifting
Plymouth push-button transmission shifting
Uncommon or pioneering approach to fine art and sculpture
Art Deco,
Cubist,
Sonia Delaunay,
Raymond Loewy,
Norman Bel Geddes
Holland Coachcraft van
Holland Coachcraft van
Uncommon or pioneering approach to body design and appearance
Skiff,
Polished aluminum,
Decorated,
Aftermarket body,
Vutotal/Vistoral
McQuay Norris car and trailer
McQuay Norris car and trailer
Uncommon or pioneering approach to marketing
Catalog ordered,
Home delivery/assembly,
Mall stores,
Advertising approach,
California place names,
Cutaway and see-through
Jordan Motor Car Co. advertisement
Jordan Motor Car Co. advertisement
Uncommon or pioneering approach to coachbuilding and customizing
Coachbuilders,
Customizers,
Art cars,
Lowriders
1938 Alfa 2900B Le Mans OH
1938 Alfa 2900B Le Mans OH
Noteworthy competition history
Local board tracks,
Indianapolis 500,
Le Mans,
Cross country,
NASCAR,
NHRA,
Land Speed Racing,
Motorcycles
Talbot Lago T-26 Grand Prix racer
Talbot Lago T-26 Grand Prix racer
Associated with an important figure
Designer,
Entertainment,
Politics,
Business,
Lore
Norma Desmond's 1929 Isotta Fraschini
Norma Desmond's 1929 Isotta Fraschini
Los Angeles connection
Built in LA
Bodied in LA
Customized in LA
Designed in LA
Southern Cal Plating-bodied 1935 Ford Phaeton
Southern Cal Plating-bodied 1935 Ford Phaeton

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