Permanent Exhibits | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

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Becoming Los Angeles

The permanent exhibition, Becoming Los Angeles, tells a 500-year story about how Southern California went from tiny pueblo to sprawling metropolis.

School groups interested in California history should visit this exhibit. We are developing new activities and curricula tied to state standards over the next 12 months.

Becoming Los Angeles unfolds in six major sections:

Here are just a few of the exhibition's highlights:

The Spanish Mission Era

After colonizing Mexico, Spain continued to the frontiers of North America and established California's 21 missions, founded between 1769 and 1833, as revenue generators and military outposts.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

The Mexican Rancho Era

Mexican independence from Spain changed the way Californians traded with the world and also triggered permanent ongoing environmental change. The cattle ranching industry affected the land in many ways: livestock fed off local and exotic grasses, spread the seeds across the region, and changed the plant life of Southern California.


Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

The Early American Period

When California became part of the United States, Los Angeles shifted from Mexican ciudad to American city. During the mid 1880s, early city infrastructure and government services began to emerge. This shotgun, made in 1847, belonged to Swiss immigrant Charles Louis Ducommun who trekked across the country on foot and built a successful business in Los Angeles, which allowed him to invest in the railroad, agriculture and oil industries. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Knauer

The New American City (Late 19th Century/Early 20th Century)

One of the eariler start-up businesses in Los Angeles was the Auto Vehicle Company, which manufactured this 1902 Tourist automobile, the only survivor from the car's first year of production.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

The Great Depression

Fast-forward into the 20th century to see the 1939 City Model of downtown Los Angeles, built as a Works Progress Administration project. It has been outfitted with touch screens, which feature interactive slideshows and narrated stories of downtown L.A. landmarks, including Pershing Square and Chinatown.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

World War II to present:

This strikingly designed section features everything from World War II fighter plane models to vintage graphics and an engine emblematic of America's growing industrial power.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture imaging

Come experience more about L.A.'s colonists and settlers; Native Americans, rancheros, citrus growers and oil barons; boosters, andradicals; filmmakers, innovators, and more! To plan your visit, click here.

Teachers and educators:

We have closed the Lando Hall of California History for renovations and eventual installation of new exhibits. We invite you to explore Becoming Los Angeles as well as the Gem and Mineral Hall's Gold Rush exhibit.

Spotlight: Scarlett O'Hara's Dress on View

Scarlett O'Hara's famous "Barbecue Dress" from Gone with the Wind is on public view for the first time at NHMLA. The dress will be displayed in Becoming Los Angeles for a six-month run beginning December 2014, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of film's release. This newly conserved green-and-white dress worn by Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) to the barbeque at Twelve Oaks Plantation in Gone With the Wind will be featured in a specially made costume case near the exhibition's other Hollywood treasures.

The artifact was donated by Daniel Selznick, son of GWTW producer David O. Selznick, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who in turn donated it to the Natural History Museum's vast collection of Hollywood costumes in 2004. The signature costume appears onscreen for 30 important minutes of the Civil War romance. Scarlett is shown being strapped into her corset to fit into the dress before the barbecue party begins, and wears the gown throughout the momentous party where she loses Ashley Wilkes, meets Rhett Butler, and the beginning of the fateful war is announced, all in single afternoon.

Age of Mammals Media

Discover some of the media projects and interactives that will complement the Age of Mammals exhibit. Check back for frequent updates as we celebrate and help to provide additional stories that we've discovered through the making of this one-of-a-kind exhibit.

Specimen Spotlight

We asked our Vertebrate Paleontology curator, Dr. Lawrence G. Barnes, about one of Age of Mammals spectacular specimens Aulophyseter morricei. Also, this fall come to the Museum and join us for these unique and special Lectures and guided tours that our curators will be participating in for the Age of Mammals exhibit.

The Commercial

This 30-second piece was co-created with Imaginary Forces.

Haaga Family Rotunda Installations


Life Through the Ages: Revisiting the Paintings of Charles R. Knight

Charles Knight was an influential painter who used his brush to bring extinct animals and their environments to life for modern audiences. He worked closely with scientists in order to make his vibrant imagery of prehistoric flora and fauna adhere to scientific knowledge in the middle of the 20th century.

So how does his work hold up now that we’re in the 21st century, more than 50 years later? Life Through the Ages: Revisiting the Paintings of Charles R. Knight looks at Knight’s iconic paintings — 16 in all, including  a woolly mammoth, brontosaurus, and pteranodon (an enormous flying reptile that lived approximately 80 million years ago) — in light of current understanding. Seven of the Museum's scientists provide commentary to accompany Knight's paintings in this exhibit, placing his work into the context of modern scholarship.

This installation, which mixes art, history and science, resides on the rotunda’s second floor, which was initially designed to showcase art when the 1913 Building was constructed nearly 100 years ago.