PRIVATE LIVES : FAMILY : Creating a Synergy Along the Miracle Mile

Anne Bergman is a Times staff writer

A saber-toothed tiger, a tiny replica of the Fountainebleu, a Rodin sculpture garden and an authentic Indy race car are now all within walking distance along Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile.

Who said that nobody walks in L.A.?

The rejuvenation of the Miracle Mile district, and what will soon be marketed as a freshly formed Museum Row, promises at least five good reasons for Angelenos to get out of their cars: the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, the renovated Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Museum of Miniatures, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Meanwhile the future of this area is strengthened by the planned refurbishing of Hancock Park--which surrounds both the Page and LACMA--and LACMA's acquisition of the May Co. building, which LACMA plans on turning into a multi-use arts space.

Hancock Park's make-over will include landscaping, new lighting and an upgrade in security. These improvements, says Dr. James Powell, president and director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, which owns and operates both the Page and the Petersen, will "represent a significant improvement, making the area much more congenial."

The trick will be in linking these museums, and packaging them to the public as a one-stop, yet diverse, attraction. While the museums themselves are working together to figure how best to accomplish this--whether it's a Museum Row credit card, good for all five museums within a set time period, or offering discounts to members of all five institutions to all museums--it's something they all agree is worthwhile.

"There's a synergy that's created that benefits us all," says Stephanie Barron, LACMA's curator of 20th-Century art, of the close proximity of the other museums. "A visitor can come to a single destination to mingle among more than one collection."

Here's an overview of what just one stop can offer to a Museum Row visitor.

PETERSEN AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM

The Petersen Automotive Museum, the latest addition to Museum Row, chronicles America's fascination with the automobile and its impact upon life in Los Angeles--from steam cars to the Edsel to what Angelenos will be driving in 2001.

Huge dioramas, simulated driving experiences, a gallery of classic and infamous cars, and the artwork these cars have inspired are all on display, with more interactive exhibits planned for the future.

Considering the innate autocentricity of this museum, it's fitting that when you call for directions, you get the museum's precise location in the Thomas Bros. Guide complete with grid number.

Open seven days a week: Saturdays-Thursdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fridays 10 a.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $3 for children aged 5-12. 6060 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 930-2277.

THE GEORGE C. PAGE MUSEUM

The George C. Page Museum gives tours not only within its museum walls, but outside in the surrounding Hancock Park. The park tours begin at 1 p.m. every Tuesday-Sunday, and provide a detailed glimpse of Los Angeles from the time when it was underneath the Pacific Ocean, to the time when mastodons grazed for food and found themselves knee-deep in lethal goo, up to today when passers-by are warned to stay away from the asphalt bubbling up throughout the park, lest they too get stuck.

This black sticky stuff, contrary to popular belief, is not tar, it's asphalt, mistaken for tar in the late 1700s by the governor of Lower California, Gaspar de Portola, during an expedition to what was to become Los Angeles. Major Henry Hancock eventually obtained the land--known by the 1860s as Rancho La Brea (or "tar ranch")--which he mined for asphalt and drilled for oil. Inside the Page Museum, the skeletons of the many species of mammals trapped in the Rancho La Brea asphalt are on display, including: the Columbian Mammoth, the saber-toothed cat and La Brea Woman, whose 9,000-year-old remains are of the only human being found at the site.

Open seven days a week , 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and students, $2 for children aged 5-10, and free for children under 5. No admission charge on the first Tuesday of every month. 5801 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 857-6311.

MUSEUM OF MINIATURES

Be prepared to be personally greeted at the Carole and Barry Kaye Museum of Miniatures by curator Carole Kaye herself. "Everything's real," Kaye assures of the collection of the tiniest of the tiny, "from the sterling silver to the parquet floors, to the porcelain dishes."

Aside from traditional dollhouses, the Museum of Miniatures, which opened across the street from LACMA in June, also features the smallest pipe in the world (which can only be seen through a magnifying glass), an exact replica of a Broadway show girl's dressing room from the late 1930s and an antique Chinese temple made of cloisonne and agate.

The collection is completely accessible to children via booster steps in front of each room-box display, while Kaye says children's handprints on the walls prompt a repainting every week. The museum will also soon offer classes on flower, doll and room-box making taught by top miniaturists.

Open Tuesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5 for students aged 12-21, and $3 for children aged 3-12. 5900 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 937-6464.

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

LACMA, the grande dame of Museum Row, shares Hancock Park along with the Page and houses a broad collection of art from the pre-Columbian era to the present.

Docent-guided tours are offered Wednesdays-Sundays of both the permanent and special exhibitions, while Sundays in the museum, a program for children and their families featuring multicultural art, music, dance theater and storytelling, complements current special exhibitions.

Open Wednesdays and Thursdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fridays 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and students and $1 for children aged 6-17. Free admission on the second Wednesday of every month. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 857-6000.

CRAFT AND FOLK ART MUSEUM

Museum-goers will have to be patient for one element of Museum Row: the Craft and Folk Art Museum--which has returned from its spot in the May Co. building to its original site across the street from the Page. Still resettling and renovating, the museum is set to reopen in early 1995.

The Craft and Folk Art Museum's collection, which opened in 1965, the same year as LACMA, contains both objects and artwork that spring from daily life. "It's art that's understood by an array of people," says executive director Patrick Ela of the work on display at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. "Most cultures in the world make masks, or floor coverings . . . their own folk art which represent their value systems."

Aside from craft and folk art, the three-story gallery will also feature a restaurant (with a view of the La Brea mastodons just across the street) and an orientation gallery in which patrons can interact with their thoughts about the collection. "We want to know what people think about the work," says Kim Litsey, director of development.*

Craft and Folk Art Museum, 5800 Wilshire Blvd.

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