Is the new Academy Museum haunted by ghosts?

The ghost
(Danny Miller / For The Times)

The restaurant is on the first floor, Spike Lee exhibition on the second, Pedro Almodóvar gallery on the third.

But where are the ghosts?

Legend has it that troubled souls once haunted the May Co. department store that has since been reborn as the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ Saban Building.

The ghosts were thought by some to be the spirits of Evelyn Wasserstein and her estranged husband, Jack Wasserstein. As staff writer Mathis Chazanov reported in the L.A. Times on June 22, 1989:

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has opened as the ultimate celebration of Hollywood history, Oscar lore and today’s movie makers.

Oct. 2, 2021


“A 79-year-old woman was shot to death by her estranged husband Wednesday morning in the public dining room of the May Company store on Wilshire Boulevard, where she had gone to play cards with friends.

“Then, as four dozen elderly patrons looked on in horror, the 87-year-old retired carpenter turned the handgun on himself and fired a single round into his head.”

Seniors were known to “flock to the top-floor restaurant with the department’s store’s permission for early morning bridge and poker games,” the article says. Ironically, some witnesses had come to the store that day for a lecture on dispute resolution.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired the building in 1994, and in a 2010 LACMA blog post, an employee wrote about “rumors” of ghosts: “Guards and employees have reported having apparitional experiences that range from sightings of both a man and a woman, to strange noises, to the feeling of a supernatural presence and the feeling of someone/something breathing down their necks.”

The blog post goes on to cite a building supervisor who had worked there for 18 years. “When I asked him to tell me about the ghost,” the LACMA writer said, “all he said was ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’”

A Times reporter researching the May Co. ghost stories could turn up no actual first-hand accounts of ghost sightings — just second-hand tales.


Are the ghosts still there?

Were they ever?

Academy Museum officials did confirm the remains of one body found on site during construction: an ancient sloth, like others discovered in the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. The museum decided to leave the sloth be. It’s still there, buried in the ground behind the screen of the museum’s Ted Mann Theater.