Inside one of the Mammal Halls at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, between the salad and filet mignon courses at the dinner for Saturday’s Dinosaur Ball, Hall of Fame NFL star Tony Gonzalez told us he well remembered his visits to the museum while growing up in Los Angeles.
Seated beside him, his wife, TV personality October Gonzalez, said that over the years, she’s brought all of their children to see the exhibits.
Marking the launch of “Antarctic Dinosaurs” at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, the Dinosaur Ball previewed the exhibition. The gala also raised more than $1.5 million to help fund education programs and school visits for more than 200,000 students annually.
Taking viewers back more than 200 million years to long before Antarctica became a frozen land mass, the exhibition shows Earth’s southernmost continent as a lush, green environment and a home to ancient dinosaurs, including two species so newly discovered that they haven’t yet been named.
“We’re always hoping that we find new species,” said Nate Smith, associate curator at NHM’s Dinosaur Institute, who made the discovery along with colleague Pete Makovicky. Describing conditions on Mt. Kirkpatrick, where temperatures could sometimes drop to 25 to 30 degrees below zero, he added: “We knew from a 1990 expedition that [dinosaurs] had been found at one particular site, and while we wanted to look more in depth there, we also wanted to check out other places to look for new things as well.”
“Nate Smith is one of the stars of the exhibition,” said museum President and Director Lori Bettison-Varga. “This is a great exhibition because it gives our audience a chance to see that we are a research institution, making discoveries all the time. And we love sharing them with the public.”
Entering a geodesic dome — measuring 60 feet in diameter and looking from the outside like a giant igloo — guests were able to enjoy cocktails before embarking on their preview. They then followed the path of the paleontologists, as illustrated like a graphic novel, as they perused the fossils unearthed in recent years, along with dramatic reconstructions of the dinosaurs.
“There’s more time separating these Antarctic dinosaurs from T. rex than time separating us from T. rex,” Smith said. “There are more than 700 species of dinosaurs and over 150 million years of evolution, even more so if we count the birds that are around today.”
By comparison, he said most people believe “anatomically modern Homo sapiens” to be here 250,000 years.
Among others in attendance were Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger; State Sens. Holly Mitchell and Ben Allen; Assemblymen Richard Bloom and Reggie Jones-Sawyer; entertainment VIPs Bill Silva and Marcy Carsey; and gala co-chairs Nancy and John Edwards and Michael Silver.
“Antarctica and dinosaurs both are subjects that hold a lot of imaginative appeal, so combining them together makes a great exhibition for a lot of different people,” said NHM’s Gretchen Baker, vice president of exhibitions. She’s working on another exhibition to fuel popular imaginations: the natural history of horror films, as “a lot of those films were inspired by scientific experiments and discoveries,” she said.
Looking to the future of the museum area, co-chair Michael Silver, a tech entrepreneur, said, “Exposition Park is about to go through a revolution,” before ticking off the museum’s coming revamp: director George Lucas’ about-to-be-built Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the California Science Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s renovation and other plans for the 2028 Summer Olympics. “Over the next five years, if you’re a tourist to Los Angeles, Exposition Park is going to be the place to visit,” he said. “It’s going to be on the map like the Getty Center and LACMA.”
Tickets for the 500 guests began at $1,500, while tables ranged to $50,000. In addition to proceeds of more than $1.5 million, Bettison-Varga announced a record-setting endowment gift of $5 million from philanthropist Gretchen Augustyn to support NHM’s Dinosaur Institute staff, expeditions and research.