Academy Museum of Motion Pictures / May Company Wilshire | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures / May Company Wilshire

Don't be alarmed when you pass the former May Company Building at Wilshire and Fairfax and see the strikingly contemporary addition for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Museum.

The Academy has signed a long-term lease with LACMA to convert the former department store into a museum dedicated to motion pictures. 

The Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project was released in February 2015 and approved in June. 

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Project is renovating the original portion of the May Company Building. It has demolished the rear addition (Albert C. Martin, 1946) to make way for a 140-foot-diameter spherical addition of glass and steel. Often referred to as the "Death Star," the sphere was designed by architects Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali to house the museum's theater and viewing deck. Construction, originally planned to be completed in 2017, is set to finish in December 2020 after project costs ballooned to $388-million.

The renovated May Company Building will contain exhibition spaces on the first through third floors, with educational spaces planned for the fourth floor and events spaces for the fifth. The ground floor will also contain the lobby and dining space.

The May Company Building, constructed in 1939, is a designated Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #566), requiring all substantial changes to be reviewed by the City of L.A.'s Office of Historic Resources.

After decades as a premiere shopping destination, this unique landmark faced demolition in 1991 for a massive new development project. The building’s co-owner at the time, Forest City Development, submitted plans calling for its demolition, to be replaced by a new development comprised of a hotel, two office towers, retail uses, and underground parking.

The Conservancy worked closely with neighborhood residents and elected officials, culminating in the late Councilmember John Ferraro's influential support that led to the building's preservation.

The Conservancy had earlier attempted to nominate the building for Historic-Cultural Monument status in 1982, but the nomination had been tabled. The nomination was resubmitted with new information by the Conservancy in 1991 and was declared a landmark the following year.

Former Supervisor Ed Edelman worked with the May Company and the Museum Associates to acquire the building for LACMA. The building reopened as LACMA West in 1999.

The Conservancy submitted written comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for this project, strongly encouraging a project that meets the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. 

We worked closely with the project leadership to successfully resolve a number of issues, including maintaining the eligibility of the May Company Building for the National Register of Historic Places; the proposed signage program; and the potential to lose key elements of the historic building. 

In particular, we worked with the project team to make sure the building's original exterior cladding is retained and that significant elements of the Tearoom, one of the few remaining intact interior features, is preserved.