The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures / May Company Wilshire | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Iwan Baan/ © Iwan Baan Studios

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures / May Company Wilshire

For decades, the gleaming Streamline Moderne style May Company building was a crown jewel on Wilshire Boulevard. Built in 1939 by A.C. Martin and Associates, its striking black and gold façade greeted motorists heading west along L.A.’s “Miracle Mile.” As one of the city's largest and most elegant department stores, May Company Wilshire symbolized L.A.’s ascent as a major modern metropolis.

In the early 1990s, May Company California merged with J.W. Robinson's to form Robinsons-May, closing multiple locations, including the Wilshire store. Not long after, plans to demolish the structure and build a hotel, two office towers, retail uses, and parking. 

The L.A. Conservancy jumped into action, engaging neighbors and elected officials, culminating in the late Councilmember John Ferraro's influential support to save the building and secure its landmark status. Former Supervisor Ed Edelman facilitated the building's sale to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1994. It reopened as LACMA West in 1999 but failed to flourish.

The May Company Wilshire building was leased to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the site of its Academy Museum in 2014 and renamed the Saban Building in honor of project donors Cheryl and Haim Saban.

The Academy Museum would comprise the Saban Building and a new sphere addition on the north, which was partly inspired by the dirigibles that landed on the nearby Ceci B. DeMille airfield in the 1920s.

The extensive three-year rehabilitation and adaptive reuse project was supported by a preservation plan conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Historic-Cultural Monument, ensuring the building would retain its significance as a historic resource. Perhaps the Saban building’s most defining feature is its eye-catching four-story tower, comprised of over 300,000 gold glass mosaic tiles. These were carefully surveyed for areas of delamination, and any damaged or missing historic tiles were replaced with custom tiles from the original family-owned manufacturer in Venice, Italy. 

The museum is LEED Gold certified and is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Since its opening in 2021, the museum has made an immediate contribution to Los Angeles—helping to solidify Museum Row on the Miracle Mile as a major cultural institution and visitor destination.

The Conservancy recognized the Academy Museum’s stunning adaptive reuse project with a 2022 Preservation Award.

For information about the Academy Museum, visit academymuseum.org

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Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

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