Cabrillo Marine Aquarium | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Architect Frank Gehry is a big fan of chain link fencing, as anyone who's seen his house or the now-altered Santa Monica Place shopping center can attest. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro is a lesser-known, but quite exemplary, testament to the architect's love for this utilitarian material.

Chain link dominates the aquarium's low stucco buildings, not as a surrounding fence, but as a set of a three-dimensional objects extending vertically and obliquely from the center of the complex. It encloses some spaces and opens others up, ushering visitors through outdoor exhibit spaces and toward the indoor attractions.

With the chain link volumes, now partially rusted and weathered, Gehry aimed for a semi-industrial look that evoked the area's hardscrabble fishing and dockworking operations.

Originally called the Cabrillo Marine Museum, the aquarium started as a collection of specimens housed in the Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse in 1935. It became popular for its programs on the annual grunion runs that take place on the nearby beach, and moved into its new Gehry-designed complex in 1981. In 2000, the City of Los Angeles hired Barton Phelps & Associates to expand the aquarium, resulting in a large 2004 two-story addition with a distinctive fiberglass-tube screen and the rearrangement of several courtyards.

The new screen riffs on the nearby chain-link, adding another dimension of industrial art to the aquarium and further increasing the visual appeal of the complex as a whole.

Photo by Tom Davies

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