The Petersen Automotive Museum first opened in the summer of 1994, and quickly became the Mecca for history buffs and car enthusiasts. A $5 million donation from Margie and Robert Petersen gave birth to the museum, which is curiously and extension of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Today, the museum has grown to include an education department and a non-profit foundation. A museum, an art gallery, and an education department all rolled into one, the Petersen is a tribute to the past, present, and future impact and of the automobile in America, and in particular the role it has played in the culture of Los Angeles.
Situated on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax on the famous Miracle Mile, the Petersen Automotive Museum is 300,000 square feet of chrome, rubber, and motor oil. More than 150 classic vehicles fill the museum's spaces - everything from classic cars and trucks, to motorcycles and cars with their very history can be found on display.
Among some of the more famous "residents" of the museum include the Mercedes Benz that once belonged to Clark Gable, Lucille Balls' Ghia coupe, and Volkswagen Beetle from the movie The Love Bug, as well as the taxi used in several episodes of the Seinfeld sitcom and the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard television series. In a bit of irony, rapper Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in his own car as he left an event held at the museum.
The museum itself is divided into four floors, each with its own unique story to tell. The museum's first floor contains permanent exhibits dedicated to the history of the automobile. Visitors on the first floor can actually walk through the various exhibits and displays representing early Los Angeles and the role that the automobile played in its development and growth. On the second floor, visitors are treated to a visually stunning display featuring a rotating galleries. The gallery is changed periodically to display classic automobiles, proposed concept cars, and even cars from famous movies or cars belonging to famous people. Vehicles from movies like "Christine", "Gone in 60 Seconds", and "Days of Thunder" have all been featured on the second floor's gallery of cars.
The museum's third floor is a hands-on, interactive 6,500 square foot science and discovery center, dedicated specifically to the basic and fundamental workings of the automobile. The third floor also features three vehicles that visitors can actually sit in, including a police motorcycle, an Indy racecar, and a Ford Model T. Private events and functions are typically held on the fourth floor of the museum, which is highlighted by an all-glass conference center, a kitchen, and a lounge.
The museum's status as a non-profit organization allows it to provide a great deal of programming for the community. Groups and schools periodically schedule free private tours of the museum as well as several after-school programs. The museum's education department even provides salary point workshops that teachers can use to move up on their district's pay scale.