OK. Quick. Name the first car magazine you remember reading.
While younger readers may mention magazines like Super Street or Honda Tuning, those with a few gray hairs will probably mention Hot Rod, Car Craft, or maybe Motor Trend. You might be surprised to learn that Hot Rod first appeared way back in 1948, Motor Trend came on the scene a year later, and Car Craft was first published nearly 60 years ago, in 1953.
All three of these iconic automotive magazines, and many more, were the product of automotive and publishing visionary Robert Petersen (yep, that’s Petersen with three “e’s” and no “o’s”…). Petersen Publishing Company was the home of many automotive titles that we’ve come to know and love. And although the company has changed hands and names many times since the early days, Petersen’s magazines have provided countless hours of reading and dreaming for future mechanics, parts professionals, and car collectors in the solitude of their bedrooms, usually festooned with posters of Corvettes, or maybe Ferraris, or maybe even a centerfold or two…
In any event, Robert Petersen built an automotive publishing empire before his passing in 2007. In addition to his publishing enterprise, his passion for cars in general, and hot rod-type cars in particular, led Petersen and his wife Margie to ante up five million dollars to establish the Petersen Museum on the famed Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
While you might think that all of this might have happened early on in his endeavors, it actually wasn’t until 1994 that he realized his dream of an automotive museum bearing his name. Six years later the Petersens ponied up another $25 mil to establish a non-profit corporation that would keep the museum operating. And last year, before her passing, Margie Petersen, in concert with the foundation previously established by the couple, donated an eye-popping $100 million more to the Museum, securing its solvency and growth for as far forward as one can see.
So what’s the big deal? What is actually in the museum?
A treasure trove of special-interest vehicles, that’s what.
The collection actually numbers more than 300 vehicles of all types with, usually, more than a hundred on display at any given time. The four-story building, featuring more than 300,000 square feet, offers four different experiences for visitors. The first floor houses permanent exhibits with vehicles representing important periods throughout the 100+ years of automotive development. Included are automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles, many of which are displayed in dioramas reminiscent of their eras. As you might expect, this display includes important and beautifully-exhibited hot rods and muscle cars. Guests are encouraged to get “up close and personal” with the vehicles, and walk through and among the exhibits, which allows hard-core car guys (and girls) to examine closely the workmanship and styling cues of the various vehicles.
The second floor of the Petersen Museum features five constantly-changing galleries, each of which presents a special family of vehicles. You might see individual groups of custom cars, “stars’ cars,” race cars, movie cars, significant historic cars, motorcycles, one-off concept cars, and others. These vehicles may be on loan from other museums, may be from private collections, or may be assembled from individual owners by special invitation. These five galleries change throughout the year.
On the third floor you’ll find the May Family Discovery Center, a hands-on learning center dedicated to the promotion of automotive technology and young people’s interest in related scientific disciplines. This facility, spanning more than 6,500 square feet, is definitely a hands-on experience, and explains how various automotive systems work, to the young as well as the young at heart. With sometimes-negative publicity for the automotive industry, and critics complaining about so-called “gas guzzlers,” it is refreshing to have a facility that teaches young people about the parts and systems that actually promote the most important, efficient and valuable system of mass transportation in the world – the automobile.
Every Tuesday the Petersen hosts their Discovery Hour for young children. Activities include all types of fun and games (not that a museum full of a hundred interesting cars isn’t already fun and games…). Kids’ races, scavenger hunts, short films, and story telling help youngsters start out with an appropriately positive understanding of the importance of vehicles in our history as well as in our future.
And every third Saturday of each month sees the Petersen present Discovery Hour Story Time, for youngsters and their families, in which a host presents interesting and entertaining fables about cars, trucks, and motorcycles and the people who have made them what they are today.
Hats off to the management team of the Petersen for keeping it an educational yet family-friendly destination where young and old can gain a new appreciation for the heritage of transportation.
Finally, the fourth floor houses a penthouse conference center (no, not that Penthouse…), including a full kitchen and lounge area. The conference center is stylish and modern, yet comfortable and welcoming. It is used by the Museum for meetings, technical presentations, and other industry events, and it is also available to clubs, social organizations, and other groups that appreciate the opportunity to meet in an automotive-themed facility.
The Petersen Museum has become a landmark on Los Angeles’ legendary Wilshire Boulevard, amidst other museums and cultural institutions, and on the road long known for cruising, and even a little street racing, for hot rods over the years. More than 150,000 visitors make the pilgrimage to the Petersen every year, and part of the adventure is not knowing exactly what vehicles will be on display when they arrive. The exhibition is always fresh, always interesting, and always related to motive power.
It’s no surprise that immediately adjacent to the Petersen is Johnny Rocket’s, a nostalgia-themed restaurant, where the food and atmosphere are reminiscent of a 50’s diner, with burgers, fries, and milk shakes that were standard fare back in the day.
Open nearly every day of the year except Mondays, Christmas day, New Year’s day, and Thanksgiving day, the museum is open to the public from 10 AM to 6 PM, and does not require any kind of reservation. However you should check the Museum’s web site for any special hours, as well as details of special exhibits that may be planned. A modest admission charge gives you access to all of the Petersen’s attractions, including a pleasant and interesting gift shop, where you can purchase appropriate souvenirs and memorabilia.
The Petersen is a proper memorial to its founder, as well as a fitting tribute to the legacy of transportation and hot-rodding that is as American as hot dogs, apple pie and, well, you probably know the rest…
Details at www.Petersen.org
by Glen Quagmire