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Los Angeles Natural History Museum Redefined


In many cities, the place to see old dinosaur bones is a natural history museum.

But this kind of museum is evolving, offering exhibits that a visitor would never imagine in a natural history museum. The new exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is an example of how the natural history museum is being redefined.

First time visitors expecting dinosaur bones may be surprised to find live turtles, rats and snakes on the first floor. The dinosaurs live on the second floor along with relics of the past.

Among the museum's newest exhibits is one called "Becoming LA.” It tells LA’s history from a different perspective, says Jonathan Gillett, the museum's assistant collections manager.

“Not only are we interpreting natural history. We also, as a part of our mission statement, are interpreting cultural history as well. So it shows the way that the environment has influenced people and how people have influenced the environment," said Gillett.

The collection includes a wooden cross from the mid 1700s when the Spanish established missions in California. There is also a locally made car from 1902. The history of Los Angeles would be incomplete without Hollywood. The exhibit includes a camera that was used to film silent movies. Also on exhibit, a costume worn by silent movie star Charlie Chaplin.

“Hollywood was incredibly close to a lot of other natural habitats that could stand in for other places around the world," said Gillett.

In addition to Hollywood artifacts and relics of the past, the museum is also focused on the living, says the museum's Kristin Friedrich.

“In the cracks of sidewalks or in the chimneys of buildings of Los Angeles, there’s incredible life. And a lot of these species that we explore here find ways to live in the city like we find ways to live in the city," said Friedrich.

There are live plants and animals in an outdoor garden and an indoor nature lab. Friedrich says this is a departure from the traditional natural history museum.

“Traditionally the natural history museum is a 19th century model. Back then you would put dead things in a cabinet. You would have a text panel and people would walk around and look in a very dark hall," she said.

She says natural history museums are reinventing themselves, exploring themes like conservation and human's impact on the environment. Tim Waters likes this museum.

“This whole exhibit is an on-going history, and so it’s giving us not just an ancient history but our place and how we form history," said Waters.

His eight year-old son, Wyatt, prefers the older residents here.

“I think the dinosaur exhibit is a little bit more interesting than this exhibit," he said.

The dinosaurs are not going away. They’re just sharing the space with livelier critters.
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