The closest Carole Lombard ever came to working in a department store was this scene from "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." But in the not too distant future, Lombard and others from filmdom's Golden Age "may" be honored in a building that once housed a fabled department store.
It's the old May Co. building on Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, in the "Miracle Mile" segment of Los Angeles. The store opened in 1939, and while we have no record whether Carole shopped in or entered it (as we know she did with Bullocks Wilshire not far away), she almost certainly drove past it a number of times and was likely enthralled with its Streamline Moderne design.
The store closed some years ago, and the building was acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to complement its other sites along the block. For years, it didn't know what to do it.
Meanwhile, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had announced plans to build a museum in Hollywood, on land it had acquired (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/49593.html). Had everything gone as planned, it would have opened sometime in 2012. But that little thing called the economic downturn raised its ugly head, and AMPAS couldn't raise the money it needed to build the museum.
Mix one empty building with one unbuilt one, and...voila. As Los Angeles Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote on Oct. 12:
"At least from a bottom-line perspective, it's easy to see the thinking behind the decision by (LACMA director Michael) Govan and his board to hand over the old May Co. building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, which it acquired in 1994 and renamed LACMA West, to the academy for its long-planned movie museum. In a single stroke, Govan has freed LACMA from the cost of renovating the building for its own use and guaranteed a steady stream of lease revenue and new visitors.
"When you consider that a Metro subway line will be coming to Wilshire and Fairfax by the end of the decade, the plan looks even smarter. With a major transit stop and a movie museum at its front door, it's not hard to imagine the museum's annual attendance leaping well past the 2010 figure of just more than 900,000.
"The architectural implications of the decision are more complicated. LACMA had been working with the Culver City firm SPF Architects to renovate the May Co. building, adding galleries and offices, and there were plans for a pair of installations by the artist James Turrell on its rooftop. The academy, for its part, had hired the French architect Christian de Portzamparc to work on preliminary designs for a planned museum in Hollywood.
"At this point, it's unclear who will design the new movie museum inside the May Co. building and how it will look -- to say nothing of its relationship with the rest of LACMA. What is clear is that the museum campus is now settling into three distinct -- and architecturally very different -- sections.
"On the western edge will be the film museum, with 300,000 square feet of galleries inside the 1939 May Co. building, a landmark of Streamline Moderne architecture by Albert C. Martin. LACMA has ceded control of these interiors to the academy, which means the museum will probably look something like recent projects by David Rockwell, who designed the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars are handed out each year, and the last two stage sets for the ceremony."
From an AMPAS perspective, losing a Hollywood location is more than compensated for by its convenience on one of L.A.'s major thoroughfares, and in a landmark building to boot. Tentative plans are to open the museum sometime in 2013. It's unfortunate AMPAS and Debbie Reynolds couldn't come to an agreement to place some of her huge inventory of items in the museum before they were put up for auction (part two is set for later this year), but once it opens, it should be a popular tourist attraction.
For history on attempts to create a film museum, efforts that have been going on for more than eight decades, visit http://ladailymirror.com/2011/10/17/mary-mallory-hollywood-heights-the-quest-for-a-movie-museum/.
Oh, and just to set the record straight: While Mary Livingstone (born Sadie Marks), wife of Jack Benny and part of his famed radio troupe, was indeed a lingerie salesgirl for the May Co., it was at its downtown flagship. By the time the Wilshire store opened, Mary was a noted radio performer.