18 Years After Biggie Shooting, Renovated Petersen Automotive Museum Reopens

Petersen Automotive Museum
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The northside exterior of the Petersen Automotive Museum photographed on Sept. 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. 

After 13-and-a-half months of renovation, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles formally reopens today (Dec. 7). Following a weekend of preview festivities, the public will finally get the chance to see what’s inside the bright red and silver ribbon-covered structure that now commands the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

Three years after its original opening in 1994, however, the Petersen Museum was being featured in headlines of a different sort. Rap legend Notorious B.I.G. was slain in a drive-by shooting at a traffic light on Wilshire after leaving Vibe magazine’s post-Soul Train Awards party at the museum. The latest chapter in a then-East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry, the still-unsolved March 9, 1997 shooting came six months after Tupac Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas.

Petersen spokesperson Tom Morr acknowledges the shooting is “part of the museum’s history and something we can’t ignore.” However, as the museum embarks on its own next chapter, one of its goals is to be “more event friendly” with plans to host parties and other entertainment-related functions. Also on the drawing board: plans to release a book of photographs chronicling the various celebs -- including Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, B.I.G. and Diddy -- who have attended various events at the Petersen over the last 20 years.

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Music played a role in the Petersen’s weekend preview activities. KCRW Los Angeles radio personality Jason Bentley curated the musical entertainment for special guests on Dec. 6, while Beats by Dre in-ear headphones were among the hourly prizes given away. Founded by magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen and his wife Margie, the Petersen sits across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The latter, still under construction, is slated to open in 2017.

Designed to convey speed and motion, the Petersen exterior’s 308 floating stainless steel ribbons, lit by 866 computer-controlled LED lights, are just one part of the museum’s reported $125 million redesign. Inside, visitors will be treated to 25 new galleries featuring interactive touch screens and panoramic video walls. Disney/Pixar’s Cars Mechanical Institute, the new $400,000 Ford GT and Xbox Forza Motorsports are among the galleries stationed on the museum’s three floors of exhibit space encompassing 95,000 square feet. Visitors can also take advantage of virtual tours via iPhones and iPads.

Taking a tour around the city, the Petersen isn’t the only Los Angeles venue that has moved beyond tragic circumstances. Hollywood’s fabled Chateau Marmont Hotel was rocked by 1982 by the death of John Belushi. The actor/comedian died in Bungalow 3 after a speedball injection. In the 33 years since then, however, the hotel still remains a popular go-to stop for music and entertainment events.

Heading west down the Sunset Strip from the Chateau Marmont is the Viper Room. It was outside this rock and indie outpost that actor River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993. Former part-owner Johnny Depp was succeeded by current owners Bevan Cooney and Darin Feinstein. The duo, along with new partner Oliver Trevena, hosted a re-launch party for the Viper Room on Nov. 17 featuring a performance by the band X Ambassadors.

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This coming February will mark the fourth anniversary of legendary singer Whitney Houston’s death by accidental drowning in room 434 of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Her untimely passing coincided with mentor Clive Davis’ and The Recording Academy’s annual pre-Grammy gala that evening -- which proceeded as planned. "Simply put,” said Davis inside the Hilton’s International Ballroom, “Whitney would have wanted the music to go on and her family asked that we carry on."

While room 434 has remained unoccupied since Houston’s death, the Beverly Hilton continues its longtime run as the locale for the pre-Grammy gala as well as the Golden Globes and the Oscar nominee luncheon. And come 2017, the venerable venue will welcome a sister hotel on its site:  the 170-room Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills.

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