Natural History Museum: Lando Hall of California History

Display entrance

An unassuming entrance to an outstanding exhibit. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to a museum and was blown away by a permanent exhibit. When it comes to permanent exhibits, if it’s interesting enough, I’ll do some quick looks and think, “I can come back later.” Usually, I do, but it’s for another cursory glance. The Lando Hall of California History makes me want to go back tomorrow and the next day and the next. We spent so much time upstairs and at the Discovery Center, that once I entered the Lando Hall, I made note that next time I go, 1) I go alone and 2) I’m making it the first destination.

From the Natural History Museum website:

Lando Hall of California History – This exhibition spans the Southwest from the 1500’s through time and place to downtown Los Angeles in 1940. The gallery is organized chronologically and features twelve themes: Native Americans, New World Exploration, Spanish Outpost, International Competition, Mexican Territory, War with the U.S., 31st State, Craftsman Style, Agriculture, Land, Sea & Air, Motion Pictures, City of Los Angeles. In this hall the history of the past appears in both artifacts and the records of the people who lived there.

I started downtown and went around. Even going backward, the exhibit only became more awesome. My kids, aged 2 and 4, thoroughly enjoyed it and the best part about it was the complete lack of screaming idiot school kids on fieldtrips. (Suggestion: If you have school aged kids and they go on field trips, how about teaching them some manners, like how to behave in public and not act like fools? If we had behaved like that as kids, our teachers would have put us right back on the bus.)

So allow me to show you a few photos of the exhibit in chronological order:

To your right you see a really long timeline of California history with newspaper clippings, advertisements, annoucements, personal correspondence and other historical documents:

Display of history

To your left you see this clock from a courthouse (That’s where Zemekis got the idea for Back to the Future):

Clock from a courthouse

You go on and as promised you’re introduced to native keepers of the land, the indigenous people of the state:

A Ventureno Chumash Indian Village

The are the Chumash Indians. The antecedents of the current band of Chumash Indians. I wonder how they’d feel if they knew all the recent shenanigans being carried out by their descendants.

There’s a lot of cool displays in the back and shows the Russians in California, the presidios and how the Missions worked with society. As you moved on you, not only did you see how religion played a great role in California history, but race and Europeans also left it’s mark. There’s an interesting diorama of people coming north to settle Los Angeles. It’s interesting because it looked more like people crossing the border, than the wealthy landowners that they were. I didn’t take a photo because it’s something that really needs to be seeing in person and I didn’t want those wacky racists to take it make into something it wasn’t.

There’s a great diorama of the Chinese laborers working on the railroad and this festive one of a Mexican Wedding Party:

A Mexican Wedding Party, circa 1880

The exhibit has a very excellent section on the California Goldrush. This not only includes equipment, which the kids thought was cool, but also clothing, ads and land deeds. I’m skipping over the war stuff as I did while there. We already have a problem with the kids aiming their fingers like guns, so I didn’t want them to see real ones. My daughter was fascinated by the Victorian era costumes there. When I told her that women, ladies weren’t allowed to wear pants, she thought it was silly. She said, “But they’re grown ups like you. Why can’t they wear what they want?” Since I had already explained racism, slavery and human sacrifices (all of which she agrees stinks) earlier, I didn’t think we were ready for sexism.

Newspapers of the day

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is that not only is a history of California, but also mini-history lessons on inventions. My kids see me read the newspaper from to back, minus the silly celebrity crap which goes straight to the compost heap, so they know that newspapers exists. My daughter’s eyes lit up when she saw this display and she thought the printing press and typesetting displays were totally cool. When I explained to hear how they set the letters to print the paper, she was floor. She loved the typewriter and recognized it off the bat, shocking an older woman nearby.

We already had a lesson on steam-driven technology, thanks to Alton’s love of trains, so when she saw this fire engine:

Steam driven fire engine

…and I told her it was steam-driven, her first question was, “Where do they put the coal and shovel?” The next two questions were regarding where the firefighters stood and the location of the ladder.

From there you learn a little about the agriculture history of California. Very little in fact. It’s the one fatal flaw of the entire exhibit. Considering how much the agriculture industry of California has and continues to provide to the rest of the country, I was saddened to see an olive mill, wine press, a display on oranges and that was about it.

Aviation history

On to the aviation industry which was also a boon to California and the rest of the country. The display is small, but if it was big, all it would become is a lot about Northrop and McDonnell Douglas and that’s boring. Okay, not really, but living in SoCal, it kind of gets burned into your soul and you get tired of hearing about “the good old days”, which were only really good if you were a white guy. LOL!

I have nothing to say about this, but there is a really cool, really old oil derrick there. You’ve got to see it.

Old oil derrick

At this point, I should also point out the exhibit becomes a lot lest focused on California and lot more focused on LA County. Note, I did not say SoCal, because even Orange County doesn’t rate a mention (I could insert a snarky dump on OC, but it doesn’t even rate that high in my book. ;P). We’re force to view the ubiquitous Hollywood crap, even though even I have to admit this Hollywood crap was more interesting any other Hollywood crap I’ve ever seen!

On to Los Angeles:

City of LA in miniature

Cool, huh? It’s an entire miniature of the city of LA circa 1940. Well, that’s what they say, but like Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights and everything west of the 110 seems to be missing. So I guess it’s more like City of LA (downtown view) circa 1940. What was heartbreaking was watching the film they loop. It was downtown LA circa 1931 and you can just see the possibilities. I watched that thinking, “I want to live in that city! Oh wait. I do.” I actually didn’t get through the entire film because my heart started breaking over what could have been and I got all misty-eyed and crap.

A close up on Union Station:

Union Station

So that was most of the exhibit. I only uploaded a few of my photos online and I didn’t use all of them for this post because I really encourage everyone to see it themselves.


2 thoughts on “Natural History Museum: Lando Hall of California History

  1. Wow this museum looks very worthwhile and interesting. I wish we would have visited before me moved out of California….

    LOL,….I totally get the O.C. comment 😉


  2. I’m always struck by all the new stuff I find in this city. I have no idea how long the Lando Hall has been open, and the exhibit did look new. I suggest that the next time you’re in LA, go to the Natural History Museum and go straight to the ground floor for this. Your daughter may even like the Discovery Center that’s down there. It’s very hands on and interactive. They even have loads of crawling, slithering things.


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