A home-grown Southern California gem, the Norton Simon Museum is familiar to millions worldwide as the approximate starting point of the New Year's Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, which happens to end about three blocks from my house.
Founded originally as the Pasadena Art Institute in 1924, the gallery was totally reorganized by supremely successful businessman Norton Simon in 1974.
Simon, born in 1907, had built an enormous multinational corporation which included such brands as Canada Dry, McCalls Corporation, and Hunt-Wesson Foods. He began collecting art in the early 1950s, starting with works by Renoir, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Degas.
By the 60s he had amassed a major collection which included Old Masters such as Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt as well as such modern artists as Manet, Monet, van Gogh, Kandinsky and Picasso.
For many years his irreplaceable collection was catalogued and housed in a series of residential bungalows in downtown Hollywood. A friend of mine once regaled me with a rapturous tale of romancing his high school one true love among the unmounted canvases of Goya and Tiepolo, tended by a friend of the family who averted his official gaze.
In 1969 Simon retired from corporate life to concentrate on his collection, as well as pursue interests in education, medical research, and politics. He reorganized the works originally housed in the Pasadena Art Institute in 1974, augmenting an already excellent museum with his own works, which by then included fine examples of South Asian sculpture. The familiar building on Colorado Boulevard, designed by Ladd & Kelsey, had opened in 1969 as the Pasadena Art Museum.
Until his death in 1993, Simon worked tirelessly to combine the two collections in a presentation unique in the world. The museum underwent continuous renovation, completed in October, 1999. The 51,000 square feet of gallery space was redesigned by famed architect Frank O. Gehry, and a 79,000 square foot sculpture garden was created by California landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power.
It has been quite amazing to witness the transformation of the original collection, which I began to visit in the early 1970s, into the colossal—yet still accessible—experience that exists today. The museum's variety, frankly, makes it world-class. From the tiny, exotic canvases of Paul Klee to the titanic Burghers of Calais by Rodin in the garden, there's something for everyone, even children.
The Norton Simon is a must-see on any trip to Southern California.
NORTON SIMON MUSEUM
411 West Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, California 91105
The Norton Simon Museum is located in Pasadena on the
corner of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards at the
intersection of the Foothill (210) and Ventura (134) freeways.
The Museum is open every day except Tuesday,
12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m., and Friday until 9:00 p.m.
Admission for adults is $6.00; seniors are $3.00;
Museum members, patrons age 18 and under,
and students with current I.D. are free.
The Museum is wheelchair accessible.
Ample free parking is available and no reservations are necessary. In Southern California you'd go someplace just to experience this!
(Should you see a crotchety motorcyclist speeding by the gallery on the adjacent freeway during the Rose Parade, that's me, on my way to deliver a tuition check at my younger boy's school, mere blocks away from the Simon at the Gamble House, another Pasadena landmark.)