The Getty Center is an art museum and institute in Los Angeles, founded from the oil fortune of J. Paul Getty. The center is a beautiful campus of modern buldings on a 750-acre site atop one of the Santa Monica foothills. There are several different entities represented on the site:
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum. To most folks not engaged in research, the museum is synonymous with the Center. The museum houses a large collection of painting, sculpture and decorative arts through the end of the 19th century. Admission is free; the entire facility is funded through Getty's Trust.
  • The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities. An interdisciplinary program for art and humanities with a huge research library. The Institute produces scholarly publications as well as engages the public through exchibitions and public talks.
  • The Getty Conservation Institute promotes "conservation of the world's cultural heritage" by research, training and publications.
  • The Getty Leadership Institute for Museum Management
  • trains museum professionals in the business skills needed to manage modern museums. It runs The Museum Mangement Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.


In 1953, Getty started a small museum in his Malibu home of art from his personal collection: Greek and Roman artifacts, French Furniture and European paintings. The collection grew so large that in 1974 Getty built a Roman-style villa in the hills above Los Angeles, modeled after the Villa dei Papiri in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, to house the collection. When the preponderance of Getty's estate (roughly $1.2 billion in Getty Oil Company stock) passed into the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1982 after his death in 1976 (the delay was from some legal wrangling), the trustees decided to expand the scale and scope of the museum even further. In 1983 the Getty Trust purchased about 750 acres of real estate on a foothill of the the Santa Monica Mountains, and started an international search for an architect, settling on Richard Meier. After 14 years of planning and construction, the center opened to the public in 1997, at which point the Villa was closed for renovations. When the Villa reopens it will house the classical portions of the Center's collection.


Richard Meier was already an internationally-renowned modernist in 1984; he won the the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, in the same year. Meier was famous for creating neo-modern, curvilinear buildings of white enameled panels and glass. For the Getty site, which was to maintain a sense of a contemporary building while retaining some feel of the Italian villa, he combined his signature building style with Romanesque materials: huge sections of travertine stone from Tivoli, Italy. The rock comes from the same quarry that was used to build the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain and the St. Peter's Basilica colonnade. It took 100 ocean freighter voyages from Italy to bring the 16,000 tons of travertine needed to build the center to Los Angeles.

The hilltop site is accessible only by a 5-minute tram ride from a parking facility at the bottom of the hill. Meier wanted to give visitors the feeling of "being elevated out of their day-to-day experience."

The finished complex is a striking mix of modern Meier-esque buildings incorporated into a travertine foundation and plaza. The complex is nestled on the hillside with a central Italianate garden designed by Robert Irwin, and peripheral gardens done by Laurie Olin in coordination with Meier. A unique splitting process developed for the construction gives the travertine stone a rough texture, allowing it to catch the abundant light on the hilltop as well as maintain a sense of classical, aged, rough-hewn stone.

The plaza and gardens also frame breathtaking views of the Santa Monica foothills, Los Angeles, and the ocean. The sunset throught the gardens is astonishingly beautiful.

sockpuppet has done a nice job of giving us facts and history re: the Getty. A couple of less serious notes about it...

It looks like Starfleet HQ. Seriously. Driving up along the 405 North it positively looms off on the left, perched on its snake-infested hilltop in a glorious riot of light-colored stone. I swear, it's Starfleet. Especially at night, when there are floodlights on it and the area around it is quite dark.

It was infested with snakes. The hilltop on which it is set was unbuilt, and as a result, all the snakes who'd been pushed out of surrounding developed lowlands had eventually settled up there. There was a massive effort required to deslither the area.

It's in a lousy neighborhood for lunch. The staff of the Getty ended up lobbying hard for facilities for their use atop the mesa, since there wasn't an easy way down and there wasn't anything in the area anyhow. This led to not only some of the eateries up there but the health club facilities, referred to (naturally) as Spa Getty.

It was orginally fragile. The light stone panels referred to above were originally spec-ed not only for the exterior, but for functional surfaces inside the buildings at several locations. These had to be changed hastily before the opening when it was discovered that the travertine stone, while beautiful and a hardy exterior, wasn't up to handling lots of foot and utility traffic. It apparently tended to crack (infrequently) and clearly show grubby handprints and the like with all the fidelity and contrast of a freshly-painted white wall (frequently).

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