The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has long recognized that cars, trucks and motorcycles aren’t just modes of transportation. They’re key to the city’s identity, style and history. After closing for a 15-month, $125 million renovation, the museum celebrated its reopening with a December 6 gala attuned to the new look and feel of the museum.
An anchor to the eastern edge of Museum Row, the Petersen was reimagined as a 21stcentury cultural institution and event space. An exterior cage of winding steel ribbons that evoke speed and movement surrounds the former department store and arches over the penthouse courtyard, where up to 280 standing can gather for meetings and events. Indoors, the three floors of exhibit space with 25 new galleries also can double as party space.
To create a celebration as big and bold as the revitalized museum, Diana Rayzman, executive producer and founder of RG Live Events, took advantage of the more than 50,000 square feet of gallery space on three floors. She collaborated with museum staff and a dozen outside vendors to design and execute a combination museum preview and cocktail hour, sit-down dinner and silent and live auction for 780 car enthusiasts.
“We wanted the event to have an automotive undertone,” Rayzman says, “but we also wanted it to feel modern, sexy and aerodynamic, like the building exterior.” The décor incorporated cars in the abstract: chrome, mirrors, leather, glass and a touch of the hotrod red that cloaks the building.
With individual tickets beginning at $1,500 and tables for 10 priced at up to $21,000, the event served as the first large-scale unveiling of the museum. There were bars set up on each floor so guests could sip cocktails while freely wandering among the rolling treasures— Bugattis, BMWs, Rolls-Royces and more. In the Forza Motorsport Gallery, guests got a visceral sense of what it’s like to compete in the world’s great auto races when they climbed into the cockpit of a racecar and accelerated through the contours of virtual race courses.
After exploring the museum’s exhibits of loaned and owned vehicles, guests shifted into gear for dinner, held in a new 82-by-192-foot tent, erected on the parking structure by Town and Country Rentals. To enter the tent, patrons passed a wall where light bulbs spelled out “start your engines,” then walked through sets of double glass doors framed by tall, white curtains. The interior was filled with coolly elegant white and chrome chairs and a mix of round and rectangular mirror-topped tables provided by Revelry Event Designers.
The tabletops were almost wintry: White floral centerpieces were accented by round silver ornaments, while white napkins and pale place settings were reflected in the mirrors. Jolts of color came from tiny Matchbox toy cars on each plate and the vivid red programs placed on each seat (the back covers were printed with individual auction bidder’s numbers).
Rayzman hired StereoBot, a Los Angeles design firm, to create the hollow, ceilingmounted 180-foot sinuous ribbons (a homage to the exterior) and an arch to frame the stage. For entertainment, music, video projections and even spoken-word poetry traced automotive history throughout the decades.
The size of the event was a design challenge. “We were concerned about a space this large,” Rayzman admits. “We needed to have the stage at the apex point of the tent, but we also didn’t want people sitting at the back to feel removed from the action. We came up with the idea of creating a circular stage in the center of the space that kind of split the room. So wherever you were sitting, you felt like you had a front-row seat.”
The stage was surrounded by a scrim that also served as a projection screen. Dancers emerged from multiple side entrances and disappeared into the curtained circular stage while wall-mounted monitors brought the front-stage performances to distant tables.
Waitstaff dressed in mechanic’s coveralls emblazoned with a Petersen Garage logo poured wine and served the three-course meal created by the Drago Brothers, noted LA restaurateurs who will be operating the new in-house restaurant. A salad of butter gem lettuce, Gorgonzola and thinly sliced persimmon “carpaccio” was paired with a Ram’s Gate Winery chardonnay. Next, an entrée of Mediterranean sea bass on top of polenta, fennel and asparagus. For dessert there was butterscotch budino with a rosemary praline.
Petersen Vice Chairman Bruce Meyer joined a Sotheby’s auctioneer for the live auction, which featured insider experiences at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Indy 500, among other great auto events, and a tour of Jay Leno’s extensive car collection. The event got especially lively when television actor and car collector Tim Allen emerged from the audience at the behest of Meyer and agreed to add in a tour of his collection to the lucky bidder on the Chairman’s Choice—a progressive dinner for 10 and home tours of the automobile elite, catered by the Drago brothers. The winning bid? $17,000. By night’s end, the live and silent auctions would raise $286,000 for the museum foundation.
One last sweet touch: The waitstaff handed guests fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies as they waited for the valet to deliver their cars. That’s one auto innovation all Angelenos could get behind.