Destination 2018: Los Angeles

The plaque in the Getty Villa, a meticulous recreation of an aristocrat’s villa wiped out by Vesuvius in 79 AD, is demure about the life of its namesake; it doesn’t dwell on the fact that J. Paul Getty was once the richest man in the world, the billionaire head of Getty Oil, founder of Fortune magazine, a longtime Malibu-and-Mexico playboy with a penchant for 17-year-old wives and European art. Most people who remember him now usually associate him with an episode in the 1970s when his grandson, J. Paul Getty III, was kidnapped by the Calabrian mafia. The elder Getty refused to pay a ransom until after the kidnappers mailed one of the young man’s ears to an Italian newspaper.

Like Getty’s life, the villa, located in Malibu in the northern reaches of Los Angeles County, is idiosyncratic and extraordinary. Its halls are filled with a priceless collection of ancient Greek and Roman vases and pots illustrated with the exploits of mythological heroes and ancient kings. It enjoys an uninterrupted view, framed by redolent cypress trees and recreated classical gardens, of the Pacific. The oil tycoon himself is buried just up the hill, a site with the best view of all. Taken as a whole, the geographic space, the physical structure and the collection contained within tell a tale bursting with heroes, villains, beasts and sordid affairs commencing thousands of years ago and culminating in the eternal Southern California sunshine. It is the perfect museum for Los Angeles.

“Many of the institutions in LA were founded by individuals who had amassed a collection.” —John Giurini

For more than a century, LA has been dominated by one industry, and the biggest stories in Los Angeles have been those of that industry’s legendary producers, stars, studio heads and directors. The biggest stories—but far from the only ones. Though many Americans equate Los Angeles with Hollywood and stop there, the city has a vibrant, distinctive and growing arts and culture scene that may surpass that of any other city in the nation outside New York. Its impressive roster of museums includes the Getty, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of the Holocaust, the Broad, the Natural History Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and a host of more eccentric offerings covering topics ranging from martial arts to death and even something called Jurassic technology.

“LA is still a very young city in comparison to DC or New York or even Chicago,” says John Giurini, assistant director for public affairs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “So many of the institutions here don’t have the kind of longevity and history that other institutions in the country have. And many, if not all, of the institutions in LA were founded by individuals who had amassed a collection they wanted to share with the public.”

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