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Motion Picture Academy touts progress – and a $50-million gift – toward its long-awaited film museum

Construction is underway at the site of the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Construction is underway at the site of the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It's no secret that the Motion Picture Academy has hit a few bumps along the way in its effort to build an ambitious film museum in Los Angeles: construction delays, cost overruns, concerns over the pace of fundraising.

But at a press event on Wednesday morning, academy leaders looked to turn the page on those growing pains and tout the progress that's been made on the museum, which is slated to open in 2019 – and express their gratitude for a major new $50-million donation from Cheryl and Haim Saban.

At the museum's construction site at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, recently elected academy President John Bailey, museum director Kerry Brougher, newly named chair of the museum board of trustees Ron Meyer and others spoke before an assembled audience of journalists and other guests in hard hats. Attendees were later given a tour of the site and a glimpse of architect Renzo Piano's plans for how it will all come together.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who chairs the academy Board of Governors' museum committee, acknowledged what a long road it's been to get a bona fide movie museum built in the city that's home to the movie business.

"I've been in the business for almost 40 years," Kennedy said.  "I think I share with many people in this room that we're all kind of incredulous that this could be a company town and we don't have a motion picture museum. We should have the world's most pre-eminent motion picture museum – and now we have the opportunity to have that."

Producer Haim Saban and wife Cheryl Saban. (Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic)
Producer Haim Saban and wife Cheryl Saban. (Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic)

Disney CEO Bob Iger, who chairs the academy museum's capital campaign, introduced the Sabans, whose $50-million donation is the largest the museum has yet received and brings the academy nearly 75% of the way toward reaching its $388-million fundraising goal. In recognition of their gift, the historic 1939 May Co. Building that will be home to the museum will be renamed the Saban Building.

"We're honored to help with this historic endeavor for our industry," said Cheryl Saban. "We join all of you in eager anticipation of the opening of the doors of this academy museum."

Closing out the event, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke about what the museum would mean not only to the film business and movie fans, but to the city as a whole.

"We neglected this industry for too long in our backyard," Garcetti said, touting efforts to extend film tax credits to bring production back to the city. "We neglected our history – and that's what today is about.... If we can't tell our stories, if we can't link with our past, what future can we have?"

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