The Getty Center: Oasis on the 405

fountain and building at the Getty Center, Brentwood, Los  Angeles
During the time we were working and living in California, the highway we dreaded driving on most was the 405 – the busiest and most congested in the U.S. So when visiting friends from the Philippines suggested we go visit the Getty Center in Brentwood from our abode in San Diego, we could only bite our lips knowing there was no other way but through that feared interstate highway. Anyway, we reasoned, we were hardcore veterans of traffic congestion in Metro Manila and other big cities in Asia so why worry? As it turned out however, the traffic going there was not as bad on that day as we feared and our reward for braving a potential Carmaggedon? The fascinating Getty Center.
pavilion at the Getty Museum, Getty Center, Brentwood

Opened in 1997, the Getty Center has become a landmark and cultural center in Los Angeles County. Situated on a hill offering panoramic views of L.A. and the Pacific Ocean, the Getty Center is most famous for its architecture and a huge art collection featuring Impressionist paintings, European drawings, sculptures and contemporary photographs among others. Costing $1.3 billion dollars to build, it is a campus for the J. Paul Getty Trust founded by oil baron J. Paul Getty.

another pavilion at the Getty Museum, Getty Center

After parking at the base of the hill we were whizzed up to the Center via a cable-driven electric tram. In no time we were gazing down the length of the 405, Culver City, the cluster of buildings in Westwood including UCLA and a wide swath of the rest of Los Angeles County. It was a clear, cloudless day – perfect for this kind of viewing. We sat there transfixed for several minutes trying to take in the view of the L.A. metropolis before transferring our gaze to the Pacific blue in the west. It wasn’t long before we snapped our eyes back to the spectacle right in front of us.

a terrace at the Getty Center

One of the Getty Center’s attractions is its architecture. Designed by Richard Meier, the Getty Center includes 6 buildings spread out over beautifully landscaped grounds. Easily the most recognizable feature of the buildings here is the widespread use by Meier of beige-colored Italian travertine marble – some 1.2 million square feet (110,00 sq. m.) in total. A collection of modern and contemporary outdoor sculptures is scattered among the Center’s terraces and gardens including works by artists such as Elisabeth Frink, Joan Miró, and Isamu Noguchi. There is also a considerable quantity of fountains and pools within the complex. We could only imagine how it would have looked at night with all those fountains in operation.

outdoor sculpture at the Getty Center

The Getty Center is also one of two locations for the J. Paul Getty Museum and the enormous collection here is certainly worth all the trouble driving through the hellish 405. For Leo it was an exciting time as this was his first instance of seeing the works of famous Impressionist artists Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet and Cezanne in person (so excited was he that he forgot to take pictures – though we’re not sure if this is really allowed). The collection also includes pre-20th Century European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculptures and thousands of photographs. We soon realized that only a handful of people in this planet like Paul Getty can afford a collection such as this. Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises alone sold for $53.9 million – in 1987.

outdoor sculptures at a terrace, the Getty Center

After a few hours of roaming the Getty Center grounds and observing the huge art collection at the Center’s museum galleries we were famished. The Center has cafes and cafeterias to choose from – with fantastic views of the ocean and the mountains – and we were soon taking our fill. Just before leaving back for San Diego we took a stroll along some of the terraces and gardens, snapping our last photos here and there. And then it was a ride back to San Diego through the now badly-congested 405.

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