The LA County Museum of Art Exteriors page displays architecture, some scenery from the La Brea Tar Pits
in Hancock Park, which surrounds the Museum and which yielded tens of thousands of Pleistocene fossils of
animals and plants which became trapped in the tar, and a few wildlife images from the Museum and Park.

Click an image to open a larger version.
Use your back button to return to this page.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art Index

Assorted Art: Sculptures, Paintings and Decorative Art
Asian and Middle Eastern Art and the Pharaohs of the Sun
LACMA Sculpture Garden: Rodin, Bourdelle and Kolbe
Exteriors: Architecture, Wildlife and La Brea Tar Pits


Gnarly Wood LACMA 3033

Gnarled and twisted Melaleuca Trees in the Cantor Sculpture Garden outside the LA County Museum of Art.


LACMA Atrium Walkway 0862


LACMA Atrium Walkway Ceiling 3249

The atrium walkway leading to the museum from Wilshire Blvd., leading to a partially-roofed one acre central court.

At the end of the walkway at center-left is the postmodern wall of tawny Minnesota limestone set with glass blocks separating the museum from Wilshire Blvd., and between the wall and the camera is a water channel leading to a small burbling fountain. The translucent canopy is held up by 70 foot columns which are faced with green terra-cotta tiles.


LACMA Atrium Fountain 3063


LACMA Atrium Fountain 3065

A foamy fountain playfully erupts from the atrium walkway channel in these
high speed (1/2500 second) exposures showing detail in the moving water.


Mammoth La Brea Tar Pit 0752

A life-size female Columbian Mammoth screams as she sinks into the La Brea Lake Pit.
In the background at right is the George C. Page Museum, which displays fossils recovered
from over 100 La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park alongside the LA County Museum of Art.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion Tar Pit 7975

A life-size fiberglass female Columbian Mammoth sinking in asphalt at the LA Tar Pits in Hancock Park.
At the far left is an American Mastodon, in front of the Japanese Pavilion of the LA County Museum of Art.

The large Lake Pit is the remnant of Henry Hancock’s asphalt mine, and the other visible pits are remnants of human excavation between 1913 and 1915, when over 100 pits were excavated in search of animal bones. The tar (actually composed of heavy oil fractions called asphaltum) seeped from the earth as crude oil along the 6th Street Fault from the Salt Lake Oil Field under the Fairfax region just to the north of Hancock Park. As the lighter oil fractions biodegrade or evaorate, what is left is the asphalt. The native Chumash and Tongva people used this asphalt to seal the cracks between boards of the redwood and driftwood plank canoes they made, which were superior to any other boats in North America before contact with European settlers. The tar was later used by settlers to seal the roofs of their dwellings. In 1901, Union Oil geologist William Orcutt was the first to recognize that the bones recovered from the tar pits were Pleistocene fossils. The tar pits have yielded thousands of fossils from dozens of species: animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants... and one human, the 10,000 year old La Brea Woman.


Mammoth La Brea Tar Pit 9178


Mammoth La Brea Tar Pit 9184

The fiberglass sculpture of a female Columbian Mammoth trapped in asphalt at the largest La Brea Tar Pit.
On the shore nearby are a baby and adult male Mammoth, watching helplessly as the female sinks into the tar.
The sculptures were created between 1967-68 by Howard Ball and towed to Hancock Park behind a VW Bug.
The scene of a 1958 Volkswagen Beetle towing a full-size Columbian Mammoth through the streets of LA was
a minor sensation which made the covers of the Los Angeles Times newspaper and Life Magazine in 1967.

The fiberglass sculpture of a female Columbian Mammoth was the first mammoth to be stuck in the Tar Pits
for over 10,000 years. The only human remains recovered from the asphalt were those of La Brea Woman,
a 20 year old woman who was discovered in 1914, interred with a domestic dog about 10,000 years ago.


Mammoths La Brea Tar Pit 4442

The baby Mammoth calls plaintively to mama as dad stands by, watching as she sinks into the tar.

Excavation for a parking garage in 2007 yielded the site’s first intact Mammoth skeleton, as well as other bones which doubled the size of the existing collection of fossils from the last Ice Age. These fossils included the Mammoth, an American Lion (one of the largest cats to ever have existed at up to 8 feet, about 25% larger than modern African lions), dire wolves, sloths, bison, and other animals including Saber-Toothed Cats. The male Columbian Mammoth, which excavators named Zed, died at 48-50. His skeleton is about 80% complete, and is the largest Mammoth (with the first complete tusks) ever found in the La Brea Tar Pits.


Mammoth Baby La Brea Tar Pit 4046


Mammoth Baby La Brea Tar Pit 7976

The pony-sized fiberglass baby Columbian Mammoth cries plaintively to its mother, trapped in the tar of the lake pit.

60,000 to 10,000 years ago, when most of the animals became trapped in the tar, the seeps were not lake-sized, but relatively small and covered with leaves. An animal would walk by and get stuck in the seep (a few inches of tar would be enough to trap an animal). Once the animal became trapped, it would attract predators such as Dire Wolves and Saber-Toothed Cats. Over 4000 Dire Wolves and 2000 Saber-Toothed Cats have been excavated from the pits. Predators are by far the most abundant fossils found at the La Brea Tar Pits. The La Brea Tar Pits have yielded the richest cache of Ice Age fossils in the world.


Mammoth La Brea Tar Pit 0744


Mammoth La Brea Tar Pit 4045

Detail of the Mama Mammoth stuck in the tar of the lake pit. At right, a female Sparrow rests on her lower lip.


Mammoth La Brea Tar Pit 4257

In 1992 the Mama Mammoth nearly joined her real-life ancestors in actually sinking into the pit, when
a month of very heavy rains caused her to break loose from her mooring and get stuck in the asphalt.

Howard Ball, who made monsters for Hollywood and animals for rides at Disneyland as well as industrial designs, created the family of fiberglass Mammoths under a commission which was supposed to be the first of a “Pleistocene Zoo” consisting of 52 animals. The 13 foot tall male Mammoth was loaded on a trailer behind Ball’s 1958 Volkswagen Bug and driven through the streets of LA before being lowered into place beside the lake pit in January 1967. The Mama Mammoth, which ends just below the surface of the water and is attached to a submerged base with two long poles, was lowered by helicopter in May 1968. Ball executed other sculptures for the park, some of which were stolen or vandalized over the years, but the Mammoths survived.


Tar Bubble La Brea Tar Pit 3275

A roughly 3 inch tar bubble oozes up from a seep at the La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park alongside the LACMA.

As you can see, the seep is covered by sticks and needles from nearby conifers, and they are also often covered with leaves. It would be quite easy to imagine how an unsuspecting animal would step into a seep and become mired in the bubbling asphalt.


Evolution of a Tar Bubble La Brea Tar Pit 3268-79 LG

A 1955 x 966 composite showing the evolution of a tar bubble, inflated by methane gas (a by-product of natural fractionation of the hydrocarbons and micro-organisms which live in the oil), along with hydrogen sulfide, another by-product of the fractionation.


Mammoths La Brea Tar Pit 7706

The Columbian Mammoths at the Lake Pit, the water-covered remnant of Henry Hancock’s asphalt mine
at the La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, taken towards Wilshire Boulevard in the late afternoon in August.


Mammoths La Brea Tar Pit 7227

One last image of the heart-wrenching scene in the Lake Pit, taken on a partially overcast day in late December.


Relief Page Museum 7406

The fiberglass relief frieze which surrounds the George C. Page Museum in Hancock Park.
The scenes include animals and plants in a depiction of Pleistocene life at the La Brea Tar Pits.
The Page Museum displays and relates stories about specimens recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits.


Sabertooth Fight Page Museum 4440

The painted concrete sculpture of fighting Saber-Toothed Cats,
by Herman T. Beck, 1934, from a 1932 design by Joseph L Roop.

Sculptor Joseph L. Roop was contracted in 1929 to create a series of concrete sculptures for a proposed Pleistocene Zoo. Roop sculpted the dinosaurs for the 1925 silent film The Lost World adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel, the first dinosaur-oriented hit film, which led to other films such as King Kong. After Roop died in 1932, Herman T. Beck, the museum's taxidermist, was assigned to finish the animal sculptures for Hancock Park. He sculpted the Fighting Saber-Toothed Cats based on Roop's completed plaster.


Sabertooth Fight Page Museum 7707

The Fighting Saber-Toothed Cats were originally placed along the bank of an artificial pool which contained a sculpture of a snarling Saber-Toothed Cat standing atop the body of a trapped Bison. This scene was the first of many such sculptures which were designed to show the drama which unfolded at the La Brea Tar Pits. The Pleistocene Zoo and a Pleistocene landscape were originally the idea of George Allan Hancock, the son of Henry Hancock, who developed Hancock Park. The Bison and snarling Saber-Toothed Cat disappeared long ago, but the Fighting Saber-Toothed Cats were later moved onto a pedestal in front of the George C. Page Museum.


Sabertooth Fight Page Museum 7722

The Saber-Toothed Cat lived from the Eocene until the end of the Pleistocene epoch, from about 42 million years ago until about 10,000-11,000 years ago. They had large maxillary canine teeth which extended down from the mouth even when closed. This is Smilodon fatalis, the best known of the Saber-Toothed Cats, which was about the size of a modern lion or tiger but much more robustly built. Evidence unearthed at the La Brea Tar Pits indicates that Smilodon was a social animal like modern lions. They hunted animals such as Ground Sloths, Mammoths, Mastodons and other large prey.


Lions Page Museum 0735


Lions Page Museum 7971

Five images of the prowling American Lions by Herman T. Beck, 1934, taken in different light at various angles.


Lions Page Museum 7221


Lions Page Museum 4441


Lions Page Museum 7408

Herman T. Beck sculpted the American Lions from painted concrete in 1934, again from a design by Joseph L. Roop.

Around 100 specimens of the American Lion have been recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits. They strongly resemble modern lions, but they are about 25% larger than the modern lion, and were one of the largest cats to ever have existed. They were not as heavily built as the Saber-Toothed Cat, but this was one big kitty, weighing as much as 775 pounds. Far fewer Lions were found in the La Brea Tar Pits than Saber-Toothed Cats, which suggests that they may have been smart enough to avoid them.


Ground Sloth Beck Hancock Park 7479

This is one of the two Harlan’s Ground Sloths sculpted in painted concrete by Howard T. Beck in 1938.

The Megatherium, or Giant Ground Sloth, was about the size of a modern elephant. It weighed as much as 9000 pounds and was up to 20 feet in length from head to tail. They mostly lived in groups and ate leaves, using their prehensile lip to strip the leaves from the tree, although they have some muscular adaptations typical of carnivores, and some researchers state that they could have taken over Smilodon kills to add nutrients to their diet. Since they lacked the Carnassials (tearing teeth) typical of predators, other researchers state that this is unlikely. Its a sticky Pleistocene controversy... (sticky... tar... sorry about that).

The Harlan’s Ground Sloth is the largest and most common of the three species found in the Tar Pits. They have the distinction of being the source of most of the bones recovered from the pits, as they had small nodules of bone called osteoderms buried under their skin which provided armor against attack by predators.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion Tar Pit 9176

The Mama Mammoth screams to the sky while sinking into the lake pit in Hancock Park’s La Brea Tar Pits.
In the left background is the Japanese Pavilion of the LA County Museum of Art and an American Mastodon.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion Tar Pit 0750

The first of a series of gradually approaching views of the Japanese Pavilion and Mastodon sculpture.

Designed by architect Bruce Goff and completed by his associate Bart Prince after the death of Goff in 1982,
the Japanese Pavilion houses a collection of Japanese art which dates from about 3000 BC to the present day.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion Tar Pit 9179

The Japanese Pavilion reflected in the lake pit, site of an abandoned asphalt mine in the La Brea Tar Pits.

The Japanese Pavilion is the last structure and the only major public building designed by Bruce Goff, who
created buildings in the Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright and idiosyncratic original designs inspired by a
wide variety of sources, such as Antoni Gaudi, natural art such as seashells, and Japanese Ukiyo-e prints.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion Tar Pit 0745

The Japanese Pavilion is notable for its translucent fiberglass panels (Kalwall), seen outside the building, which allows paintings to be lit safely and naturally by soft sunlight, approximating the original viewing conditions for paintings and creating dimensional levels within art works which are not visible under artificial light. The building has a prow-shaped roof and cylindrical towers.


Mastodon La Brea Tar Pit 0754

Howard Ball’s fiberglass sculpture of an American Mastodon stands atop
a raised mound on the bank of the lake pit in front of the Japanese Pavilion.


Mastodon La Brea Tar Pit 4443

The Mastodon appears to be calling to the Mammoths across the lake pit. Mastodons had shorter legs, a
longer body, and were more heavily muscled than Mammoths, a build similar to modern Asian Elephants.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 7235

Atop each of the two roofs of the Japanese Pavilion are unusual tusk-like structures, each supported by three
massive columns and supporting cables which hold up the roofs (the exterior walls are not load-bearing walls).


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 9208

Detail of the roof-support structure and the translucent panels which provide soft light similar to rice paper Shoji screens.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 0759

The Japanese Pavilion at the LA County Museum of Art, surrounded by a screen of bamboo plants.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 3046


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 7982

The Japanese Pavilion from the southwest, showing the western volume and one of the cylindrical towers between volumes.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 7981

Tall cylindrical towers faced with rough-cut quartzite stand between the two sections of the Japanese Pavilion.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 4529

The Japanese Pavilion has sweeping ramps and stairways which provide access from multiple locations.


LACMA Japanese Pavilion 0763

The Japanese Pavilion is a small but exceedingly unusual building which stands out from others on the campus.


LACMA Ishidoro Japanese Pavilion 0868

A Tachidoro (pedestal lantern) of the Kasuga-doro type.


LACMA Ishidoro Japanese Pavilion 3053

A four-legged Ishidoro (stone lantern) of the Yukimi-doro type.


LACMA Ishidoro Japanese Pavilion 3055

Ishidoro in Japan are traditional stone toro (light towers), which originated in China and were originally only used
in Buddhist Temples, but during the Heian period they began to be used in Shinto Shrines and in private homes.


Audubon’s Warbler Bamboo 8014

An Audubon’s Warbler resting on a bamboo branch outside the Japanese Pavilion at the LA County Museum of Art.


Sparrow Pampas Grass 4058

A female Sparrow picks seeds out of a Pampas Grass stalk on the bank of the lake pit outside the Japanese Pavilion.


Sparrow Pampas Grass 4059

The Sparrow reacts to the clicking of the shutter and looks up before jumping to the tip of the stalk to resume feeding.


Sparrow Pampas Grass 4062


Sparrow Pampas Grass 4065


Sparrow Male 9187

A breeding male House Sparrow stands vertically on the fence around the lake pit, watching the photographer.


Sparrow in Willows 9230

A female Sparrow in Willows at the other end of Hancock Park poses for the camera.


Sparrow Male 9233


Sparrow Female 9243

A series of Sparrow portraits taken at the other end of Hancock Park, male on the left and female on the right.


Sparrow Female 9280


Sparrow Male 9254

In the four Sparrow portraits above and below, the male is on the right and the female is on the left.


Sparrow Female 9275


Sparrow Male 9285

House Sparrows are the eponymous species of the passerine birds. These males are all breeding males.


Squirrel 9316

A foraging Ground Squirrel in Hancock Park, eating a tasty nut.


Squirrel 9318


Squirrel 9326

The Ground Squirrel decides to take a closer look at the photographer, intrigued by the clicking shutter.


Squirrel 0472

A Ground Squirrel poses for the camera in Hancock Park.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the LACMA Assorted Art page.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the LACMA Asian & Middle Eastern Art page.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the LACMA Sculpture Garden page.