5 Questions With Terry Karges, Executive Director Of Petersen Museum

Located on Wilshire Boulevard, along Museum Row in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Petersen Automotive Museum has been closed to the public for the past 13 months while undergoing a massive transformation that tops $125 million. Set to reopen to the public on December 7, 2015, we wanted to check in with the man behind the renovation, Terry Karges.

After a long career in marketing and the automotive industry, Karges was appointed as the Executive Director of the prestigious museum in 2012.

Terry L. Karges, Executive Director of the Petersen Automotive Museum.

He has said that his prior work in the entertainment and automotive industries prepared him for this position.

From working with Walt Disney in the mid-1960s to vice president of sales and marketing at Roush Performance, Karges has followed his passion as an automotive enthusiast and racing fanatic.

We caught up with Karges just weeks before the reopening of the museum to get the latest news on the renovation. “We believe the new Petersen is one of the top automotive experiences in the world,” he said. “Many of our guests will come for the cars, but the museum will also offer innovative architecture and design, cars as art, a satellite campus for the Los Angeles Art Center College of Design, Forza Motorsports racing simulators, a Pixar Cars experience for fans of all ages, and a restaurant operated by all four of L.A.’s famous Drago brothers. Our guests will experience the most technologically advanced storytelling capabilities of almost any museum of any type in the world.”

When the renovation was in the planning stages, there was a sell-off of museum owned cars that caused a lot of concern in the media. What happened?

Terry Karges: The question has more to do with “what is good journalism?” more than “what happened?” It was a non-story that was blown-up by a guy that didn’t have the facts, didn’t care about the facts, never asked about the facts, and didn’t care to learn about the facts by anybody that had the facts.

We sold off cars that had been donated to the museum, over a period of 20 years, that were never intended to be museum cars. There were a lot of five, 10, 20 thousand dollar cars that were like “cash for clunkers,” or “donate your car for kids” kind of a thing. After 20 years there was a large number of them and it never make sense to keep them. No one before me had ever paid any attention and asked why they were even there.

We did sell off other cars. We sold off Ferraris and other things that was a part of launching a campaign to build and create a whole new museum for generations to come. The journalist started that story, and it did get picked up by some other journalists that never did any fact-checking either. I was disappointed in a number of things, the New York Times took on the L.A. Times for doing it. There were a number of major automotive bloggers that really teed-off on that particular journalist for not fact-checking as well. It was a non-story looking for headlines.

It’s the way a lot of journalists figure that they can get a Pulitzer… by taking down an institution.

The famous ribbons of steel that wrap around the building.

So the payoff was there when these cars were turned into cash to help fund the renovation?

TK: I think everything we have done has paid off, and you will see on media day. It wasn’t just the sell-off of cars that paid off. The board of directors stepped up and all made significant, major, maybe even the largest philanthropic gifts, that any institution has ever made in our lifetime to support the new museum. I would say that is really what got us started. We’ve had others come in with significant pledges. Where we’ve had some real success was showing the museum to the automotive industry and having them want to get involved and participate.

Choosing the A Team to design and build the building, and the company, The Scenic Route, that is designing and building the interior are magnificent. Its truly an “A Team” of people that have put it all together to build the building.

In the meantime, we have created a whole new management team with a lot of veteran museum people who are working to provide more outreach and create more membership and public events. We’ve also greatly expanded our education programming and when we open the museum, our technology will make us one of the top two or three automotive museums in the world.

The things that we have done, the time that we have spent, the masterplan that we have put together, and the people that we have put together to do it, are just marvelous. I think everyone will see because the new museum speaks for itself.

We loved the museum before so it is clear that we are going to love the new Petersen Automotive Museum. Is the street scene diorama going to be a part of the new museum?

TK: The old museum is past. There is nothing that remains. The big thing in the old museum was the diorama. You could look at the displays and imagine them as they would have been in that day. What we have now in technology is really significant storytelling capability. We can tell more stories and so many more aspects of the automobile, the automobile’s impact on culture, the automotive industry, and we also have the opportunity to present the automobiles as art and living sculpture.

The building seen at night after the back lighting was completed.

Tell us about the exterior and the ribbons. What were you aiming for with that look?

TK: We challenged the architect to change the exterior of the building. You could drive by that building and not pay attention to it. It was actually an ugly building. I’ve heard an awful lot about how famous and wonderful the architect was that did the original design, but I never warmed to the exterior of that building at all.

We look at all these options like knocking the building down and building a high-rise. Knocking the parking garage down and building the museum there. We met with architect’s Kohn Pedersen Fox and challenged them to do something that wouldn’t require tearing the building down because that would take too long. What we needed to do was change the exterior. So we challenged Gene Kohn to create something that would represent speed and motion. Gene came up with the basics of that design in a relatively short time and presented the design to the board in November 2012.

The new design does stick out. Do you think that it makes people want to stop and see what is there?

 TK: It’s already being considered as one of the two most iconic structures in Los Angeles. I think it will do a lot for international tourism. We have lots of people taking pictures everyday, and there is a lot of buzz about the design. You can look at the pictures and rendering, and that is one thing, then you get next to it and see how massive it is – a full city block of building.

This was supposed to be a five question article, but we need to ask a bonus question. If there is that much going on with the outside, what is new with the inside of the building?

TK: When we closed the museum we had 10 flat screen displays. When we open we will have something like 175 flat screens. The amount of technology that is being used makes the storytelling content truly a 21st century museum. I will tell you that there are 25 galleries in the new museum.

The third floor never had cars. We’ve invested millions of dollars to be able to get cars from the vault up to the third floor. It was a children’s play area on the third floor, now we’ve opened that up where we have 29,000 square-feet of automotive display space.

We have themed the floors. The third floor tells about the entry of the automobile. The second floor talks about the automotive industry. It also has the Pixar experience for families and the Forza driving experience. We have a motorcycle gallery, a motorsports gallery, a hot rod gallery, and a portraits of speed gallery. These are real-time, immersive, interactive galleries. You’re going to like what you see.

One of the many new interactive features in the museum is the Forza driving experience.

More Information Concerning The Re-Opening

The museum also unveiled its opening-week events schedule. Tickets can be ordered online at the newly redesigned website, www.Petersen.org.

December 5, Grand Re-Opening Gala (4:30 PM – 9:30 PM): This event benefits the non-profit Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation. The sit-down meal will be presented by the Drago brothers. Auction items include VIP experiences at some of the world’s greatest car events and auto races. This star-studded event will be the general public’s first chance to see the new museum. Tickets start at $1,500, a portion of which is a tax-deductible contribution to the Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation.

December 6, Preview Day (10:00 AM – 4:00 PM): This limited-admission event includes access to the rooftop Connor Pavilion and open bar, food by the Drago brothers and musical entertainment by Jason Bentley. Unrestricted access to the 25 new galleries will be included, and all guests will receive commemorative gift bags. Hourly giveaway prizes will be provided by Xbox, Beats by Dre, Tesla and more. All inclusive tickets are $200 each for the day.

December 7, Open To The Public-General Admission Normal hours are 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM daily. For additional information, please visit www.Petersen.org or call 323-930-CARS.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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