Dave Kunz's favorite spot: Petersen Automotive Museum


You could drive down Wilshire Boulevard every day and hardly notice it, looking like any other building. But step inside, and the Petersen Automotive Museum sparkles and shines.

"I just thought it was going to be kind of a warehouse full of cars that you walked around, but this is really neat," said Joel Lehrer, visiting the museum for the first time. "The way they put everything in the right setting and the right time frame, it's really cool."

Cool, yes. And as much about history as it is about automobiles.

"The Los Angeles area grew up around the automobile," said museum spokesman, Chris Brown. "So you actually get to walk through the 'Streetscape' and follow along with that history and see how they both developed together."

The museum was the vision of publishing magnate Robert Petersen and his wife Margie. They got the ball rolling in the early 1990s with help from some well-connected car friends.

Friends like Bruce Meyer, who has taken leadership roles at the museum from the beginning, and calls himself the place's "head cheerleader."

"We just had a wonderful exhibit on scooters," said Meyer. "We've done pedal cars, we've done travel trailers, a lot of things that just bring smiles."

While the Petersens have passed on, they left an endowment to the museum with a special emphasis on making sure school groups would be taken care of.

Plenty of "big kids" gaze at and photograph the cars as well.

Vintage cars go with vintage architecture, like the great Googie-style coffee shop inside. It's a replica of Pann's down at La Cienega and La Tijera. Unfortunately, it isn't a real restaurant.

One problem was that the museum never had a real restaurant. But recently, that changed. Three years ago a retro-themed Johnny Rockets opened on the ground floor, offering comfort food from a simpler time.

"Real ice-cream milkshakes, 18-percent butterfat. You can have one a day, you're allowed to do that by the FDA requirements," said Dick Messer, the proprietor of Johnny Rockets. "You can have one Johnny Rockets milkshake a day."

To burn that off you could then take a walk down Wilshire to see more museums. The Petersen is at the beginning of Museum Row, where culture abounds.

But for some, the car culture nestled at the Petersen is all they really need.

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