The Getty Center

On the day after Christmas we visited the Getty Center, which includes an art museum, research institute, and conservation institute. However, we went primarily to see what was going on outside the buildings, not inside.

You have to  take a tram from the parking garage to the campus. This is the scene that greets you when you get off the tram.
You have to take a tram from the parking garage to the campus. This is the scene that greets you when you get off the tram.

The Getty Center is a popular destination in LA, which means that it draws massive hordes of people and long lines of cars. In fact, when we first arrived they had just blocked the entrance as the parking garage had filled. We drove on for a few minutes, then returned. Fortunately the second time was the charm and we were able to get in.

Looking towards Los Angeles from the Getty Center.
Looking towards Los Angeles from the Getty Center.

Surprisingly, the campus does not feel crowded. It includes 110 acres on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains. The site faces southwest towards the ocean and the City of Los Angeles. The views are spectacular.

Artificial garden stream.
Artificial garden stream.
The stream seen from the bottom.
The stream seen from the bottom.

To reach the main garden you follow the bed of an artificial stream. The path includes switchbacks and bridges across the water.

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I have to say that I was more impressed by the architecture and the overall site than I was by the gardens themselves. The way the stone catches the light and contrasts with the bright blue sky is almost mesmerizing. The buildings seem to be solid and at the same time floating like clouds.

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The stone used here is called travertine. In left rough in some places but smooth in others. Or maybe the smooth surfaces were a different material? Not sure why but this variation in textures kept grabbing my attention.

Back to the garden. Eventually you come to a path that spirals down to a circular pond.

Central Garden
Central Garden

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The pond contains short flowering hedges that seem to float on the water.

Arbors with bougainvillea in the plaza of the central garden.
Arbors with bougainvillea in the plaza of the central garden.
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A closer view of the bougainvillea arbors.

The central garden includes a plaza which contains some really striking and unique arbors though which bougainvillea grows.

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This looks like a meditation on the deeper meaning of agricultural implements.

There is also a sculpture garden nearby. I liked the views better than the sculptures.

Los Angeles from the Getty Center.
Los Angeles from the Getty Center.

Did I mention the views? It was a clear day (for LA) and the sky was incredibly blue.

We did go inside to see a couple of exhibits. One was an exhibit of work by the photographer Joseph Koudelka, and the other was an exhibit of art inspired by World War I (interesting but grim).

We headed home just as the sun was setting. This was our last full day in Los Angeles. I had begun to wish that we had made it a longer vacation – there were still a bunch of things I wanted to see. However, I was glad that the Getty Center was included on the list of places we were able to experience.

25 Comments on “The Getty Center”

  1. I really like the Getty. I like the hillsides covered with gorse and the barrel cacti. When we visited, there were hundreds (HUNDREDS!) of hummingbirds fighting among the gorse. Did you notice how the stream is designed to produce different sounds at every turn? I love that part.

  2. I was looking forward to your post about the Getty Centre but have to admit I was under-whelmed by what I saw of the gardens. It seems a huge amount of money was spent with very little result. Maybe it was gardening by committee, which never seems to work.

  3. Hey Jason,
    Believe I saw it on the Victory Garden years ago, but someone made a home garden sized bougainvillea arbor with a very large pot, bent rebar and quikcrete to keep the rebar in place. The assembled piece was placed in open garden and annual vines were planted around the base and trained up it. Never saw the final result but the skeleton by itself was an engaging garden ornament,

  4. When I visited the Getty, the garden was in its infancy. It was obvious then that it was more conceptual than plant-centric. Looks like maturity has done little to change that impression. I like it, but for a whole different reason than that driving most garden visits.

  5. Isn’t that stream unusual! I love the huge planters on the steps and those amazing arbors….I also really liked your description re the buildings seeming solid yet floating like clouds. I wonder if that was intentional. Visiting these places must give you lots of ideas.xxx

  6. Hello Jason, very striking architecture and beautiful stonework, I just hope it retains its lightness and shine as it ages (and doesn’t succumb to pollution). The arbours make a strong statement and when the bougainvillea matures it’s going to look like a rain of bright pink/purple flowers.

  7. Wow. Really nice. I guess I am just going to have to visit it sometime. Your photos really capture a sense of vast space and the beauty of the architecture. I get the sense that you were within the garden and part of it looking out. Maybe that integration of person with the space is one of the keys to making a garden great. A bigger picture that includes a horizon. /rambling

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