As many native New Yorkers will tell you, unless it was for a field trip, they never went to the Statue of Liberty until visiting friends dragged them there. Pity on the Pasadenan who has missed visiting the Norton Simon Museum because of that same sad civic naivete (or procrastination). This museum is a rare jewel—it’s unpretentious enough in size to walk in its entirety in a single visit, yet the collection is a world-class dazzler by any standard. The building that houses this extraordinary private collection was designed by architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey and opened to the public in November of 1969. Nearly 30 years later, Simon’s widow, the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Jones Simon, charged famed architect Frank Gehry to undertake an interior renovation. He improved the setting for viewing the collection, raised the ceilings, modified the dramatic curved staircase and added the powerful Asian galleries. The very lovely garden was conceived by landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power, who drew inspiration from Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
That this museum houses one man’s private collection is a fact that should not be lost on visitors while they view 2,000 years of western and Asian art. In an art market where a single Impressionist painting, Vincent Van Gough’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, was purchased in 1990 for $82 million by a Japanese investor, not even Bill Gates’s money could assemble a collection like this today. From Europe in the 14th century, to the 19th-century Impressionists, to the west’s 20th century, to the art of India and Southeast Asia—to see the scope of this collection is to see the world in your backyard.
Note that the simple order-at-the-counter lunch café is blessed with large, umbrella-shaded teak tables on the edge of the fabulous gardens, and you don’t have to pay admission just to come for lunch and stroll the grounds. And don’t miss the Museum Store, a terrific source for gifts.
Norton Simon Museum
411 W. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sat & Sun noon-6 p.m, Fri noon- 9 p.m
Adults $10, seniors $5, students & kids free