L.A.'s Children's Museums

Feature by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Thanks to a recent visit by one of my grandkids, I finally had an excuse to spend time at two of Los Angeles' bestknown children's museums.

The Zimmer Children's Museum is located within the Jewish Federation building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. and has several large rooms packed with appealing attractions, such as an airplane cockpit, an ambulance, a romper room, water games and interactive machines which even a tot can enjoy (such as working a marionette by punching buttons or making music by tapping a digital screen). Other offerings included a mock cafe and a stage set where kids can play chef or dress up in outrageous costumes. There is also a miniature synagogue, a news room, and a "bookstore" where stories are read aloud by staff member Sara Zolott.

With a mission of "teaching people about the BIG IDEAS of global citizenship, community responsibility, and cultural sensitivity," the Zimmer also sponsors year-round festivals, family art programs, book fairs, numerous classes, lectures and excursions aimed at older children and adults. The museum also provides suggestions and material for school and home-based study projects tied to its core principles. Contact sara@zimmermuseum.org or call 323-761-8998.

The Skirball Cultural Center at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. is a major institution which offers year-round exhibitions, lectures and film & theatre events. Noah's Ark at the Skirball is an award-winning destination for children and families. LA-based Chris Green designed the puppets and statues that line the mezzanine level and tickle the fancy of all who enter.

One floor down is the Ark itself, a ceiling-high, lightly-colored wooden ship packed with fantastical animals of every shape and kind. Swarming round the Ark (and presumably waiting to board it) are zebras, bears, kiwis and giraffes, plus flying birds and bugs, slithering snakes and insects, a stuffed walrus and a pack of howling wolves. Rube Goldberg meets Interactive Art; all it takes to bring these outlandish creatures to life is the push of a button, a yank on a rope. It's equally easy to start a thunder storm and bring rain down, or make a baby bear splash around in a bathtub.

Even better (for kids) are the rope ladders and tunnels which encourage climbing, crawling and exploring. My little Michael especially loved working the pulley which carried food up to the animals aboard the Ark. He also liked the leather chairs and building blocks that were scattered around the room.

The Seattle architectural firm Oska built the Ark; Alan Maskin designed most of the exhibit's witty and imaginative moving objects. Noah's Ark is open 12-5pm most days of the year (10-5pm on weekends), but no more than forty children (accompanied by an adult) are allowed entrance in a half-hour period. For tickets and information call 310-440-4651 or visit www.skirball.org