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T. rex, ultimate party animal

May 25, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

Never mind the Tiffany-inspired crystal chandeliers glittering in the gala tent, the Wolfgang Puck cuisine or the electric-blue "fossil fuel" martinis. For the 800 guests attending the 90th anniversary splash for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the dueling dinosaurs stole the show. Situated in a marble rotunda awash in neon-bright pink and orange spotlights, the towering skeletal T. rex and triceratops had guests buzzing like students on a science field trip. "Impressive," said one. "Looks like they're about to eat each other up," said another.

The dinosaur exhibit was just for starters at the event that raised more than $1 million for the museum. On view in the North American Mammal Hall during the cocktail reception: eclectic displays ranging from Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp costume -- complete with walking stick and faded pink silk carnation boutonniere -- to an 80-million-year-old dinosaur egg from Patagonia, Argentina, exposing its fossilized contents. "The egg reveals an example of a baby long-neck dinosaur," museum curator Luis Chiappe said. "I've been working on behavior research for that particular dinosaur for seven years."

Then there were some of the standby skeletal displays -- part of the facility's collection of 33 million specimens and artifacts -- in the Cenozoic Hall including the short-leg rhinoceros, ground sloth, extinct horse, giant camel and thunder-beast. "Our collection is only second in size to the Smithsonian's," museum President and director Jane G. Pisano said. "We're really L.A.'s closet. If you find a whale skeleton in the area, for example, you bring it to the museum."

One of the institution's most remarkable finds is a whale fossil dating from when the L.A. Basin was underwater, she said. "Where did we get it? The answer is Lincoln Heights. It's staggering to me that thousands of kids get to come here and trace L.A.'s history back many millions of years."

After the cocktail reception, guests streamed down the facility's south lawn for the tented gala dinner featuring veal medallions with onion marmalade and chocolate cake topped with candy dinosaurs created by Puck. "I can't tell you what kind of dinosaurs they are," the chef said at the May 17 gala. "I'm going to have to take one home and ask my little boy to identify it."

Also among guests was museum board Chairman Kevin Sharer, who said his first exposure to the facility came on his 17th birthday. "My mother took me here when I was a senior in high school, and I remember her telling me about the importance of culture to the city," he said. "I wasn't ready to get the message. But those messages from our mothers seem to take root and flower, so here I am."

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