The California Science Center has received what officials describe as an "extraordinary" financial contribution to the new Air and Space Center that will house the space shuttle Endeavour.
The gift, to be announced at a news conference Thursday, comes from a foundation chaired by Lynda Oschin, wife of the late Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Samuel Oschin, whose name already graces the Griffith Observatory planetarium and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cancer institute stemming from charitable contributions there.
At Oschin's request, officials would not disclose the amount of the gift from the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation. But they called it "transformational" for the free state-run museum in South Los Angeles, adjacent to USC.
Officials say the Science Center has now raised, combined with other donations, nearly half of the $200 million it needs to transport Endeavour from Florida, build a temporary hangar, and design and construct a permanent museum wing that will house the spacecraft when it arrives this fall.
The new wing of the museum will be called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center and is expected to open in 2017. The interim hangar, being built now, will be called the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion and will display the vehicle horizontally. Once it moves to the permanent wing the shuttle will be positioned vertically, as if prepared for launch, for generations of museum visitors to see.
Museum officials were thrilled at the donation.
"It's a huge boost," Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph said. "It gives us enough money to ensure we can complete the architecture and exhibit design."
Plus, he said, "it lets others in the philanthropic community see that this project has real validity to it.... It's a vote of confidence to let people know that they can join in and have a high likelihood of success."
Samuel Oschin, who lived from 1914 to 2003, made his fortune at a savings and loan company and in real estate. He was an avid fan of science, math and astronomy.
He made headlines with his outsized penchant for adventure. He once traveled by dog sled to the North Pole and planted an American flag. In Africa, he hunted. In South America, he went up the Amazon River in a dugout. In 1979, The Times profiled the businessman and described his plans to cross the French-Italian Alps with two elephants in a reenactment of Hannibal's feat. He successfully completed the trip, his wife said.
The son of a house painter, Oschin grew up in poverty and never finished high school, but he had a knack for business even as a child growing up in Detroit. His initial business ideas included collecting leftover chips of soap, molding them into whole bars and selling them, his wife said.
In the 1930s, Oschin worked the assembly line in a factory. During World War II, after an eye injury made him ineligible to enlist, he found his first big success after making the low bid for a naval contract to build a component for bomber wings — and he won the job over General Electric and Chrysler even though he had no factory of his own.
When Oschin arrived in Los Angeles after the war, his wealth grew as the San Fernando Valley was being developed. At various times he owned an air conditioning firm and Empire Savings and Loan of Van Nuys. He and a partner bought Prudential Square at 5757 Wilshire Blvd.
Oschin set up his philanthropic organization in 1981. He started off small, providing scholarships at UCLA and Stanford for minority disabled students and installing air conditioning at a San Fernando Valley school.
In 1986, Oschin's contributions to the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County led officials to name a 48-inch telescope in his honor. After his death in 2003, Oschin's name went to the Griffith Observatory planetarium and Cedars-Sinai cancer center.
Later, Lynda Oschin inquired about having the entire Science Center renamed for her husband, but was told it wasn't possible.
After news broke last spring that Endeavour was coming, Rudolph reached out to Lynda Oschin.
"I said, 'No, I have no interest in the shuttle,'" she recalled saying.
Rudolph waited awhile and then invited her to a ceremony where the museum would receive the title to the shuttle from NASA. There she saw scores of ecstatic schoolchildren cheering as Endeavour's last crew of astronauts entered a ballroom.
"The kids just went crazy. And I'm watching those children and thinking — I'm watching the next child who is going into space … because they are going to see the shuttle, they're going to be inspired by what they see … and they are going to do something in math and science and engineering, the areas that my husband loved," Lynda Oschin said.
"So I decided … we were going to make this work," she added.
"I'm so excited I can't even think straight. It's such an incredible legacy for my husband. His memory is going to go on and on," she said. "He's very special and I just don't want him to be forgotten."