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Inside the Newly-Reopened Excavations at the La Brea Tar Pits

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Today there's LACMA, the Page Museum, and soon the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, but once upon a time the first and only museum in Hancock Park (the Miracle Mile park, not the neighborhood) was the Observation Pit, built in 1952 over a fossil deposit on the western edge of what's now the La Brea Tar Pits campus. The pit and its awesome little mid-century building (designed by Pasadena's Harry Sims Bent) will reopen for tours this weekend "after several decades of closure; Pit 91, "one of the world's longest running urban paleontological excavation sites," will be reopening too, after seven years off. (*Suisman Urban Design did the architectural restoration and Kim Baer Design Associates created the graphic design.) And, plus, the tragic mammoth tableaux in the Lake Pit on Wilshire Boulevard has been restored. It's a good time to go tar pitting!

The Observation Pit was conceived by paleontologist Chester Stock, who led the tar pit excavations and began drilling in 1948 for a decent deposit to build a museum around. The tiny museum opened in the early '50s, but was closed in the early '90s as the much more comprehensive and active Page Museum flourished on the other side of the site. Today the pit is staged with "real bones, including those of saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, and dire wolves," according to press materials, and it'll be available again via tour starting this Saturday, June 28.

Down the pathway to the east a bit, paleontologists are back to digging in Pit 91, which closed in 2007 after 38 years of excavations. Pit 91, which has an observation deck for viewing, has always been dedicated to unearthing the less flashy fossils ("seeds, insects and mollusks, fish, amphibians, and small birds and rodents"); over the years, it provided samples of about 160 plant species, 125 invertebrates, and 230 vertebrates. It went on hiatus in 2007 so researchers could focus on Project 23, the 23 giant crates of fossils unearthed during the construction of the new LACMA parking structure, but has been restaffed Wednesday through Sunday, and reopened from 10 am to 4 pm, for the summer.

And down at the southern end of the site, the mammoths are back in heartwrenching place in the Lake Pit following a restoration; they're sculptures by the artist Howard Ball, originally installed in 1968.

· Page Museum [Official Site]
· See Fixed-Up Mammoths Return to Their La Brea Tar Pits Home [Curbed LA]

La Brea Tar Pits

5801 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036