The Santa Monica Mountains average a deadly wildfire every 8 years. Since approximately 1939 there have been 10 deadly wildfires that have popped up in this one area. Fire corridors exist and have for decades, especially during the Santa Ana wind events, which is what’s happening now. So when the powers that be back in the 1980s decided to extend J. Paul Getty’s personal art collection and house the artworks, antiquities, and sculptures in one central location where the public could browse and stare at works from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Monet, they decided on a property above the 405 Freeway, smack dab in the heart of the fire zone.
Not exactly a smart move at the time. But architect Richard Meier said no problem. The guy promised he knew the dangers of putting priceless works of art at risk in a known fire corridor. Experts say he took major precautions. The center is built from non-combustible materials along with travertine limestone and aluminum panels. But that probably isn’t what secures the works of art. There’s a sophisticated air filtration system that kicks in. It reverses normal air circulation and blows outward, forcing the air out of the galleries. The system then locks down and seals each gallery off from smoke and fire. But the fire has to reach the campus first. According to the Museum, landscapers protected the surrounding hillside by allowing only native vegetation designed to contain wildfires because the plants are supposed to burn out before the fire ever reaches the buildings. Sounds great in theory, right? But this week ,the Skirball Fire came dangerously close. It wasn’t the first time. Back in 2015 the Sepulveda Pass Fire prompted an evacuation of visitors from the museum itself. I was last there in 2014. The site is a major tourist attraction which always seems to be crowded.
But I can’t help wondering when Mother Nature decides to test all the safeguards again—and it isn’t a question of IF, but WHEN—only then will we know for certain that the Getty Museum is truly prepared for a natural disaster, the likes of which many people have already experienced firsthand by losing their homes and everything they owned. My
heart goes out to the victims, who didn’t even have time to grab a change of clothes before they had to run for their lives.