Culver City’s Jurassic Technology Odditorium – T.S. Owen

unnamedFor nearly 40 years, David Wilson has been designing, adding to, rearranging and enlarging his collection of curios, oddities, and fake – or real – science wonders, which he has displayed in a modest row of Victorian homes on Venice Boulevard in Culver City since 1988.
He calls it the Museum of Jurassic Technology and it is world famous among certain curious folks who make a special effort to find it and visit. Now encompassing four homes, the museum greets visitors with a video on the history of museums and ends with the portraits and story of the 11 dogs of the Soviet Space Program in the upstairs tea room. In three hours, I remember the history and mysteries of Java Man, museums themselves, a distinctly odd 1938 stamped postcard to “Mr. Wilson,” a rectangular device with rows of numbers from 0 to 9 and no clues to its function and large display of international cat’s cradles. These are a mere handful of what awaits.
I chatted with Wilson between musical sets in the newest addition, a roof garden atop the third home. It is five years old but looks appropriately ancient, a dovery for a flock of ringneck doves which have the run of the open-air aviary. They punctuate with low-pitched coos the music he plays on his nyckelharpa, a 16-string Swedish instrument played with a short bow in the right hand while the left presses some 37 keys to form notes. He is self-taught and quite enjoyable to listen to as museum guests wander by sipping tea or sitting on benches surrounding the central garden.
The museum itself on the mid-week afternoon I went was not packed, but for an attraction that, contrary to established ‘Mad Men‘ philosophy, does no advertising, there was a steady stream of visitors. Some watched the videos that dot the rooms explaining the history of museums and other mysteries, others wandered through a maze made in the skeletons of the four homes, with unexpected sections, U turns and displays popping up and no obvious yellow brick road to the tearoom finale.
Serendipity is the order of exploration, and I found myself retracing my steps if I got off course when following a theme. There are helpful phones – yes, actual phone receivers – dotted throughout to help you stay in the loops. The videos are where you can rest on antique-looking benches. The museum is purposefully dark, with spotlights just off-center enough to make you step closer to things to see or read better. It is also noisy, for a silent space. Some exhibits with sound attached run continually in the background, forcing you to pay close attention to the audio in the phones and videos. I found facing video squarely and leaning backward a bit brought the sound out nicely.
I started out quite fresh to the purpose of the museum, curious and eager to witness what has spread by word of mouth throughout the world.
Mr. Wilson’s museum is famous. Among a select set of people, yes, but definitely famous. A world-famous odditorium, in fact, and the oddity begins with the name.
In the Lower Jurassic Era, some 201.3 million years ago, the Triassic Era ended with an unknown cataclysmic change that caused a global mass extinction, wiping out 34% of marine genera on earth. Soon after, the supercontinent Panagea broke up in a continental divide that sent the two halves moving north and south, while dinosaurs rose to dominance on land.
Jurassic is not normally an adjective. It would mean little to describe something as “Jurassic” for most people. Which part, the colossal continental divide, giant reptile domination of all living things or the quiet but fatal emergence of humans?
Technology, from the Greek “Science of craft,” meant man’s manipulation of natural resources, referring to the Stone Age’s use of tools and how to control fire. Today, the meaning has shifted to new, shiny things designed by man to manipulate natural resources or creating new tools for humans’ benefit.
The juxtaposition of colossal upheavals with mass extinctions, new species and hominins’ control of resources is a solid hint as to what to expect at Mr. Wilson’s odditorium. None of his things are like the others, other than that they might be true…and they may not. It takes an educated brain to even guess which is which, and even educated brains have been fooled by the clever Mr. Wilson, a videographer by trade.
Expect to be led down the primrose path without apology. Grow leery of reacting to outlandish claims, because they just might be real facts, a term coined in 2016 to control alternative facts and fake news, leaving we of 2017 reluctantly resigned to the uncertainty in which they place us.
Mr. Wilson’s museum is the modern version of Cabinets of Curiosities, the original museums, which were displays of someone’s collection of curiosities revealed by special appointment. They were gathered, created and displayed, wildly popular in the era of Barnum, Bill Cody, Charles Ripley and George Washington portrait painter Charles Willson Peale. There are few left now in the Age of the Internet, and they keep in touch. Before Tweets, they could not be fully explained, and even now, much is left to speculation, imagination and man’s singular trait of curiosity.
Mr. Wilson is a 2001 fellow of a 5-year, $500,000 MacArthur Foundation Grant, commonly called a genius grant, and subject of several books and articles in established medias. HIs creation is bizarre, intriguing, clever, entertaining, ever changing and fun, a bargain, for it promises nothing more, except tea and cookies. It is worthy of several visits – some patrons are regulars.
For $8 (students and seniors $5, including tea), take all the time you want between noon and 6 p.m. (Thursdays, 2 to 8 p.m.), to pay the Museum of Jurassic Technology a visit. Wander and wonder through at your leisure. You may find Mr. Wilson upstairs serenading guests. Ask him what the museum he has dedicated more than four decades of his life to, means. He’s very chill, friendly and clever. What he says could be fake, or could be real.
It’s up to you to decide.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology, 9341 Venice Blvd. 310 830 6131.

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