Museum-goers who love nature, butterflies and giant mammoth fossils may have to fork over more cash to gain access to three Los Angeles County museums that are asking for a 20% hike in admission fees to help them pay for operating costs that rose due to inflation and higher usage.

The county’s Natural History Museum (NHM), La Brea Tar Pits and George C. Page Museum have floated a proposal before the county Board of Supervisors to raise adult general admission prices from $15 per person to $18. They are also asking for a bump in reduced rates for seniors, students and youth, ages 13 to 17, from $12 to $14. Tickets for children 3 to 12 are $7.

The fee hikes go before the supervisors on Tuesday, May 23 and will require three votes of the five supervisors for approval.

These museums, which feature popular exhibits from the Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum to fossils of saber-toothed cats and giant sloths dating to the Ice Age at the Tar Pits and Page Museum, will  collectively raise about $1.1 million in revenue if the new ticket prices are approved, according to a letter contained in a county report written by Lori  Bettison-Varga, president and director of the museums.

The revenue will be used to offset rising costs associated with educational programs and free admission for school field trips, maintenance of facilities and increases in employee wages and benefits, the letter stated.

Providing free admission to all school children, teachers, veterans and active military, has cut into the county museums’ operating budget. Before the March 2020 start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one-third of the Natural History Museum’s 1.3 million visitors got in for free. In 2022, the Exposition Park museum saw a jump in school field trips, and free admissions now account for about half, the letter said.

A monarch butterfly in the butterfly pavilion at the LA County Natural History Museum Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Studies show there is a major comeback of the monarch butterflies in western United States. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
A monarch butterfly in the butterfly pavilion at the LA County Natural History Museum Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Studies show there is a major comeback of the monarch butterflies in western United States. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

As the museums ramp up to handle more visitors, costs have risen, wrote Bettison-Varga. The Natural History Museum anticipates completing a welcome center and a commons that will be available to the general public without paid admission. These improvements are also adding to operating costs.

A survey of other museums both in the county, in California and outside of California, Bettison-Varga wrote, showed that the proposed admission fees are not out of line. The letter stated that ticket prices were last increased in 2015.

“The proposed fees are well within the range charged by similar institutions, and are among the lowest in the county,” she wrote.

For comparison, the survey found:

• The Autry Museum of the American West at Griffith Park raised the price of adult general admission on Jan. 1, from $14 to $16, a 14% increase.

• The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) raised adult general admission from $15 in 2017 to the current price of $25, a 67% increase. L.A. County adult residents are charged $20.

• At The Getty in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, admission is free.

• The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach raised adult general admission in the last few years. The survey said admission in 2017 was $29.95. The museum website indicates admission is $36.95. This represents a 24% increase.

Griffith Park has no admission fee, but some areas charge for parking. Admission to the Griffith Park Observatory is free, but the observatory astronomy show requires a separate ticket.

Griffith Park was donated to the city of Los Angeles by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith who required as part of the donation that the park would always be free to enter. Two attempts by the Los Angeles City Council to charge admission fees ultimately failed, explained Gerry Hans, president of Friends of Griffith Park.

In 1981, pay booths were installed at the park to collect $.50 on weekdays and $1.00 on weekends per car as a way to generate revenue for the city’s Recreation and Parks Department. That led to a lawsuit and protests. In 1984, the city removed the toll booths.

“During the time of the fee booths’ operation, many of the park’s concessions and venues were hurt financially with less people entering, including the LA Zoo, train rides, and pony rides. There were protests about double taxation, and toll booths were even vandalized,” Hans wrote in an emailed response.

In San Francisco, the city’s California Academy of Science in 2017 charged an adult general admission of $35.95. In 2023, the price of admission is $48.75, a 36% increase, the survey found.

Chicago’s Field Museum in 2017 charged $22.00 for general admission. In 2023, admission is $30.00, a 36% increase, the survey revealed.


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