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The Getty Center, 13 years in the making

Getty museum more than a home for masterpieces

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In Southern California, most people associate trams with Disneyland. But there's a new ride in town -- a tram that takes visitors not on a dizzying journey through the land of Mickey Mouse, but high onto the hill that holds The Getty Center, the glitz capital's new marble-covered marvel.

Thirteen years and $1 billion in the making, architect Richard Meier's masterpiece was presented to the city of Los Angeles Saturday, in anticipation of the center's grand opening on Tuesday.

The museum's ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by the glitterati, from actor Denzel Washington to L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (via videotape). But the museum is not a playground for the affluent -- it's free, and designed for everyone, especially children -- a group of local elementary school students were the museum's first official guests after the ribbon was cut .

The center's glass, metal, and 14,000 tons of Italian travertine marble and granite are worth its price some say, while others argue that Meier's creation is a little stark, with a few too many angles and lines and curves.

Getty Interior
Some say that Meier's creation is a little stark, with a few too many angles, lines, and curves

Still, whether or not you favor the exterior, the inside is full of marvels, romance, mystery, beauty, comedy, and riches.

There are millions of dollars in these collections -- sometimes millions in a single painting alone. The bounty came via a trust set up by the late J. Paul Getty, the oil man who gave his name to the place. From Getty's first painting purchase in 1930 -- reportedly for a little over $1,000 -- that trust has ballooned to $4.5 billion. As one museum official put it, if they want to buy something, they just buy it.

They bought and restored an entire room -- the 18th century library that was originally part of a private French residence. And they installed rotating louvers over the many skylights in the museum to showcase the exhibits in natural light.

"The painters used it, you know," said Curator of Paintings David Jaffee. "When Monet went out to do these haystacks, he did them outdoors in natural light."

Inaugural exhibits at the museum include masterpieces form the museum's antiquities collection, an exhibit on the museum's construction, an examination of fireworks displays in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries, and a display of banners created by middle-school students representing their various communities across the country.

Train
The tram is meant to keep cars from the hilltop museum

But the museum is not only home to art.

"It's also a kind of balcony for Los Angeles," said Museum Director John Walsh. "It looks out across the city. It has the best view in town."

The views are all part of the Getty experience, along with the gardens, the streams, the rocks, the fossils, and of course, the art.

And the "real world" will have little opportunity to intrude. The tram is meant to keep cars from the hilltop museum. Parking is available only down below, and is limited -- reservations must be made in advance.

CNN Correspondents Anne McDermott and Jim Hill and Reuters contributed to this report.

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