Click above for a huge gallery of pics from our night at the museum

Last night we got the chance to live out a lifelong fantasy of sorts when we attended The 15th Annual Petersen Automotive Museum Gala. The theme this year was California Dreaming, and along with several woodys and Cal-cool hot rods, there were tons of Hawaiian shirts around to support the cause. This year's fundraising event honored Tom McKernan of the Auto Club of Southern California (aka AAA), with a private concert by Brian Wilson and his band. While the party was being staged upstairs, we were free to wander around the downstairs exhibits in near isolation. It was almost like that childhood dream of being locked in a museum overnight by ourselves. Fortunately, Ben Stiller never showed up, but we did get a chance to say hello to Ashley and John Force, Rita Moreno, Tom Selleck and Billy Gibbons, among others. Follow the jump to read the rest of the story and don't forget to check out the gallery as well.

Brian Wilson and the band
  • Brian Wilson and the band
15th Annual Petersen Gala
  • 15th Annual Petersen Gala
live auction item
  • live auction item
live auction item
  • live auction item
silent auction items
  • silent auction items
Tom McKernan
  • Tom McKernan
Brian Wilson and the band
  • Brian Wilson and the band
Brian Wilson
  • Brian Wilson
Rita Moreno and friend
  • Rita Moreno and friend
Tom Selleck
  • Tom Selleck
Billy Gibbons
  • Billy Gibbons
Ashley Force
  • Ashley Force
Art Center College of Design live demo
  • Art Center College of Design live demo
Art Center College of Design live demo
  • Art Center College of Design live demo
100 years of Morgans
  • 100 years of Morgans
Sounds of Speed
  • Sounds of Speed
Bugatti EB110
  • Bugatti EB110
gold-plated DeLorean
  • gold-plated DeLorean
Ferrari California
  • Ferrari California

All photos copyright ©2009 Frank Filipponio / Weblogs, Inc.

The Petersen is a great museum for anyone with even a passing interest in the automotive world. Situated right smack dab in the middle of L.A.'s museum district, it offers a unique look at the history of the automobile and its impact on the shape of our cities, in a very entertaining way. The museum has several hundred cars, but only a hundred or so are on display at any one time. On the first floor, most of those cars appear in vignettes that perfectly depict some aspect of motoring culture. Others are circulated through the second floor in rotating groupings by theme. The rest are locked inside the vault, which only opens to release a select few cars throughout the year.

After checking out the gold-plated DeLorean, the Bugatti EB110, the evolution of the Indy car, and the '39 Bugatti 57C by Vanvooren, we headed upstairs to find the centenary tribute to Morgan, a sampling of Treasures from the Vault, a bunch of oddball and alternative vehicles and a selection of movie cars too. That's also where we found the silent auction items, which ranged from jewelry and movie props, to autographed sports jerseys, guitars, albums and various other bits of flotsam and jetsam.

After cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, we had dinner inside a giant tent, during which a live auction of a half dozen items brought tens of thousands of dollars to support the museum and its outreach program. And then the evening really kicked into high gear when Tom McKernan received his award and Brian Wilson took the stage for a two-hour set of Beach Boys classics. That's when we got to dance with West Side Story's "Anita," the Oscar-, Grammy-, Tony- and Emmy Award-winning Rita Moreno. Well, she was dancing solo and we were too, so... A little deeper into the night, Ashley Force graciously declined a twirl, perhaps after seeing us nearly trample Rita.

It was a really fun night filled with stars, cars, and bars, all to support a wonderful L.A. institution. If you're ever in Los Angeles, be sure to check it out. We plan on heading back to get more coverage of the 100th Anniversary Morgan exhibit and their new Sounds of Speed wall of some 160+ album covers that feature cars in one way or another. We also want to get a closer look at Greased Lightning, the Batmobile and that wicked Skeleton Bike. You can visit the Petersen website at petersen.org.

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