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L.A. museum to receive 'extraordinary' gift for Endeavour exhibit

May 16, 2012 |  8:00 pm

The Space Shuttle Endeavour makes a perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base in 1995 after being diverted from Florida following a 16-day mission, the longest mission in shuttle history. Credit: Mike Nelson / AFP / Getty Images

OschinThe California Science Center museum has received what officials describe as an “extraordinary” financial contribution to the new Air and Space Center that will house the space shuttle Endeavour.

The gift, to be announced at a news conference Thursday, comes from a foundation chaired by Lynda Oschin, wife of the late Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Samuel Oschin, whose name already graces the Griffith Observatory planetarium and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cancer institute stemming from charitable contributions there.

At Oschin’s request, officials would not disclose the amount of the gift from the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation. But they called it “transformational” for the free state-run museum in South Los Angeles, adjacent to USC.

Officials say the center has now raised, combined with other donations, nearly half of the $200 million it needs to transport Endeavour from Florida, build a temporary hangar, and design and construct a permanent museum wing that will house the spacecraft when it arrives this fall.

The new wing of the museum will be called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center and is expected to open in 2017. The interim hangar, being built now, will be called the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion and will display the vehicle horizontally. Once it moves to the permanent wing, the shuttle will be positioned vertically, as if prepared for launch, for generations of museum visitors to see.

Museum officials were thrilled at the donation.

“It’s a huge boost,” said museum President Jeffrey N. Rudolph. “It gives us enough money to ensure we can complete the architecture and exhibit design.”

Plus, he said, “it lets others in the philanthropic community see that this project has real validity to it.… It’s a vote of confidence to let people know that they can join in and have a high likelihood of success.”

Samuel Oschin, who lived from 1914 to 2003, made his fortune at a savings and loan company and in real estate. Beyond that, he was an avid fan of science, math, and astronomy.

Samuel Oschin: Crossing the Alps in Hannibal's Foosteps

He also made headlines with his outsized penchant for adventure. He once traveled by dogsled to the North Pole and planted an American flag. In Africa, he hunted. In South America, he pushed up the Amazon River in a dugout. In 1979, The Times profiled the businessman and described his plans to climb the French-Italian Alps with two elephants, attempting to reenact Hannibal’s military sneak attack. He successfully completed the trip, his wife said.

The son of a house painter, Oschin grew up in poverty, never finished high school but had a knack for business sense even as a child growing up in Detroit.

His initial business ideas included collecting leftover chips of soap, molding them into whole bars and selling them, his wife said.

In the 1930s, he worked the assembly line in a factory. During the war, after an eye injury made him ineligible to enlist, he found his first big success upon casting the low bid for a naval contract to build a component for bomber wings — and he won the job over General Electric and Chrysler even though he had no factory of his own. After arriving in Los Angeles after the war, his wealth grew as the San Fernando Valley was being developed. At various times he owned an air-conditioning firm, Empire Savings and Loan of Van Nuys, and bought with a partner Prudential Square at 5757 Wilshire Blvd.

In 1981, Oschin set up his philanthropic organization and started off small – providing scholarships at UCLA and Stanford for minority disabled students and installing air conditioning at a San Fernando Valley school. In 1986, Oschin's contributions to the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County led officials to name a 48-inch telescope in his honor. Following Oschin’s death in 2003, his name went over the Griffith Observatory planetarium and Cedars-Sinai cancer center.

After that, Lynda Oschin thought about having the entire Science Center named after her husband, but she was told it wasn’t possible.

Later, after news broke last spring that Endeavour was coming, Rudolph reached out to Lynda Oschin. “I said, ‘No, I have no interest in the shuttle,’ ” she recalled saying.

Rudolph waited awhile, and then invited her to a ceremony where the museum would receive the title to the shuttle from NASA. There she saw scores of ecstatic schoolchildren cheering as Endeavour’s last crew of astronauts entered a ballroom.

“The kids just went crazy. And I’m watching those children and thinking — I’m watching the next child who is going into space … because they are going to see the shuttle, they’re going to be inspired by what they see … and they are going to do something in math and science and engineering – the areas that my husband loved,” Lynda Oschin said.

“So I decided… we were going to make this work,” she added.

“I’m so excited I can’t even think straight. It’s such an incredible legacy for my husband. His memory is going to go on and on,” she said. “He’s very special and I just don’t want him to be forgotten.”


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-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: The space shuttle Endeavour makes a perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base in 1995 after being diverted from Florida following a 16-day mission, the longest mission in shuttle history. Credit: Mike Nelson / AFP / Getty Images

Photo: Samuel Oschin. Credit: Handout photo