Best Hidden Museum - 2012
Hancock Memorial Museum at USC
Four public rooms from the original 1909 Hancock Mansion at Wilshire and Vermont were installed in an anonymous-looking building on the USC campus in the 1930s to create the secret Hancock Memorial Museum at USC, which is like a life-size bell jar, featuring Edwardian architecture, marble, stained glass and ornate tchotchkes. First you have to make an appointment to see the rooms, and then you'll meet the curator, somewhat furtively, near the Newman Recital Hall. After scooting around a marble statue of Napoleon, the curator will unlock a series of doors, turn on the lights and let you in. There is a haunted air to the surroundings, despite the sunlight pouring in through the windows — or maybe that's just how this style of decor looks to modern eyes. Either way, from the gargantuan decorative organ pipes and balcony in the music salon, to the mystical-looking Chinoiserie dining room, to the gloomy library with its carved fireplace and stern portraits, the whole experience is delightfully odd. 850 W. 37th St., University Park. (213) 740-5141, usc.edu/libraries/archives/arc/libraries/hancock/museum.