Image: National Museum of American History
Rod Lamkey Jr  /  Zuma Press file
History buffs and other visitors to Washington, D.C., will want to mark November 21 on their calendars. That’s the day that the National Museum of American History will reopen after a two-year closure and $85 million makeover.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/14/2008 9:15:36 AM ET 2008-10-14T13:15:36

The Gettysburg Address, Babe Ruth’s bat and masterworks from Henry Moore and Winslow Homer. If any of the above piques your interest, you may want to add a few cities to your late-fall travel plans. In fact, with four new (or renovated) museums opening next month — in L.A., D.C., Toronto and Roanoke, Va. — an avid traveler’s cultural calendar could start looking a little crowded.

OK, so hitting four museums in four cities in four weeks is probably not in the forecast. On the other hand, should your November travels take you to any of the above cities next month, here’s what’s on display:

Taubman Museum of Art
Formerly known as the Art Museum of Western Virginia, the new Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke opens on November 8. As the first purpose-built art museum in the city’s history, the $66 million, 81,000-square-foot facility will function as both a repository of artworks and a work of art itself.

As architecture, the building is a dramatic composition of flowing curves and angled faces in steel, glass and patinated zinc. It was designed by Los Angeles–based architect Randall Stout, who was born nearby in eastern Tennessee and later trained with Frank Gehry. The edgy, asymmetric design is said to pay sculptural tribute to the surrounding scenery — think Bilbao meets the Blue Ridge Mountains — but it’s also altogether unique.

Inside, visitors will find a permanent collection that showcases American art from the early 1800s to the present day, including pieces from the likes of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent to Jasper Johns and Jacob Lawrence. They’ll be augmented by inaugural exhibitions ranging from 17th century Florentine paintings to digital installations. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $4.50 for children ages 5-12.

Art Gallery of Ontario
When it closed for renovations last fall, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto was already considered one of the largest art museums in North America. When it reopens on November 14, it will be 20 percent larger, feature 47 percent more gallery space and showcase more than 5,000 artworks in 110 galleries.

Slideshow: Autumn’s awesome rainbow The transformed AGO also represents the first hometown project by native son Frank Gehry, who spent much of his youth in the neighborhood. Compared to some of his other works (e.g., L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Experience Music Project in Seattle), the design is surprisingly restrained, although the 600-foot-long glass façade and a new wing clad in blue-hued titanium are a bit more Gehry-esque.

That restraint serves as a counterpoint to a diverse 68,000-piece collection that showcases Canadian artists, European masters and indigenous pieces from Africa and Australia. To celebrate the transformation, the gallery is offering three days of free admission; after that, tickets will be $18 for adults, $10 for children ages 6–18.

National Museum of American History
History buffs and other visitors to Washington, D.C., will want to mark November 21 on their calendars. That’s the day that the National Museum of American History will reopen after a two-year closure and $85 million makeover.

The renovation showcases new galleries, glass-fronted artifact walls and a five-story, sky-lit atrium designed to flood the museum with natural light. The centerpiece will be a climate-controlled gallery housing the original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. Special, low-level lighting will be used to evoke the “dawn’s early light” that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lines that became the national anthem.

Elsewhere in the museum, visitors will find six wings, each one anchored by a “landmark object” (e.g., a John Bull locomotive or Civil Rights–era lunch counter) designed to announce the theme of each exhibit. A copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, on loan from the White House, will also be on display during the opening.

Sports Museum of Los Angeles
If you’re a sports fan, you could travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., for baseball, Canton, Ohio, for football and Springfield, Mass., for basketball. Or, you could head to Los Angeles, where a new museum celebrating those sports and several others is set to open November 28.

Located at 1900 S. Main St., on the southern edge of downtown, the Sports Museum of Los Angeles is the brainchild of Gary Cypres, a local business executive and memorabilia collector who recently decided to open his 10,000-piece collection to the public. Unlike the single-sport repositories above, the 32,000-square-foot museum will be a multi-sport showcase featuring one-of-a-kind items from the worlds of football, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, soccer and others.

Among the featured items: Babe Ruth’s 1934 touring uniform, a signed photo of Notre Dame’s legendary 1924 backfield — aka the “Four Horsemen” — and game-worn jerseys from several NBA and NFL stars. From vintage tennis rackets to modern movie posters, it’s a 30-gallery shrine to the history and evolution of athletic activity. Admission is $17.50 for adults, $11 for children ages 5–12.

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