The permanent exhibition, Becoming Los Angeles, tells a 500-year story about how Southern California went from tiny pueblo to sprawling metropolis.

After colonizing Mexico, Spain continued to the frontiers of North America and established California's 21 missions, founded between 1769 and 1833, as revenue generators and military outposts.

Mexican independence from Spain changed the way Californians traded with the world and also triggered permanent ongoing environmental change. The cattle ranching industry affected the land in many ways: livestock fed off local and exotic grasses, spread the seeds across the region, and changed the plant life of Southern California.

When California became part of the United States, Los Angeles shifted from Mexican ciudad to American city. During the mid 1880s, early city infrastructure and government services began to emerge. This shotgun, made in 1847, belonged to Swiss immigrant Charles Louis Ducommun who trekked across the country on foot and built a successful business in Los Angeles, which allowed him to invest in the railroad, agriculture and oil industries.

One of the eariler start-up businesses in Los Angeles was the Auto Vehicle Company, which manufactured this 1902 Tourist automobile, the only survivor from the car's first year of production.

Fast-forward into the 20th century to see the 1939 City Model of downtown Los Angeles, built as a Works Progress Administration project. It has been outfitted with touch screens, which feature interactive slideshows and narrated stories of downtown L.A. landmarks, including Pershing Square and Chinatown.

This strikingly designed section features everything from World War II fighter plane models to vintage graphics and an engine emblematic of America's growing industrial power.