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Stephen Garrett around 1979 Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust

Stephen Garrett, who was the J. Paul Getty Museums first director and went on to lead two other Southern California art institutions, died on Monday. He was 96.

Garrett was born in Ashtead, England, in 1922. He studied architecture at Trinity College, although his academic pursuits were disrupted by the Second World War, in which he fought for the British Royal Navy. After the war, he completed his studies at Cambridge before opening a private architectural practice in London, where he was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

In the late 1960s, when the billionaire J. Paul Getty decided to turn part of his Malibu ranch house into a museum—the Getty Villa—he hired Garrett as the consulting architect on the site, which was inspired by Roman antiquity. (The two had met when Garrett was hired by Getty to renovate a different villa for Getty, off the coast of Naples.)

Upon completion of the Getty Villa, Getty named Garrett the museums deputy director, and when the oil magnate died in 1976, Garrett was the first to take on the role of director. In June 1977, he proposed sweeping expansions to the museum's board of trustees, with the aspiration of “the creation of an art institute.” He suggested that the Getty move beyond its antiquities collecting by acquiring Old Master drawings and recommended expanding the museum to a second location.

“Stephens imprint on the Getty was very considerable,” says Timothy Potts, the current director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “He was intimately involved with the realisation of the Getty Villa as ancient Roman reconstruction, and, as the museums first director, helped to shape the early development of the collections as a public attraction. Stephen was one of the first people who welcomed me to the Getty when I arrived seven years ago and I will always remember with great fondness his colorful personality and lively wit.”

In 1984, Garrett resigned his post at the Getty and took over as director of the Long Beach Museum of Art. He then left for the Hammer Museum in Westwood, where he served as inaugural director and oversaw the institutions completion and opening in 1990.

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