City Council to review Autry museum expansion

Southwest Museum

Prodded by Northeast L.A. residents and groups,  the City Council today voted unanimously to  review a city parks commission decision to allow the Autry National Center to expand and renovate its Griffith Park museum.  The vote is part of the most recent skirmish between the Autry, which owns the Griffith Park museum and the Southwest Museum on Mount Washington, and groups that say the Autry is only interested in expanding its Griffith Park complex at the expense of the Southwest.

Autry opponents were taken by surprise after the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission on May 20 approved a plan by the Autry to undertake the renovations.  The Friends of the Southwest Museum and others feared the expansion would give the Autry even less reason to reopen the Southwest as a full-fledged museum with its prized collection of Native American artifcacts.  Many residents who opposed the expansion said there had been insufficient public notice of the commission’s decision to take up the Autry proposal at the the May 20 meeting.

Today, the City Council approved a motion by Councilmen Jose Huizar, who represents Mount Washington, and Ed Reyes to have the concil take control of the matter in the wake of “legitimate concerns” about the park board’s action.  Huizar, who has been pressuring the Autry to reopen the Southwest as a fully-functioning museum,  said his constituents were given no notification of the meeting and that Autry’s request.

The issue will now be heard by City Council’s Arts, Parks and Aging Committee, headed by Councilman Tom LaBonge, on Friday.
Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Councilman Martha Benedict* said that about 25 people spoke in favor of having the City Council take control

Jose Huizar|Photo by Martha Benedict

of the issue. Said Benedict, who supports the council review:

The people who supported Huizar’s motion to vacate approval by Rec & Parks are concerned that the Prop. 84 money will be spent at the Autry facility to duplicate the Southwest Museum’s exhibitions, including the beloved outdoor garden, thus further diminishing the likelihood of the Mt. Washington facility’s reopening. Next Sunday is Lummis Day held at Heritage Square, which celebrates the legacy of Charles Lummis who founded the Southwest Museum.

Promises were made that the process would move forward quickly so as not to jeopardize the huge State grant Autry won to carry out their plans.

Friends of the Southwest Museum have demanded that the expansion of the Autry be linked to the reopening of the Southwest as an accredited museum.
Related Post:

  • City Council claims jurisdiction over Autry expansion. Patch
  • Los Angeles City Council takes control of Autry expansion. KPCC
  • Plan for Autry upsets Southwest’s backers. Daily News

* Benedict is a frequent contributor to The Eastsider

No comments

  1. The project proposed by the Autry will be paid for by already-awarded state grants. Further, the “beloved” “native plant garden” at the Mt. Washington campus is not the same as an “ethnobotanical garden,” as represented by the “Friends” and Martha Benedict. Similarly, the planned “First Californians” exhibit is not at all the same as the Southwest Museum’s sadly outdated representations of Native American life. This complete misunderstanding or all-too-typical misrepresentation of the Southwest Museum’s long-term curatorial decline by the “Friends” undoubtedly has something to do with Native American group’s continued overwhelming support of the Autry. In short, not spending these already-allocated state funds to provide these more culturally and historically accurate educational experiences on behalf of all of Los Angeles’s children (including my 9-year old fourth grader) is simply irresponsible.

  2. Autry from the very beginning has used lies and deception to take control of the SWM Native American Indian collection worth a one billion dollars. With it comes the prestige of being one of best collections in this country plus grants and benefits of immense value.


    -Study Shows Autry Gained Control of the Southwest Museum Using A Misleading Merger Balance Sheet Exposes Gene Autry Museum’s Long- touted 100 Million Endowment. One that is not in possession of the Autry but will be received at the death of Jackie Autry if she does not changes her mind.

    -Jackie Autry’s commitment in the merger was that both museums would be separate and equal, each one with their own board. She took possession of the seven million dollars of the SWM had and the one billion dollar Native American collection.

    – If Jackie’s intentions were so ethical, why did she have to lie from the very beginning with a false balance sheet? Why did she have to get a “high end” law firm of Latham and Watkins and their lobbyist? A firm that specializes in unfriendly takeovers? Why employ a CEO that is a master of deception, paying him $250,000 to lie to the public.

    If the Southwest Museum was in such a state of disrepair as Autry claimed why have they use the SWM as a warehouse and allow their employees to work there for the last eight years. Putting the collection and employees at risk? That would be criminal.

    Those that support the Autry are their employees, or people that are benefiting somehow.

    Bottom Line, Autry has name, money and lies and thinks they can run over our community killing the heart of the SWM.

  3. There is no question the collection was in dire shape for many years, and the building has been waterproofed and the roof repaired by the Autry. The entire collection has also been conserved, individually re-housed, and indexed. This is why the Autry enjoys the overwhelming support of the Native American community.

    This is just a continuation of a long string of empty scare tactics and even racist rhetoric by the “Friends.” These range from formal accusations of “Enron-scale” criminal accounting malpractice, to claiming the “the tribes” want to build a casino in Mt. Washington, to comparing the acquisition of the collection by the Autry – with, I remind you, the overwhelming support of the Native American community – to the genocide of the Cherokee Nation on the “trail of tears.” Even councilmember Huizar has been accused of being corrupt by these so-called “Friends.”

  4. Nope.

    Gonna give this one to the Indians.

    You lose, Schraff.

  5. Mr. Schraff,
    Thanks for weighing in on this matter.
    It would appear, based on your many posts regarding this issue, that you feel passionately about issue and carry a personal animus for the “Friends of the SW Museum.” What are your interests in this issue? Do you live in Mt. Washington? Do you work for the Autry? Please share.

  6. The truth stands on its own. The Autry had special interest in taking care of the collection to walk out with it, not because they had ever the intention of honoring the Merger. Those that support the Autry is because they have personal interests. Just like Suzanne Lummis that is working now for the Autry.

    Autry needs the Southwest Museum collection without it they cannot survive. The Southwest Museum was doing better than the Autry at the time of the merger but the SWM had a board that did everything in their power to make it fail. Since the early 1990’s when the board tried to remove the collection out of the Southwest Museum because our community was low class and unfit. Yes a board that believed they are superior and entitle to snobb other human beings. Autry has the same attitude, why they want the collection is because they can make money out of it not because they have respect for the people that created those artifacts. History repeats itself another treaty broken.

  7. “To snobb” – is that a Chumash verb?

  8. My name is Robert Schraff, and I have lived at 4844 Eldred Street for more than 20 years, making me a close neighbor to the Southwest Museum. I was a member of the Southwest Museum for more than a decade prior to the 2003 merger with the Autry, and I was married there in 1995. I am also a history Ph.D. student at UCLA, where I am working on the California mission system. I currently serve as president of the Mt. Washington Association.

    (Also note the silly “cowboys and indians,” “broken treaty” rhetoric all-too typical of the Friends” above – silly that is, when you remember that the Native American community has overwhelmingly, both politically and financially, supported the Autry.)

  9. Of course, I also have no personal interest in this issue. Unless, in the often twisted world of the “Friends,” being a longtime Southwest Museum member, paying attention to the story for more than 20 years, and being a student and teacher of history makes me self-interested.

  10. Thank you for your response. I too am put off by white liberal appropriation of the suffering of American Indian and other minority groups. I am however, also not persuaded by the endorsement of the Autry by Indian leaders, nor am I an admirer of much of that museum’s curatorial work or cultural orientation.
    Could you tell me more about what you refer to as the “twisted” world of the Friends? How do you perceive their motivations and interests here? How do their positions differ from those of other Mt. Washington groups including yours? Thanks again.

  11. Hey, I grew up in Orange County and I’m at least as liberal as the next grad student, so I really don’t have a lot of respect for the political part of the Gene Autry brand. But I do think the exhibits at the Autry have gotten remarkably better, see both the recent “Women in the West” and the amazing basket exhibit still running. But yeah, the singing cowboy schtick doesn’t do much for me either, other than as a very narrow slice of cultural history. And I also don’t necessarily agree with every Native American political view, but when it’s about their artifacts, and they ponied up with the money, I do. (Also, not to be too rude, but Gene is dead, and Jackie, well…)

    Here’s all rhetoric of the “Friends” in one convenient package – their own website, friendsofthesouthwestmuseum.com Note in particular the long list of organizations that no longer support them (really, some enterprising journalist should call the L.A. Conservancy) and their plans for a major development on the Arroyo Seco’s most historic and scenic ridgeline – with not a single open meeting, of course.

  12. FACT: (1980-1985) the building of The Autry Museum has been controversial from its very beginning. In the 1980’s the community of Burbank opposed the building of the museum in their area. Jackie Autry had to look elsewhere. She set her sights on Griffith Park and she encountered opposition from the public and environmentalists. The Recreation and Parks Department opposed the use of any property in Griffith Park. Recreation and Parks Department during a one-month period public review received ll4 written responses, 112 of them were against the construction of the Autry in Griffith Park.

    But the department was no longer in charge. Jurisdiction for approval of the museum was given to the Board of Referred Powers. The Board of Referred Powers was formed by five council members that were in favor of having the Autry built in Griffith Park. The Board of Referred Powers approved 5 to 0 construction over the objections of Recreation and Parks Department in August 16, 1985. Not only did they allow the construction, but they leased the site for only $1 dollar a year for fifty years. Then on July 8, 1986 they approved the environmental study 5 to 0. (Griffith Park by Mike Eberts)

    FACT: The City of Los Angeles leased TEN acres to the Autry, PRIME PUBLIC PARK LAND for ONE DOLLAR A YEAR for FIFTY YEARS!

  13. In the meantime at the Southwest Museum this was happening.
    FACT: In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there was a movement to transfer all the artifacts to another location. The community stood up and united against it. Mayor Richard Riordan and Councilman Richard Alatorre stood behind the community. Mayor Richard Riordan created a Blue Ribbon committee to help the Museum. The Board of directors of the Southwest Museum decided to stop their intentions of abandoning the community and moving the museum away.

    FACT: For almost 20 years The Board of Directors for the Southwest Museum, were mostly outsiders and did not have any connection to our community. They were part of the movement to relocate the SWM artifacts to another area in the late 80’s and 90’s and they were part of the merger with the Autry in 2003. The Southwest Museum Board of Directors did not want the museum to succeed. With a few exceptions they contributed very little money of their own. They refused to finance a marketing campaign in spite of the excellent programs and exhibits.

  14. Mrs. Autry likes for others to pay for her empire. The City of LA gave her 10 acres of PARK LAND for ONE dollar a year. The price for that land is 500,000 a year for free, So far the taxpayers have funded the Autry with 10 million in thirty more years it will be a total of 25 million or more. At the time of the Merger the Autry received close to 7 million plus the SWM collection worth one billion or more. The repairs done to the Southwest Museum have been done with FEMA funds, public money. Petty good deal for Mrs. Jackie Autry, in the meantime she hordes her 300 million.

  15. “O.H.” on this thread seems to be Olga Hall, who not only supports the “Friends” but claims to be one of its leaders (she also loves this “FACT:” trope when writing.) You can find much more of her opinions at the Yahoo Group nelalist. (This is where you can also find the casino canard, and so much more. ) Of course, re-posting Dan Wright and Nicole Possert’s inflammatory, wildly inaccurate rhetoric anonymously and using aliases is a long-standing practice of the “Friends,” including their leaders. No wonder they don’t want to be upfront about the organizations that still support them – it’s just Dan and Nicole and the true believers.

  16. O.H.

    Rob Schraff has identified himself and clearly specified his personal interests in this issue.

    Given the personal accusations you’re making, and the political nature of your many, deeply impassioned comments, could you please offer us the same courtesy?

  17. Agreed. As an interested, but not yet partisan observer of this imbroglio, I am finding Mr. Shraff’s candor very useful and refreshing. What are you interests O.H.? On what basis and for what reasons do you make the claims you make here?

  18. (crickets)

  19. It is awfully quiet, isn’t it?

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