National preservation group steps into Southwest Museum fray [updated]

Southwest Museum illuminated during its centennial last year | Martha Benedict

MOUNT WASHINGTON — The National Trust for Historic Preservation is scheduled to make an announcement on Thursday  “about the future” of  Southwest Museum, the city’s first museum that has been mostly off limits to the public for about a decade and locked in a lengthy feud with neighborhood activists.

What is going to be announced? The nation’s largest preservation group did not reveal any details, saying only that it “will help coordinate a broad effort intended to enable the site to play a viable and important role in the community for the next century,” according a media advisory.

Last November, Christina Morris, field director of the organization’s Los Angeles office, said the National Trust was considering designating the Southwest Museum a “National Treasure” and adding it “to its list of historic sites that are under threat,” according to an account of her remarks before the Friends of the Southwest Museum, a coalition that wants the hillside facility to reopen as a full-fledged museum.

The coalition has been at odds with the Autry National Center of the American West, which owns the Southwest Museum, over the operations and fate of Mount Washington landmark, which opened at its current location in 1914 and was best known for its vast collection of Native American artifacts.

Many residents said the Autry reneged on a promise to keep the Southwest Museum open as a separate, full-fledged museum when both entities merged in 2003. The Autry did undertake a costly renovation of the Southwest’s main building but moved the museum’s collection to its Griffith Park museum and a nearby storage facility. In 2010, the Autry said it was seeking “to team up with partners to develop future programs suitable to the Southwest Museum site.”

Update: The National Trust officially put the Southwest Museum on its list of National Treasures. NTHP


  1. I consider the building a National Treasure but I couldn’t care less about the collection. Even if I found the collection interesting what’s the big deal about having it a 7 min drive away at the Autry?

    The Native American groups certainly have not shown any interest in keeping it in Mt Washington. They prefer the Autry location because it has more parking and they usually visit from out of town and have large pow-wows and craft fairs.

    Northeast LA has a higher concentration of artists than any other part of California. I hope it is being used as an art center for contemporary artists. This is something Lummis supported all his life and would have loved.

    • Everyone watching this issue should be mindful of the goal of the rich, out-of-touch and clueless Board Members of the Autry: to lie about having a $100 million endowment (when they had no such endowment) in order to get their hands on the collection and museum assets, and then figure out a way to hand off the National Register of Historic Places building to someone else. This comment may (or may not) be part of a secret backroom campaign by Autry to entice local artists to seek to divert use of the Southwest Museum from the exhibition of its huge and spectacular collections (so the Autry Board can have the collection all to itself) to a contemporary art museum (which would relieve Autry of the duty to share the collection with the site as envisioned by Charles Lummis.)

      Would any self-respecting artist from Northeast Los Angeles, one truly mindful of the history of the Northeast cultural sites and a true history of Charles Lummis actually think this was a correct statement: “I hope it is being used as an art center for contemporary artists. This is something Lummis supported all his life and would have loved.” or actually say: “I couldn’t care less about the collection”.

      It appears the Autry’s hidden agenda is being revealed: Try to peel the arts community away from the principled and ethical long-time position of Northeast Community that the Southwest Museum is fully capable of being restored to full museum use in a way that continues to use the Southwest’s collections that reinforces the economic development opportunities that connect the Southwest Museum site to the cultural sites at Casa de Adobe, Sycamore Park, Audubon Center, Heritage Square, and the Lummis Home.

      This is not to say that the work of contemporary art in the community should not be part of a future for the Southwest Museum complex. This is a question of emphasis and what is a “museum”? For instance, one way to restore ALL of the assets of the Southwest would be restore the Casa de Adobe at the foot of the hill and explore contemporary art programming mixed with its original purpose as a museum of early ranchero life. We have options and no one should allow the Autry or paid off elected officials to try to “steer” the Southwest Museum away from a viable National Treasure exhibiting its collections.

      The arts community of Northeast must not allow the Autry to pursue a divide and conquer strategy in our community. Instead, the arts community must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the broad community coalition consensus that Autry may not use the National Trust Treasure Status as some pretense to completely rape the assets of the Southwest Museum by walking off with $5 million of its endowment, a $1 billion collection, and discarding the museum buildings as if Autry never had an obligation to be a proper trustee of these valued cultural assets.

  2. Jeez it’s like cowboys versus Indians all over again! It would be nice if somebody who had the capital and actually gave a crap about the Southwest Museum did SOMETHING with this beautiful historic building. It could be like our little Getty center but instead it’s open one day a week and looking pretty sad thanks to the Autry people.

    • Apparently the Autry does not give a crap about the Southwest Museum — just taking its collections and money and grants for Autry’s benefit. First they said they have a $100 million endowment and got the LA Times to endorse a merger with the Southwest Museum. Then, when called upon to program the Southwest site using its collections, they said “we don’t have any money for that”. Well they pay Mr. West over $300,000 a year. They seem to be able to solicit donors to run their museum in Griffith Park. But over in Highland Park, the Autry just cannot seem to find donors. Really? Or do they CHOOSE to not solicit and find them?

      Instead the Autry let the beautiful mural on its property to be defaced by taggers and then violated our laws requiring that a landowner keep its property graffiti clean. So currently, Autry contributes to social problems in our community by not cleaning up its own property.

      I am outraged that the National Trust and Gil Cedillo would lend their credibility to this issue without demanding PUBLICLY that Autry immediately fund and restore the mural or at a minimum, clean it up. I guess if you are a wealthy board in our City, and you make a few filthy campaign contributions, you get to pick and choose which laws you will obey.

      • It’s pretty clear Gil Cedillo likes graffiti and the many other facets of the old days of Highland Park. He’d bring back the gangs if he could. I’m convinced he’s a sociopath at this point….

  3. Check out: http://www.savesouthwestmuseum.com/?p=284

    This is the plan, developed by the community folks with professional credentials and expertise.

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