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

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