100 Years of History at Southwest Museum Site
By Jacqueline García, EGP Staff Writer
Saturday’s celebration at the Southwest Museum in Mount Washington was supposed to be about the 100-year history of the historic structure, but it was clear many of the people who attended were more interested in the site’s future than its past.
For more than a decade, the question of what will become of Los Angeles’ first museum has inspired heated debate — in some instances splitting one-time collaborators into different camps.
On Saturday, the museum’s current owner the Autry National Center welcomed new visitors and long time supporters, many of whom couldn’t help but feel a mixture of excitement and melancholy as they wandered through the historic site taking in the exhibits of Native American pottery and listening to panelists talk about the museum’s architecture and its founder, Charles F. Lummis.
Councilman Gil Cedillo represents the Mount Washington area where the museum is located, and welcomed the crowd of about 200 people to the facility, calling the museum a nice place to visit on any Saturday morning.
The councilman said he is working with the Autry and museum supporters to find a viable plan for the museum’s future.
The Southwest is “a museum that embraces its history, but faces its reality,” said Cedillo, referring to the financial issues which led to its closing. “We will continue to work collaboratively, in a way that respects the history and traditions of the museum and our community,” Cedillo told EGP. What that collaboration would like he didn’t say.
For years, the Friends of the Southwest Museum, a coalition of community groups and individuals has been fighting hard to return the museum to its former state, as a fully functioning museum exhibiting the vast collection of Native American, Southwest and Latino artwork and artifacts now under the control of the Autry.
But another group, some of them one time members of the Friends group, is looking at other options, and on Saturday, members of El Plan del Southwest Museum—a non-profit organization that says it is dedicated to building a successful solution for the Southwest Museum, passed out surveys to gather opinions and suggestions from those in attendance.
According to Gabriel Buelna, co-founder of El Plan, the main issue is that not enough people are involved in the debate and his group wants to include them.
“We are working on a process to see what people want” to do with the museum, Buelna told EGP. “Our main goal is that the Autry opens the Southwest again,” he added.
Hoping to collect hundreds of filled-out surveys by the end of August, Buelna said people’s opinions could provide a solution. “The National Trust said it, the community needs to be engaged,” he said.
Autry President W. Richard West Jr. told attendees “the Autry’s primary objective is to preserve and protect the collections,” which include 238,000 Native American artifacts, even if they have to do it outside of the Southwest Museum facility.
“We are immensely encouraged but not naive about how much more work needs to be done in this spirit and with the same philosophical and practical focus” of the Southwest, West said.
The day’s program included a panel discussion about the Southwest Museum’s structure and the architectural landscape of Los Angeles when it was built in 1912. The Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Chris Morris, discussed adaptive reuse of historic properties such as the Houston Astrodome in Texas, which was one of “2013’s 11 most endangered historic places” and is now in the process of becoming a “multi-purpose special event space.”
Throughout the day, visitors could view archival materials related to the construction of the museum in the Braun Research Library. Creative dioramas prepared by local students were on display in the Mayan tunnel.
People interested in voicing their concerns about the future of the Southwest Museum are encouraged to fill the survey in www.elplan.org before August 31, 2014.
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August 21, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.