**Some readers of this blog live outside the Los Angeles city limits, and are probably not familiar with the issues surrounding the merger of the Southwest Museum and the Autry National Center. This post is intended to serve only as a very brief summary. **
Ground was broken for the Southwest Museum on November 16, 1912. The museum was the dream of Charles Lummis.
"Lummis had constructed a home for himself in Arroyo Seco, which he named El Alisal. It became a personal museum where Lummis began to accumulate his own collection of artifacts and research materials. When site selection [for the Southwest Museum] began in 1905, various locations were considered, some with great financial inducements, but Lummis was adamant that the only choice could be the hillside property visible from El Alisal, with a commanding view of Arroyo Seco and far beyond. The 38-acre site was located on a transportation line between Pasadena and Los Angeles; accessible by the yellow car line and also by auto along Pasadena Avenue (later renamed Figueroa Street)." (Text from Autry's Southwest Museum Rehabilitation Study)
However, as the 20th century drew to a close, the Southwest Museum, the oldest museum in Los Angeles, had fallen on hard times. Damage from the 1994 Northridge eathquake had not yet been repaired. Roof leaks needed attention.
In 2003, The Autry National Center merged with the Southwest Museum. The Autry's stated intent was to preserve the Southwest Museum buildings, and protect the collection. (The Autry National Center was originally founded as The Musuem of the American West, by Gene Autry, a legendary recording and movie star.)
Both sides in the controversy agree that the Southwest Musuem buildings are in need of repair and renovation. Reports estimate the repair and renovation costs at $40 million.
Both sides in the controversy agree that the Southwestern American artifacts originally collected by Charles Lummis are unique and priceless, and must be preserved for future generations.
But here is where the trails diverge:
The Autry Center wants to erect a new musuem building in Griffith Park, and move the priceless collection there. Reports estimate the cost of the new building at $100 million.
Northeast Los Angeles locals want the collection to remain in its original home, atop Mount Washington, and visible from the grounds of El Alisal, as Lummis envisioned it.
Further questions arose when it became evident that Autry's funding for the Southwest Museum was coming, not from liquid assets, but from an inheritance pledge.
And then, this week, the Los Angeles Community College District quietly agreed to use money from its $3.5 billion bond issue on the Nov. 4 ballot to renovate the Southwest Museum and use it as a satellite campus. Note a "campus". Not a "museum".
Los Angeles Times from 2006: http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jun/26/entertainment/et-southwesta26
Los Angeles Times from 2001: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jun/02/entertainment/ca-5351
The Autry's side: http://www.swmfuture.org/
From Ron Kaye, L.A., journalist and activist: http://ronkayela.com/2008/08/la-story-part-one-the-stench-o.html
From Mark Kenyon, community activist: http://blackhatblog.wordpress.com/
Arroyo Seco Journal breaks story on Community College funding: http://www.asjournal.net/localnews.html