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Autry drops plans for $175-million expansion at Griffith Park site

August 11, 2009 | 12:02 pm


The Autry National Center has bowed out of a protracted battle for a $175-million expansion of its facility in Griffith Park.

City approval of the plan hinged on a recent demand for the Autry to make a legally binding commitment to support the Southwest Museum as a fully functioning art institution in perpetuity. In a letter delivered to members of the Los Angeles City Council today, the Autry stated that such a commitment would be irresponsible and that it is withdrawing its proposal.

“Any further attempt to proceed with the proposed expansion project in Griffith Park would be an ill-advised diversion of our financial resources and an insupportable distraction from our work in serving the community,” Autry President John L.Gray stated in the letter. “We come to this decision with reluctance and deep regret — but the constant delays, the past and future costs, the unyielding insistence on financial and programmatic commitments which we cannot responsibly make, and the prospect of future expensive and debilitating litigation all demand that we fulfill the Autry’s vision under different circumstances.”

The Autry proposed a two-phase project that would have increased its Griffith Park building from 142,000 square feet to 271,000 square feet, including exhibition and visible storage space for the Southwest’s collection.  Despite the setback, Autry leaders say they will carry out their vision by continuing to care for the Southwest’s Native American art collection and historic building, and converting Autry storage space into galleries.

Check back with Culture Monster later today for updates on this report.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photo: Autry National Center. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times 

Comments () | Archives (38)

Very sad news. Councilman Huizar unnecessarily backed the Autry into a corner because of a few well-intentioned, but ill informed people who thought name calling was the way to go (the same folks who write "Good Riddance" to Jackie Autry and create a blog referencing the Autry as the "Black Hat".)

The Autry has been a responsible and sensitive custodian of the collection from the Southwest Museum. They have worked with the various Native American communities represented within the collection to ensure its proper care. And, the Autry has spent a great deal of time and treasure to do so - the collection was neglected for decades before the Autry's arrival.

Very few things in life can be guaranteed for in perpetuity. It would have been irresponsible and a breach of the board's fiduciary responsibility to approve such a general, sweeping commitment. Anyone who has served on a board would understand that.

Those who thwarted the Autry's efforts probably consider this announcement a victory. Ironically, in the long run, this will only hurt their cause of keeping the Southwest Museum open on Mt. Washington.

The truth is that the Autry has thus far done a commendable job as caretaker of the collection and the buildings at the Southwest Museum - especially considering the sad state of disrepair of the buildings and the rapidly decaying state of the collection. The Autry was the only museum who stepped up to the plate with the money and the talents to preserve the Southwest all those years ago. It's too bad the folks who oppose the Autry don't recognize the good work of the Autry and the mess faced by the Autry when they entered into this merger.

Instead, the opponents of the Autry have employed a scorched-earth policy to antagonize, ridicule and criticize which only serves to drive the Autry away.

The two questions I would like to ask the Autry's opponents are: Why would any sane organization want to deal with people who have done nothing but heap scorn and ridicule as they have done to the Autry? (I'm sure these same folks will do the same to this post, claiming I work for the Autry - it's what they do best. And, for the record, no, I do not work for the Autry. I have only been witness to their tactics in my neighborhood of Mt. Washington.) And, do these Autry antagonistes have someone with the money to step into the Autry's place if the Autry walks away from the Southwest?

I fear we will now see the end of the Southwest Museum. Either the Autry will walk away with the collection or they will walk away altogether and the collection will be dispersed to other museums. And the blame for either outcome will not be with the Autry, but with those who claim to be Friends of the Southwest Museum and their tactics of hate.

Read between the lines because the lady doth protest too much. Sure, the requirement to maintain the Southwest was a pain in the neck for them, but the Autry scrapped its expansion plan primarily because they could not raise the financing necessary for the job. Donations are surely down because of the recession. Just like any developer, they simply ran out of money.

I worked at the Autry for 4 years. I was employed there when the Lummis Collection at the Southwest Museum was placed under the stewardship of the Autry National Center and I will tell you, from both a personal and professional perspective, the Autry saved that collection.

Moreover, the care, integrity, and professionalism of the Autry Collections staff more than earned my respect, especially in face of being called "looters" by vocal detractors.

The Los Angeles community should have cheered the efforts to save and preserve the collection. It's a shame the Autry will not expand as originally envisioned, however, I have no doubt that they will continue to bring dynamic exhibitions and programs to Los Angeles.

A few years ago I was part of the 'friends' group opposing the autry. Once we threw food at some autry employees, I feel really guilty about it, sorry.

Who are all these liars and schemers posting how wonderful and pure the Autry museum is?

The Autry *stole* the best part of the Southwest Museum's collection, and now the Autry's reneging on a deal to keep the Southwest Museum open.

I've loved the Southwest museum since I was a small child and have hated to see what a powerful, politically-connected group such as the Autry management could do to destroy the best native-American collection and the oldest museum in the greater Los Angeles area.

The City of Los Angeles is leadersless. The council members yammer on about Michael Jackson's funeral, Billy the Elephant and the war in Iraq, and they're not taking care of important city business. They talk about a DWP that's "green," when in reality it's one of the dirtiest utilities in the West. When it comes to actually approving a project of citywide significance like the Autry, they look down at their feet while Councilman Huizar drives the project off the cliff. Goodbye to good, union construction jobs. Goodbye to the evolution and improvement of a cultural center. Goodbye to improvements at the Southwest. Goodbye to meaningful investment in the future of Los Angeles. These elected officials should have stood up for the Native Americans who asked this project to be approved. The Autry has respected the Native American collection that was abused and neglected before the Autry came along. Huizar's knee-jerk reactions, incredibly poor negotiating skills and lack of vision, mixed with the rest of the city council's "looking the other way" approach paint a true picture of a city in absolute crisis.

The Southwest's collection was being eaten by beetles when the Autry came to the rescue. Maybe the Autry is happy--or in hindsight regard the opposition as fortuitous-- to back out of the expansion, given the economy, but it's a shame that political pressure brought by a small group may have prevented a viable project.

Building the Autry Museum at its current site was an unwarranted encroachment on a magnificent city park. It should have been built elsewhere. Orange County would have been a good place. Let the museum move there now, so that L.A. taxpayers will no longer have to pay that $27.5 million subsidy! Meanwhile, I am overjoyed to know that the museum has abandoned its expansion plans and thus will not encroach even further into our park.

Anyone notice the huge number of initial positive comments about the Autry on this blog? It's the Autry and Steve Sugerman spinning and trying to generate sympathy. The Autry's Board is the one who decided to walk away from its promises. The blames lies at their feet.

This is indeed sad news for the cultural life of Los Angeles. The leaders and visionaries at the Autrey Museum brought enormous energy and resources to a plan that would enrich our citizens' sense of community, history, and identity.
With funds forthcoming from the private sector including the major generosity of Jackie Autrey, with the commitment of President John Gray and with the exciting design of Brenda Levin, the newly constituted Center would have both protected the Southwest Museum's collections and given them renewed life through the vitality of the forward looking Autrey vision and stewardship..

What a joke. And still, the so-called Friends of the Southwest proposed no viable alternative.

So, the Autry took its money off the table walked away. It's kind of fitting, after the City looked a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak.

I guess taxpayers are still going to shell out "$27.5 million" each year in the guestimated value of a land lease looking out over the 5 freeway and Zoo's parking lot; what we're not going to get is a $175 million improvement to an outdated facade and a world renowned museum for our kids.

The Autry pays $1 annually for the land lease, and Dodger Stadium pays how much? Oh wait, that was free.

I'm sure Walmart would be happy to fork over the city's lost revenue for use of the space and each Angeleno can get a tax rebate of 28 cents (annually).

I think the Friends of the Southwest Museum managed to shoot themselves in the foot, and cut off their nose to spite their face all in one ego-driven move.

Be careful what you wish for... You just got it.

I share many of the sentiments from those who value the Autry's work in Griffith Park and at Mt. Washington. The Southwest Collection is one of the most important native collections in existence today. Yet, as with the great NMAI collection now in DC, one narrow minded geographic community tried to assert "ownership" over something that wasn't theirs to own. So it is with the Mt. Washington screamers, thought it is really only a small handful of them. Many of us remember how NY tried to block the transfer of the NMAI collection to the Smithsonian site. NY wanted to keep the collection in an old warehouse building. But the Smithsonian offered a profound respect and understanding of the importance to Native Americans of shedding the past of those claiming some "ownership" or "right" to control their heritage. Whatever does the old Lummis home have to do with the importance of the Southwest Collection and the need to have public exhibits and proper long term conservation of the collection? NOTHING. The Southwest Collection could have had its rightful home in Griffith Park but for the terrorist tactics of these small-minded local folks who are really more intent on preserving their own real estate value as a "museum" neighborhood than in anything else. What a shame, and what a commentary on our feckless local politicians. And, one final comment, I didn't see any Indian faces amongst the Autry's opponents. Nope, the Native community was on the Autry's side. So, please, let's not posture about this cowboys versus indians stuff.

Mr. Adams, there are two reasons why the Southwest Museum isn't viable as a museum site. The first is the extreme state of dilapidation the building had been allowed to fall into by the time the deal with the Autry was struck--it was, quite literally, about to fall down on the collection (to say nothing of the staff and the visitors) at any moment.

Even if the building had been sound, however, the projected costs of upgrading its environmental and security systems to museum standards was beyond staggering--totally prohibitive, in fact. And to put the collection at risk by storing and exhibiting it in spaces that weren't adequate would be at the least unethical, if not outright immoral.

How do I know this? I've worked in museums for most of my professional life, and I was working at the Autry when discussion of a merger with the Southwest Museum came up. On top of that, I lived just around the corner from the Southwest Museum for nearly five years. I know better than most what a sad state it was in at the time.

The Autry is a Jewel and the South West Museum is a Jewel, together they will
be a shining light to the history and culture of California and Los Angeles. The
visitors to our city will have a deeper sense of appreciation and respect for the
citizens of Los Angeles and the first people to live along the banks of our river.
Thank you, Jackie

Suzanne Lummis said it best when she said at the hearing that in order for the Southwest to thrive, the Autry as a whole needs to thrive.
Let's continue to support the Autry in it's excellent stewardship of our amazing cultural resources.

For the record, the LA Conservancy is no longer a part of the Friends of the Southwest coalition. Please check their website http://www.laconservancy.org/issues/issues_southwest.php4
for their statement on why they withdrew.

As a former employee, I can attest that the facilities at the Southwest Museum are not adequate in size and environmental condition for the long term storage and preservation of the Southwest Museum's collection. Even if the Autry chose to spend more money continuing renovation on the Southwest site, where do you think they are going to store the Southwest collection during the renovation? You cannot just throw these items into a Uhaul and put them in a run of the mill storage facility.
The only logical idea is expand where you can, for the sake of both institutions. The sooner the expansion happens the sooner the Southwest Museum can have more regular exhibits and programming events for its surrounding community.
The Autry is not stealing the Southwest collection. They are keeping it together... something that would not have happened if the Autry did not offer its financial and time dedication to a museum that was in crisis.

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