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Autry to remodel, creating Native American galleries in Griffith Park and annex in Burbank

June 30, 2010 |  4:53 pm

AutryNationalCenter Making an end run around  Los Angeles officials, who last year frustrated its plans for a major expansion in Griffith Park, the Autry National Center on Wednesday cleared the way for new galleries in its existing museum by buying an office-industrial building in Burbank as a storehouse for its 500,000-object collection.

The Autry announced plans for a new permanent Native American gallery called "First Californians," devoted to times predating Europeans' arrival, and another gallery for rotating exhibitions drawn from the vaunted collection of nearly 300,000 Native American artworks and artifacts that the Autry acquired in 2003, when it absorbed the financially troubled Southwest Museum of the American Indian on Mt. Washington. The Autry plans to gradually open 25,000 square feet of additional gallery space, starting in 2013.

The Autry had hoped to carry out a $175-million expansion and renovation in Griffith Park that would have nearly doubled the size of the 142,000-square- foot building. But at the urging of Southwest Museum supporters who fear the Autry is bent on turning it into a stepchild with nothing to draw the public, a panel of City Council members last year refused to approve the plan unless the Autry made a legally binding guarantee that the Southwest would continue to operate as a museum "in perpetuity."

The Autry withdrew its plan last August, saying it couldn't make such a promise. Instead, it set its sights on a less ambitious remodeling of the existing Griffith Park museum -- a plan that, unlike the expansion proposal, would not need city approval of an environmental impact report and a change in the Autry's $1 a year lease on 13 acres of parkland.

Instead, the Autry said Wednesday, it will launch a seven-year, $75-million renovation of both the Griffith Park museum and the  Burbank building, which is 2.5 miles away. The Burbank site, a 77,000-square-foot building on 3.6 acres at 210 S. Victory Boulevard, fell to the Autry for $7.45 million Wednesday in an auction in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles.

SouthwestMuseumKirkMcCoy Autry spokeswoman Joan Cumming said that plans for the Southwest still call for reserving part of the building for a display of Native American artifacts. But a statement the Autry issued Wednesday indicates that the Southwest, which opened in 1914, may not stay primarily a museum: "The Autry is currently seeking partnerships with educational, cultural or civic organizations to develop future programs suitable to the Southwest Museum site."

Besides collection storage, the Autry satellite in Burbank will house offices and work spaces for curators and conservators, and research libraries for scholars, Cumming said.  "It's not a building that's meant to be open to the public."

Named the Autry Research and Resource Center, the Burbank outpost will have climate-controlled storage for all artifacts not on display, and house all materials from the Autry's two existing libraries, the Institute for the Study of the American West in Griffith Park and the Braun Library at the Southwest Museum.

Marketing materials from the real estate broker handling the property showed an asking price of $17.5 million for the former manufacturing warehouse built in 1950. Its previous owner was Axium International Inc., a Hollywood payroll company that filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2008. Axium had bought it for $14 million and renovated it as an office space with a glass atrium, bow-truss exposed ceilings and a mezzanine served by an elevator. The Autry said Chu + Gooding Architects of Los Angeles will design its conversion to a museum annex.

-- Mike Boehm and Roger Vincent

Recent and Related

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Autry National Center withdraws expansion plan

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Photo: The Autry Museum in Griffith Park, top, and the Southwest Museum on Mt. Washington. Credits: Los Angeles Times (Autry); Kirk McCoy / Los Angeles Times (Southwest).

Comments () | Archives (14)

Well, here we go again.

The Autry Board's racism slip is showing as it pulls its Western fringed skirts high and tries to tip-toe out of the Southwest Museum and Los Angeles with the priceless Southwest Museum's Collection. The Autry's Board is populated by suburban white dandies and debutantes who simply cannot bear the thought of restoring a piece of REAL Los Angeles and Southwest history -- the graceful 1914 Southwest Museum. (Well, actually Jackie Autry refuses to do it and therefore her handpicked Board don't want to do it). Instead, they want it ALL shown over in Griffith Park inside their faux 1980s Fort Apache stucco building. It will be all marketed under the Autry name, destroying the memory of the Southwest Museum.

When Autry says that the existing "first floor" of the museum building in Griffith Park will be renovated to provide 25,000 square feet to exhibit the Southwest Museum's collections, do you know what that really means? Los Angeles' first museum is about to be moved into Autry's BASEMENT. How tacky is that?

When our group studied the Autry's lease of land in Griffith Park, we noted that any renovation of the Autry building that changes the walls and exceeds something like $20,000 requires permission from the Recreation and Parks Board. So that would mean that Autry does need permission from the City.

It takes a lot of nerve for the Autry to claim otherwise. A guess those lawyers from Latham & Watkins are spinning the City Council for dopes on that claim.

Hmmm...I have fond childhood recollections of visits to the Southwest Museum, and of passing it on the freeway literally a thousand times (and El Alisal--my mother took me there on the Red Car when you could still do that, as a tribute to the past). But that was the 1950s. I hope the facility finds good uses, but I just can't see it physically being up to the needs of contemporary museum practice. I'd certainly return there for small exhibitions but the question is, what kind of attendance do you need to sustain a program?

On the other hand, I try hard to get to the Autry whenever I'm in Los Angeles (and a lot of other museums too), and I've always found substantial, entertaining and worthy exhibitions and programs there. And visitors.

Mr. McConnell - Your question about the Southwest's capability to house exhibits is a logical one. At the beginning, Autry hired a team of experts to study that very question. The team concluded that with a proper capital investment (less than what Autry wants to spend in Griffith Park), the Southwest Museum could be rehabilitated to meet current museum exhibition standards.

In the 2003 merger, there were plans and about $3 million raised to construct a state of the art collections storage building. Although Autry paid $0 for all of the Southwest's assets, the money dedicated to the new collections storage building was redirected by Autry to pay for its merger legal expenses and conservation of the collection.

So in answer to your question, the Southwest Museum could continue to exhibit its collection at the dramatic hillside site proposed by Charles Fletcher Lummis, but the Autry board continues to want it all in Griffith Park. Hundreds of thousands of school children and tourists could visit the collection where it was intended to be seen and they could take the train like you did as a child. Today, the ever growing light and heavy rail system of Los Angeles could bring classes and visitors to the "Southwest Museum" rail station at the foot of the hill. That is better than Autry's basement.


Do you mean the Northeast's hilltop gentrifiers and South Pasadena wannabees more interested in their property values than the (long overdue) preservation of the Southwest Museum collection, and who wanted to leverage this global heritage for an underground parking structure and a hilltop restaurant? Or Charles Lummis and the history of the collection itself? (Quite "racist," indeed.) Or perhaps you mean those who have denied for years that leading Native American groups support the Autry National Center, and indeed serve on its board?

I hope that the communities of the San Gabriel Valley and Arroyo Seco remain as effective as they were last year to hold Mrs. Autry and her Board of Directors accountable for promises made as a condition of being entrusted with the beautiful Southwest and its collections.

No one begrudges the Autry for its enthusiasm in the conservation of the extensive collections of the Southwest Museum. But everyone is appalled by Autry's now obvious plan to take the collection for itself and ditch the National Register of Historic Places Southwest Museum site.

As the messages above suggest, everyone who feels the most passionate should ratch down the racist stuff. The Autry thinks they are "doing the right thing" by taking the collection. It's very misguided, but not motivated by race per se. As for the community, well I cannot follow the logic on those odd accusations.

Here are the plans proposed by the "Friends" of the Southwest Museum, an organization of Highland Park property and business owners led by a land use litigator.


Note that there are no calls for storage , or preservation and conservation of the Southwest Museum's world-class collection from those claiming that the the Mt. Washington campus must remain a "real" museum. It is also interesting that in a community that is very sensitive to land-use issues, the "Friends" have not held one single public meeting to promote their vision of massive development on the Arroyo Seco's most historic ridge line, hosting "hundreds of thousands" of tourists each year. A development that in my opinion would indeed obliterate one of Los Angeles' most beautiful and historic structures, the Southwest Museum. (Full disclosure: I am a lifetime member of the Southwest Museum, and live on that ridge line.)

The Autry has always been clear that their focus is on the collection, and the appropriate continued use of the building and campus as galleries and space for community programs, much as it was originally envisioned by Lummis himself. The "Friends" have failed in their efforts to leverage the collection for a massive development and tourist attraction. It is time to move on.

Has anyone heard that Autry's President John Gray has the gall to now tell the Historical Society of Southern California that all of the furniture and fixtures of El Alisal, the historic home of Charles Lummis, belong to the Autry? Will the Autry try to strip El Alisal of its artifacts and take that away from the community too?

Why doesn't Gray just load up all of the cultural sites of Northeast Los Angeles and cart them away? Next will we see the historic mansions of Heritage Square and Chicken Boy rolling up San Fernando Road to the new Autry collections (loot) storage center?

These actions are bordering on criminal.

is this really the time to be expanding when arts education and NEA endowments are being obliterated? a nice donation to local arts groups or summer art camp for poor kids or underwriting grants to native american artists would be a much better use of money and might make a difference in someone's life. an expansion of this museum will not change anyone's life, except maybe the administrator's.

Racist? Basement? Did you see the proposed plans the Autry Center had?

I can't imagine how anyone could deny that the Autry Museum is one of the loveliest and most well-cared for museums in Los Angeles. And the expansion plans would have been a fantastic addition to Griffith Park and to the city.

Once again, LA screws itself. Good job.

Brett, the Autry expansion is tied to the egos of Jackie Autry and John Gray. Last year, the people of Los Angeles rose up in mass and demanded that the LA Council prevent the Autry from creating 25,000 s.f. in a giant expansion project intended to replace the exhibitions halls of the Southwest Museum. Autry withdrew its overblown and unfunded expansion project in an angry and fingerpointing huff. They blamed everyone except themselves.

This is what they have been doing since then. Plotting how to move the Southwest's collection out of the historic museum on Mt. Washington and make the historic building unneeded to exhibit its collection. What better way than to remodel Autry's former storage rooms in the basement as the "new" Southwest Museum collection exhibition space?

Is the LA City Council going to stand by passively while Autry does this to the Autry Museum building sitting in LA's own Griffith Park?

The Autry is making sure the community forgets the existence of the Southwest Museum.

For instance: five years ago they turned off the lights at night "for temporary repair". These have never been turned back on.

They spend plenty of money into ad campaigns for the Autry but does one ever see banners around LA for exhibitions at the Southwest Museum?

Years ago I participated in a behind-the-scenes insider's tour of the museum while they were debating whether it could act as a contemporary art museum. For starters, it was clear that John Gray has contempt for the local Southwest Museum community. He was really spitting fire about them. We then heard all about their do-good efforts to receive grant money for the restoration of the Southwest collection. From what I witnessed the grant funds had to be over a million dollars, if not quite a bit more. I imagine the grant application read something like: "restoration of the Collection at Southwest Museum for the viewing of the local underprivileged community etc etc". Obviously the Master Plan was to use grant money to determine the scope, then accession the collection. Once restored, move the collection to another location. I wonder if that last detail was included in the grant writing documents?

Most people probably don't know that there is a senior community of Native American Indians adjacent to the Southwest Museum. The reason they are there is so they can be close to their artifacts. Maybe they can be moved to the Autry as well?

The Autry gained control of the Southwest Museum (including both collection and museum) after the promise that they would use all available resources to keep it open. Period.
Lets make sure the Autry keeps its promise.

I find this whole process more than a bit unseemly - trying to make 'an end run' around regulation and city authorities as a way to rehabilitate what was once a promising merger project, but has now turned into nothing more than an obvious effort for the Autry to diversify its dated cowboy memorabilia/Manifest Destiny content before everyone realizes that the original museum was nothing more than a celebrity vanity project which suffers from an aging 'fan base' and increasing irrelevance.

A suggestion for the City Council - let them build/renovate/re-make whatever they'd like within the dated and understaffed Westworld edifice within Griffith Park, but attach a surcharge stipulation requiring that the museum augment their 90 year lease by paying market rate to the City for its use of the 13 acres they currently occupy.

Clearly, the museum has the extra money to spend (what with buying up foreclosed properties, annual staff layoffs, etc), and well can afford an increase on the $1 a year rent it's currently paying for use of City property -


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