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