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Curator at L.A.'s historic El Pueblo hopes this Cinco de Mayo won't be her last on the job [Updated]

May 6, 2010 |  6:00 am

PicoHouse As one of two curators for the museums and historic buildings in L.A.'s original settlement, El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Mariann Gatto had a busy El Cinco de Mayo.

The nearby Plaza Catholic Church needed help finding old photographs for a celebration. Gatto, whose many hats include managing a collection of more than 6,000 objects and tens of thousands of photographs, plucked some suitable ones from the archives.

A fourth-grade class in South Gate needed her services, too -- for them, she wrote up a history of the 19th century Pico House (pictured). Gatto, who grew up in Silver Lake and earned history and teaching degrees from UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles, said that the Los Angeles Unified School District and others use a history of L.A. that she compiled for elementary school children; she also has published a history of L.A.'s Little Italy.

Now a broke city may be on the verge of letting her go: The job Gatto has held for five years is in line to be cut under the austerity budget Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed to cope with an estimated $485-million deficit.

In all, the El Pueblo staff, which numbered 25 in 2006, is pegged to be reduced to 14 under a budget plan that calls for a 23.6% cut, down to $1.5 million. 

Besides losing Gatto, El Pueblo's history and museums division would lose $30,000 for museum guides and other "as needed" hires, and $15,000 for office help.

The budget proposal says conservation of the historic collections will be cut to avoid reducing museum hours, but John Kopczynski, events manager for El Pueblo, said Wednesday that the Chinese American Museum and the Plaza Firehouse Museum may have to close two days a week instead of Mondays only.

"These are often the things cut first, but perhaps there's another way," Gatto said Wednesday when Culture Monster called to find out how she'd spent what may be her last Cinco de Mayo as an El Pueblo historian and curator.

Kopczynski worries that, in addition to historical research and exhibitions, traditional community celebrations such as Las Posadas, El Dia de los Muertos and the spring blessing of the animals could become casualties due to a proposed cut of $50,000 in city funding. "Right now it's a big unknown," he said. "We're all sitting tight. We don't want to see anything lost."

-- Mike Boehm

Updated: The original post mistakenly referred to the Los Angeles United (rather than Unified) School District. May 6, 10:35 a.m.


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Photo: Pico House at El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times