AP Breaking News
Story search on Google News shows story ran in the following papers: San
Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Daily News, Pasadena
Star News, Riverside Press Enterprise
Indian museum closes amid controversy,
artifacts to be transferred to Autry
By PETER PRENGAMAN, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006
(06-29) 17:20 PDT Los Angeles (AP) --
The Southwest Museum of the American Indian, housing one of the country's
premier collections of American Indian artifacts, will close Sunday amid
accusations from community groups that the shuttering is a veiled power
play by the Autry National Center.
Over the next three years, the 240,000 objects in the collection will
be cleaned and catalogued in preparation to move to a new building next
to Autry's Museum of the American West. The new structure is pending city
Community groups argue the collection should stay in its current landmark
white adobe building in downtown. "This is a breach of the promises
that Autry made to this community," said Nicole Possert, co-chairwoman
of the Friends of the Southwest Museum coalition. "The historic structure
was built to be a museum."
Autry officials counter that keeping the collection where it's housed
isn't economically viable. They also argue the viewing will be enhanced
in a much larger building capable of showcasing many artifacts currently
"It's one of the most extraordinary collections and it's been hidden
away," said John Gray, the president and chief executive of the Autry
National Center. "There isn't space, and there has never been public
support to have a good exhibition program."
The roots of the dispute go back to 2003, when the Southwest museum merged
with Autry, a move billed as a way to enhance both museums, but also to
keep the struggling Southwest museum from closing.
Despite an extensive collection of Indian artifacts, including 13,500
Indian baskets as well as thousands of pre-Hispanic and Mexican objects,
the museum has suffered from a small endowment and declining membership
By contrast, the Autry museum, opened in 1988 by the family of the late
Gene Autry, was backed by a large fortune but had a collection made up
of movie memorabilia and Western paintings.
City officials tried to give the Southwest museum a boost a few years
ago, building a light-rail stop at the museum to alleviate parking difficulties.
Still, all parties agree that the status quo can't be the museum's future.
Insect infestations have threatened some artifacts, heavy rains last year
caused water to pour into some of the museum's cramped storage space,
damaging some displays.
Southwest's tower was severely damaged from the 1994 Northridge earthquake
and has never been repaired.
Gray estimated such renovations would cost $35 million to $40 million,
which wouldn't include a marketing program to get more people to visit.
He said there is no money or political will to make that happen.
Instead, the Autry plans to spend $6 million to $10 million to renovate
parts of the building. Meanwhile, its gift shop and a lobby display about
the project will be open on weekends and tours of the conservation work
will be available to museum members.
Those plans haven't eased worries about the building's future. "I
don't want us to lose a cultural landmark that has had a tremendous impact
on our community in terms of education and culture," said Ed Reyes,
a Los Angeles city councilman whose district contains part of the Southwest
Museum's grounds. "I was always under the impression that they were
not going to close it down."
The city has organized a series of public hearings on the museum's future.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said during his election campaign last year
that he wanted the Southwest to stay put, but more recently he hasn't
taken a position.