The battle over the future of the Southwest Museum on Mt. Washington has been going on almost since the first day it was taken over in 2003 by the Autry National Center in Griffith Park. Many residents and organizations from Northeast Los Angeles have worried from the start that the 102-year-old Southwest Museum, which owns a treasure-trove of Native America artifacts, would lose its collection and its identity despite promises by the Autry to keep the Mt. Washington landmark open. This afternoon, before a city panel called the Board of Referred Powers, the Friends of the Southwest Museum will try to prevent the Autry from getting permission to expand its facility in Griffith Park as part of its effort to ensure that the Mt. Washington facility will remain an active museum.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Mt. Washington, is "100 percent behind reopening the City’s oldest museum in its current Mt. Washington location," said spokesman Rick Coca. "The Southwest Museum belongs to the Mt. Washington community and the Councilmember strongly believes that’s where it should stay. Two years ago, Councilmember Huizar secured commitments from the Autry to renovate and restore the Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington and preserve its collection. He expects the Autry to honor those commitments."
The Autry and its supporters point out that the museum has so far invested $7.5 million in improvements and repairs to Southwest Museum. "While its vision for a new Southwest facility is not yet complete, the Autry has made substantial progress on its promises," the museum said in a review of its commitments.
Despite a vigorous campaign launched by the Autry's opponents, many sense that Board of Referred Powers will back its Griffith Park expansion plan today:
"It is a foregone conclusion that the board -- Janice Hahn, Ed Reyes, Tony Cardenas, Bill Rosendahl and Bernard Parks -- will green light the Autry's doubling its size and the Southwest Museum will get fixed up on the cheap and used as little more than classrooms," said Ron Kaye on his web site. "For all I've paid attention to the arguments on both sides, I can't understand why we can't have two wonderful museums dedicated to the artifacts and history of the Old West. The Southwest Museum's vast collection -- now owned by the Autry -- could sustain both museums as valuable community assets if there was the will and the money."
Fans of the Southwest Museum are not giving up. Not only have they launched an extensive campaign to raise awareness of today's vote, they have also arranged to bus in supporters for the 3 pm. hearing at City Hall.
Photo from Friends of the Southwest Museum web site