Editor’s Note: If you support retaining the Southwest Museum as a a living museum, you can help by going to the Friends of the Southwest Museum’s website and joining their email and fax campaign.
Of all the dozens of city issues I’ve learned a lot about in the last year or so, the one that befuddles me the most is the Battle of the Museums — Autry vs. Southwest.
As things stand, we have a really mediocre facility in the Autry in Griffith Park and a rundown facility in the Mt. Washingon/Glassell Park area that represents the oldest museum in LA, a landmark on the Eastside.
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.
The showdown in this long war comes Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Room 350 before City Hall’s Board of Referred Powers with both sides mounting intense campaigns by fax and email and mobilizing their supporters to attend.
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.
I just don’t get it.
The city’s cultural and political leadership valued the Southwest and its collection so little they allowed the building to deteriorate and the collection to be looted until it reached the point that the Autry came in as the white-hatted hero with promises to restore it as a living museum.
But that isn’t what happened. After the takeover of the Southwest, the Autry started making plans to operate only one museum, not two as promised.
Despite promises the Autry Museum will eventually inherit a good chunk of the estate when Jackie dies, it has operated on a relative shoestring for many years and it’s far from clear it has the money to expand the facility.
The questions I keep wondering about are these:
* If the Autry now can raise the huge sums needed to expand, why can’t it raise the much smaller amount needed to restore and operate the Southwest?
* If the city’s leaders think there is so much value in a first-rate museum celebrating the Old West, why did they neglect the Southwest for so long, why have they not come forward with money?
* Where’s Hollywood? Don’t the studios have a stake in promoting the Cowboy and Indians story anymore, in actually contributing to the city’s cultural life instead of running away elsewhere to make movies on the cheap?
For my money, this conflict epitomizes the cultural poverty of the city and the lack of political will to create great institutions like Disney Hall and and preserve local institutions as well like the Southwest Museum.
City Hall could not start down that happy trail towards a greater LA on Tuesday by supporting the two-museum solution but don’t bet on it.