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Huizar’s Prenuptial Deal: Binding Agreement to Keep Both Autry, Southwest as Living Museums

In a dramatic last-minute shift, Councilman Jose Huizar proposed a “prenuptial agreement” that would require the Autry National Center to renovate the Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington and operate it as a living museum as part of its lease agreement with the city for its planned expansion in Griffith Park.

It wasn’t clear that Huizar’s Solomon-like “splitting the baby” proposal fully pleased either of the warring parties.
The Autry took over the Southwest and its vast collection of artifacts of the Old West in 2003 at a time when the city’s oldest museum was in disrepair and had suffered years of mismanagement  It has spent $7 million on repairs to the century-old facility and promised to restore it but refused to enter into a binding agreement.

Eastside activists have waged an intense campaign to block the Autry’s 79,,000 square-foot expansion that would more than double the size of its Griffith Park museum and demanded that the Southwest be fully restored  and operated as the main site for display of the collection of 250,000 artifacts.

On Tuesday afternoon before an overflow crowd in the City Council chambers, the years-long fight came to a head before the five-member Board of Referred Powers.

“While I believe that the Autry is acting in good faith when it says it is committed to renovating the Southwest Museum, I think the community deserves to have a binding commitment in writing to ensure that they and future generations enjoy one of Los Angeles most treasured
cultural institutions,” said Huizar, who represents the area.

The board — Janice Hahn, Ed Reyes, Bernard Parks, Bill Rosendahl and Tony Cardenas — gave Huizar four weeks to negotiate the agreement with a firm timeline for the Southwest’s

Here’s a report from the meeting by writer Chris Rowe, a West Hills Neighborhood Council member:
Thumbnail image for southwest.jpg
At the start of the meeting, it was announced that Councilmember Huizar wanted to speak first. And the
feeling from the “Friends of the Southwest” was one of fear. Would this
Councilmember ask his colleagues to support the Autry.

In a surprise to everyone present (Friends of the Southwest), and the mood
was one of disbelief, Huizar spoke about a document signed by the
Autry that promised to protect both museums. He stated
that he wanted a ” Prenuptial Agreement” — a very finely crafted document that
was airtight that would protect the Southwest Museum and its contents from being
taken by the Autry for the purposes of creating the grander “Autry National
Center” at Griffith Park.
The Autry’s representatives stated that this hearing had only to do with
the EIR for the Autry  – and nothing to do with the Southwest Museum. They
believe that what the future of the Autry is will have no negative impact on the
Southwest Museum at all.
Brenda Levin, the architect for the expansion of the Autry gave a beautiful presentation
of the renderings of the future museum in Griffith Park. Levin spoke
about how this beautiful modern museum of glass would blend with the
landscape and incorporate the most modern of designs that fit the concept of
“Green Building”. As she spoke about how this glass structure was more natural –
I was thinking: “How much more natural can you be than the adobe of the
VICA’s president Stuart Waldman and many friends of the Autry spoke in
favor of the expansion at the Griffith Park site.
Native Americans — including Rudy Ortega Jr. of the Tataviam tribe — favored
the Autry. At least five representatives from different Native American groups said the Autry would be a place where more
small children would learn about their Native American cultures and the history
of these people and the missions in the area.
Daniel Wright of the Friends of the Southwest spoke about the need to
protect the Southwest Collection — to keep it at the Southwest intact. He said Levin had created a rendering of an expansion of the Southwest on
its current site prior to being hired to design the expanded 
Autry. A great deal of fuss had been made about the many projects that Llevin had designed throughout the City.

A descendant of Charles Lummis, who founded the Southwest, appeared to favor protection of both
The “Friends of the Autry” were given the first opportunity to speak. All
but about five of those who favored the Autry expansion who had filled out
speaker cards were given time to speak. Councilmember Hahn put on the
record those names that had not spoken as “Friends of the Autry”.
Then the “Friends of the Southwest” were given their “30 minutes”. Heinrich
Keifer and Dr. Clyde Williams among others spoke of the need to protect the
Southwest. Jose Aguillar said that as a member of the Sierra Club, he would
support withdrawal of support of Councilmembers who wanted to expand the project
in Griffith Park.

It was stated that 10 Neighborhood Councils favored protection
of the Southwest. They said that other NC members from throughout the City were
present to support the Southwest.

One of the best speakers to articulate the value of the Southwest was a
professor from Pepperdine. He spoke of two students — and the differences
of an affluent versus a poorer background. And he explained that by taking the
collection from the Southwest community, that it would create a greater
difference between the “haves” and the “have nots,” because the Eastside community would
be deprived of those tourism dollars and this educational resource.

I asked Huizar to request that Hahn ask those to stand that had
not had a chance to speak. There were about 50 people who opposed the Autry
expansion that did not have a chance to
speak. But she did not call out to the room the names of those who had
filled in speaker cards for the opposition. I never got to speak. So I do
not know if she ever received a speaker card for the record.
Finally,  Hahn called on the elementary school
age children that live in the community surrounding the Southwest
Museum. They had a “child crafted” display showing a full museum and what
an empty museum would be like if the collection was taken from the Southwest.
They said that they wanted the museum there for them that was full.
During the presentation,  Cardenas and Rosendahl had joined
the proceedings. Each Councilmember got to make a comment for the record.
Hahn concluded that she had come with the
expectation of making a decision that day. But she and the other Councilmembers
all agreed that the “Prenuptial Agreement” was in fact a very necessary step.
She wanted Huizar to go back and try to create air tight agreement
to protect the Southwest Museum’s collection.

I believe that Cardenas added, “This is why we no longer make treaties”. He went on to state
that we had broken every treaty ever made.

The decision as to the fate of the Southwest was left in the hands
of Huizar. He was given one month to work out the details with the
various entities, and to return to the Board with his efforts.

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7 Responses to Huizar’s Prenuptial Deal: Binding Agreement to Keep Both Autry, Southwest as Living Museums

  1. Anonymous says:

    I really don’t care about this issue, but when I click on I’m confronted with Laura Chick’s scowling face.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am tired of the snide spinners from the Mayor’s office or the Autry (Steve Sugerman?) who keep posting these “I do not care about this issue.” Really? Then move out of town because yesterday the Council chambers were filled and overflowing with people standing on the sides and back. That does not happen when most people “don’t care about the Southwest Museum.”
    People recognize that this issue is symbolic of how terribly wrong things are in our City Hall. But this is a line in sand. If the Council takes an action that enables Autry to be free to abandon the City’s beautiful first museum, then what next?

  3. Anonymous says:

    A couple of factual issues:
    1. The expansion in Griffith Park is 129,000 s.f., not the 79,000 s.f. in Huizar’s spinning press release.
    2. The Autry has NOT spent anywhere near the $7 million figure also in Huizar’s spinning press release. Autry CEO John Gray, keeps saying that.
    The work done on the building is funded by a 1994 FEMA grant given after the Northridge earthquake. It’s about $1 million. And then there is a State of California grant to fix the leak on the roof of the tower, caulk and replaster the tower, and some minor other repairs. That is about $934,000. So, Autry had to raise matching funds from someone else because it does not have the money to pay for the match required by the State. So, at most, about $3 million of OTHER PEOPLE’S money have been spent on the building. (Gray does not even acknowledge those people.
    Gray gets to the $7 million figure by morphing the building repairs with the cost of conservation of the collection. Most of the conservation effort is ALSO PAID BY OTHERS too. I would wager that the Autry Museum has actually paid out little or no funds from its own pre-merger resources on the Southwest Museum.
    And then there are the operating costs of the Southwest Museum. It would not surprise me to learn that Gray has rolled that into the total figures money spent by the Autry on the Southwest Museum.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Earlier a comment was made about the have/have-not aspect of this situation, which sadly, I believe to be the heart of the matter.
    This conversation should be about the theft of the treasures housed in the Southwest structure, and the Eastside community. But, really, who cares about a run-down museum (never mind it’s the oldest museum in Los Angeles).
    Early on, the City of Los Angeles could have stepped up to the plate and changed the outcome. Instead, when the Autry came riding in on the proverbial white charger to “save” the museum, it seemed that city council opened the doors to the foxes. However, not everyone in the community of Los Angeles adheres to the theory that the Autry is only here to help. There are some who believe the Autry will abscond with priceless artifacts and if somewhere along the line, they disappear into other collections, who cares…
    approximately 200 community members crowding city hall and countless grassroots organizations following this issue very closely, that’s who!

  5. Anonymous says:

    10:09: Here’s a hot piece of Spanish news for you: Nonprofit organizations, without exception, use “OTHER PEOPLE’S money”. That’s how it’s done.
    To imply that somehow the Autry National Center is up to something nefarious by obtaining grant monies shows either willful ignorance or the deliberate intent to mislead.
    Countless staff hours are spent drafting and submitting highly technical proposals that require strict standards of documentation and receive professional scrutiny on the part of the Grantor. Grantors take months to vet these proposals. High dollar grants come with strict legal limitations: the grant recipient must use the grant money only for the purpose for which it was requested. Granting agencies also have strict reporting standards on the use of granted funds.
    Like any other nonprofit on the face of the earth, once the Autry receives a grant, those funds become part of the budget and the Autry then has the responsibility of planning and executing the work for which the grant was requested. Checks in payment for that work come from the Autry, not the grantor. So, John Gray has every right to say that the Autry invested $7.5M since the Autry obtained the grants.
    Aside from the building repairs on the Southwest Museum, the museum has monthly operating costs that are paid whether or not the facility is open to visitors. According to documents available online, when the museum was open, those expenses ran to $100,000 a month. That’s $1.2M a year. When the merger took place, the Autry assumed responsibility for those monthly expenses. Add up three years (2003-2006) and you’ve got $3.6M in operating costs alone.
    Operating costs are still costs. If that’s part of the $7.5M it’s still money raised for that purpose and spent for that purpose. So, what’s your beef?
    Next you’ll be slamming the Autry for using docents as “free labor”, even though it’s the age-old practice of every museum in the world.
    In any case, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe you should just stick to the graphics business, Chuck.

  6. Anonymous says:

    8:55 a.m.
    It is NOT cool for Autry CEO John Gray to plump up financial numbers and he has a documented history of misrepresenting the financial situation of the Autry.
    you can reach the report by non-profit accounting expert Jack Siegel that reports how the Autry used a misleading balance sheet to entice the Board of the Southwest Museum and the Attorney General to approve the merger in the first place.
    Add to that Gray’s 8 years claiming the Autry has a $100 million endowment when, in fact, it’s just a pledge to pay on Mrs. Autry’s death, means that Autry will not see any real endowment money for approximately 20 more years. Check the dictionary: an endowment is an EXISTING fund of money in your possession generating a cash flow. That does not exist at the Autry with a $100 million pledge. Mrs. Autry is unable to give up control of her “gift” so right now, her $100 million “gift” is illusory.
    So, with that prelude, we get to the $7 million claim John Gray is now making before the City Council. How about Gray breaks it down? He keeps conflating the money spent on the collection (which Autry covets) and the money spent on the building (which Mrs. Autry does not, apparently).
    Let’s see some real transparency since most of the money is coming from grants, foundations, and only a small portion is coming from actual Autry resources.
    Does the Autry have any duty to give its funding sources some credit before City Council? Does Autry have a moral obligation to do so in order to avoid confusion in the public?
    Words are important and Gray’s constant use of the word “investment by Autry” is inherently misleading. Autry is acting as a steward of other people’s money. It ought to treat its foundation and major supporters with greater respect.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My bet is that the LA Conservancy or some other historic preservation group stepped in and demanded that the SW Museum be saved as a historic landmark. That’s the only explanation that makes sense. Huizar is taking the credit, but I doubt he has the guts to stand up for the museum, if there is nothing political in it for him.
    Credit some historic society group for kicking some butt and credit the Friends of the Southwest Museum for keeping the hope alive.

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