“Hopeful chaos.” That’s how Friends of the Southwest Museum Co-chair Nicole Possert describes the outcome of today’s City Council Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee meeting regarding the Autry National Center’s plans to remodel in Griffith Park, a move undertaken, in part, to show artifacts from of the Southwest Museum collection.
Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who chairs the committee, represents Griffith Park and its surrounding communities. He supports the Autry’s plans and stated his belief that the purpose of the meeting was limited to correcting a City Information Technology oversight in not publicizing a Recreation and Parks Board hearing on the matter. The public was given the chance to speak at today’s meeting. From LaBonge’s perspective, done deal.
Councilmember Ed Reyes, who shares representation of the area around the Southwest Museum Mount Washington site with Councilmember José Huizar, was persistent in wanting the impact of the Autry’s plans on the Southwest Museum and its affiliated Casa de Adobe put on the table.
The third council committee member, Herb Wesson, was not in attendance.
The outcome of the meeting was that there will be more meetings—somewhere and sometime and with potentially little notice.
Forty community members were entered into the record as being in favor of taking the Southwest Museum building and its collection into account when making any decisions.
The Autry contends that the Southwest Museum is not a factor in what is before the council. Ten people attended the meeting to speak in support of the Autry’s perspective—its attorney, its board chair, its CEO, a trustee, a volunteer attorney and five staff members.
The Autry must obtain city approval for any renovation costing $25,000 or more to its site, which is on city property in Griffith Park.
Reyes is not opposed to the Autry remodel, but wanted some questions answered, including:
• Why discussion of the Southwest Museum and its affiliated Casa de Adobe is not included in the Autry’s plan;
• What the Autry’s commitment to the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe, as a fully functional museum, is;
• And when the Council might be able to obtain a copy of an Autry National Center plan with the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe included.
Autry Chief Executive Officer Daniel Finley argued against the relevance of Reyes’ questioning, saying that what was before the committee is a narrow issue and that the Southwest is part of a larger issue.
LaBonge told Reyes that he was willing to agendize Reyes’ questions for a future meeting, but he agreed with Finley on the narrow scope of today’s meeting.
Joan Cumming, Senior Director for Marketing and Communications at the Autry National Center, told the committee that the terms of the $6.6 million state grant that makes the proposed remodel possible require that work be completed by 2017. The condition of the Southwest Museum facility, including its lack of ADA compliance, would have made opening galleries there by 2017 doubtful, thereby eliminating the Autry from grant contention.
“There has been no investment in the Southwest,” responded Reyes. “That put us in this position. We have to figure out how to bring this museum to life.”
Reyes addressed an Autry contention that the center has to have its grant reporting on its $6.6 million in state funds for the remodel submitted by July, making immediate council support essential, by pointing out that the State has granted extensions before.
Northeast Los Angeles residents in attendance were very much in accord with Reyes’ line of questioning.
The Northeast Community Plan, part of the city general plan, says that the City shall support the presence of the Southwest Museum at its current location. No move can be made regarding the Southwest Museum building and its existing uses without an examination of that move’s impacts.
“The First Californians exhibit and the ethno-botanic garden [both elements of the Southwest Museum on Mount Washington, both listed as new elements for the revamped Griffith Park site] are existing uses,” said Mark Kenyon of the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance.
Darryl Ramos Young of Highland Park contended that, while the Autry National Center now has three separate sites, the view should be one of the collection as a whole.
“Impacts to all three sites—Burbank, Mount Washington and Griffith Park—should be addressed,” said Ramos Young.
“The project did not take into account the general plan,” said Possert. “Look at it carefully to make sure we are not picking up the Southwest and moving it six miles to Griffith Park.”
Marshall McKay, Chairperson of the Autry National Center Board and Tribal Chairman of Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, disagreed with Northeast residents’ contention that the collection is intimately linked to the Southwest site in Mount Washington.
“The collection belongs to the Native People who created it,” said McKay. “The Autry holds it in trust. Native people have continually endorsed this.”
McKay added that the state grant “will make the collection available to hundreds of thousands of visitors for generations to come.”
Yadhira De Leon, the Autry’s public relations manager, spoke of the Autry’s dedication to telling stories of complex cultures.
“Simplifying the argument to cowboys versus Indians does a disservice,” said De Leon.
What happens from here is rather up in the air.
Huizar staff member Paul Habib spoke for the councilmember, saying that Huizar would like to see the matter returned to the full council.
Reyes wants a report from the City Attorney before the council as to whether there can be an extension of the time framework for state grant reporting, but, the councilmember was clear, not out of any anti-Autry sentiment, nor for any impossible expansion of the scope of a specifically targeted grant. Reyes’ goal is to move forward in the hope that the future of the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe can be brought into a discussion with an amicable resolution.
Any changes to the original Rec and Parks decision would have the effect of sending the matter back to that department’s board.
LaBonge, however, was sticking with his contention that the council assertion of jurisdiction over the Recreation and Parks decision was specifically to allow a public hearing to be held.
“Now that hearing has been held,” said LaBonge.
LaBonge is willing to take the matter back to the full council to say that the hearing was held. However, he views impacts on the Southwest as matter for a separate discussion.
The committee ended with LaBonge stating a need to consult with the City Attorney as to how to proceed. He will then, as committee chair, either send the matter on to the full council or bring it back to the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee. The next regular meeting of the committee is June 14. If LaBonge calls a special meeting due to the tight timeline on the grant, only 24 hours public notice will be required.
On the Southwest Museum’s role in the future of Los Angeles:
“Just because the Southwest Museum’s role is historic,” said Autry Marketing Assistant and Mount Washington resident Tessie Borden, “doesn’t mean it has to stay stuck in the past.”
“Old historic buildings get transformed with new love from other institutions,” said LaBonge.
“In our eyes,” said Habib speaking on Huizar’s behalf, “[The Southwest Museum’s] place in Los Angeles future is as important as its place in Los Angeles history.”
13-year old Genesee Hall of Highland Park told the committee members of her attendance at the Arroyo Seco Magnet School where it was once possible to use the resources of the Southwest Museum in studies.
“But that program no longer exists,” said the eighth grader.
“The City of Los Angeles has to have some feeling somewhere in its gut for the oldest museum in Los Angeles,” said Louis Mraz of Mount Washington.