31755Mt. Washington Association President's Message July 2014
- Jul 20, 2014
By Carol Jacques
Over the past ten years we have all heard the "Save the Southwest Museum" mantra. The Mt. Washington Association (MWA), like many other organizations in Los Angeles, wants to save the Southwest Museum (SWM) and the Casa de Adobe (Casa). The MWA has had a working relationship with the Autry National Center (Autry) for more than five years. We have openly expressed our gratitude to the Autry for doing an outstanding job in the conservation of the artifacts which, without their intervention, might otherwise have been destroyed.
The MWA has not been a part of the lawsuits against the City of Los Angeles filed by the Mt. Washington Homeowners Alliance (Alliance) and the Highland Park Heritage Trust (Trust), pertaining to the Autry and the SWM. This should not be interpreted as not caring about our "community jewel." Some of us have simply felt that the stand-off between the Autry and the other organizations was a stalemate. Personally, I had simply lost hope.
MWA member Gabriel Buelna had been working with the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition team until he left the Coalition leadership last year and founded a group called "El Plan". The El Plan group updated our community on facts that some may not have previously been aware of. We learned that, in the merger agreement between the Autry and the Southwest Museum, there was an artifact de-accession clause. This clause stated that, effective ten years after the merger of the two institutions, beginning on June 30, 2013, the Autry could trade or sell the artifacts at their discretion.
The Autry has assured El Plan that they have no intention of selling any artifact. Additionally, the Autry was a third party of interest in the law suits, filed by the Alliance and the Trust, against the City of LA. Subsequently, the Autry could not and had not met with either group or the umbrella coalition, Friends of the Southwest Museum, for many years.
In January of this year, El Plan formed a team consisting of Gideon Krakov, Ray Verches, Gabriel and me. Later, Roger Lowenstein joined the team. The team met with Stacy Lieberman and David Burton of the Autry and began to discuss ways that we might come together on a future for the SWM, Casa, and the artifacts.
We began an important dialogue that led to clarity on a number of facts
· the buildings, the land and the artifacts are private property and legally belong to the Autry
· the building has a historic landmark designation; landmark status has to do primarily with preserving architectural features, not historic functions or uses
· at this time, the minimal cost to restore the SWM building is between $25 and 40 million dollars; this is only the cost of capital improvements and does not include the cost of operation or programs
· the Autry has conserved the Lummis artifact collection
· the Autry is currently spending approximately $500,000 a year to keep the doors of the SWM open, on a limited basis, and has no additional funds to spend on conservation, restoration, etc.
· the mission statement of the Autry is limited to the southwest region of the United States
· the collection of artifacts that the Autry acquired, as a result of its merger with the SWM, includes artifacts from the US, Mexico, Central, and South America
· the Autry is willing to consider all options for development of the SWM and Casa sites
· In February of this year, the Alliance and the Trust lost their law suits. In finding favor for the City, the court stated that "...the City of Los Angeles did not abuse its discretion when it approved the remodeling of the Gene
Autry Heritage Museum in Griffith Park..." and found the project exempt from environmental review.
The meetings that the El Plan group held with the Autry resulted in a recommendation for a roundtable discussion meeting that was held on May 28 at the Braun Research Library of the Southwest Museum. Not wishing to be redundant, I have included elsewhere in this newsletter the "Meeting Overview and Possible Uses" sections written by the Autry.
I came away from the roundtable with the distinct impression that there was hope for combination use funding for the SWM and Casa if the community could come together to create a common vision. No plan was developed at the May 28th meeting. However, a lot of potential ideas were vetted, ranging from open space to academic use, to a continued museum component.
A common vision can only be achieved by reaching out to other community organizations and including them in the dialogue. After the meeting at the Braun Library, I immediately decided to call Daniel Marlowe, President of the Alliance. I invited Daniel to the El Plan team "next step meeting" of June 14. He cordially accepted my invitation. Present at that meeting were Gabriel and Pilar Buelna, Ray Verchez, Roger Lowenstein, Fernando Orozco, Natalie Seaman, Daniel, and I. The consensus, at that meeting, was that the next step should be to hire a neutral facilitator who would conduct public meetings for the purpose of creating a common vision within the fiscal realities of $25 to $40 million in capital project funds, not including operations and programs costs. It is my understanding that the Autry has also met with the Trust and the Arroyo Arts Collective since the May meeting. These are great first steps in the process of consensus building.
I believe the decision for the plan must be transparent and guarantee community representation and input at all levels. No single entity or group should monopolize the conversation prior to presentation to the community. Rather, the discussion should be held at open public meetings for the purpose of providing community consensus.
We can be successful in developing an SWM/Autry transition plan when we achieve community consensus and can also identify and guarantee funding resources for a minimum of ten years. We must also develop an alternative plan for the land, the buildings, and the artifacts, in the event funding sources or plans are not successful or forthcoming.
Any successor plan should include community guarantees for control of the buildings, the land, the space, the artifacts, as well as outcome scenarios. There
must also be discussion on all other remaining issues that will impact the community such as parking and traffic. The community should have a clear understanding as to who the decision makers are in regard to the above.
I look forward to working with Daniel Marlowe, President of the Alliance, and representatives of other groups to create a common vision that will make our Northeast jewel a vibrant public destination for Angelenos and visitors alike. I have hope again for a future with a fully functioning, re-envisioned Southwest Museum and Casa for the enjoyment and education of our future generations.