Southwest Museum Up for Grabs

2019 April Editions Updates

By Mary Lynch

At the kickoff event on March 17 of the Lummis Legacy League, some 150 people mingled, listened and offered support for the group’s mission to save three endangered cultural landmarks in Northeast Los Angeles: The Southwest Museum in Mount Washington, El Alisal (a.k.a. the Lummis House) in the Arroyo Seco and the Casa de Adobe in Highland Park.

Mari Pritchard Parker, a professional archeologist and Chairperson of the newly formed organization welcomed the crowd. Members of the Kizh Nation performed a traditional opening ceremony. Suzanne Lummis, granddaughter of Charles Lummis who founded the Southwest Museum and built El Alisal from river rock, addressed the gathering.

Nine days later, the Autry Museum of the American West, which owns the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe, issued a “Request for Interest,” seeking investors who are interested in being new “partners/owners” of the properties. for “community benefit,” a phrase that covers just about any use, from live-work spaces, cafes, restaurants and retail to offices, performance venues and meeting spaces.

The Autry told the L.A. Times that in a best case scenario, the new owner would partner with the Autry on educational programming, exhibitions and events related to the Southwest Museum’s collection. Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who is working with the Autry to find suitors for the landmarks, said in a statement that he anticipates the project “will bring major cultural, community, and economic benefits.”

The Autry’s move is a blow to community activists, who have long tried to steer the Autry toward revitalizing the Southwest Museum and exhibiting its artifacts there. (Currently, the artifacts are in an Autry storage facility in Burbank.)  But it’s also the direction things have been headed for a while.

Previous searches by the Autry for a deep-pocketed partner to help with the museum’s rehabilitation costs have dragged on and then ended in failure – a lack of progress that has long angered and frustrated some of the community supporters of the Southwest Museum.

No one from the Autry attended the kickoff event of the Lummis Legacy League, though they were invited. Nor did anyone attend from The National Trust for Historic Preservation, or the Office of Councilmember Cedillo.

Pritchard Parker says that Lummis Legacy League is “already working to create a coalition of interested parties to respond to the Autry’s Request for Interest.”