The Autry re-opens the Southwest Museum

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Photo by Abel Gutierrez.

Photo by Abel Gutierrez

Ever since the Southwest Museum closed its doors several years ago, supporters have been clamoring for the Mt. Washington landmark to reopen. Now they’re getting their wish– to a point.

Starting this weekend the Autry National Center will invite the public back to the 98-year-old museum – L.A.’s oldest – on a limited basis. The Autry took over an insolvent Southwest in 2003. Ever since, it’s been trying to convince often-skeptical fans, patrons and city officials that its stewardship is the best thing for the world-class collection.

Photo by Abel Gutierrez

People can now decide for themselves. The Southwest will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But visitors will only get to see a fraction of the museum’s 250,000-item trove of Native American art and artifacts. Most of the items, including clothing, pottery, basketry, weapons, kachina dolls and sculpture, are packed away after being cleaned up and catalogued in a $9 million conservation effort funded by grants and private donations. Select items from the collection will end up at the Autry’s Griffith Park museum and much of the rest will be stored at a new 100,000-square-foot research facility under construction in Burbank. What remains will be on display in Mt. Washington. In addition to the exhibits the Autry says visitors to the Southwest will get an inside look at the conservation process. Admission and parking are free.

The question remains: Will the Southwest extend its hours so more people can visit? Autry National Foundation President and CEO Daniel Finley is non-committal on that point. He says public demand will determine if new days and hours are added to the schedule. I spoke with him about the collection, the reopening and the Autry’s oversight of the Southwest.