A long-standing stalemate over what to do about the Southwest Museum site in Mount Washington, California is getting some fresh attention, following a new report by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The largely-defunct museum has been declared a “national treasure,” and the report will be presented at a public meeting on Monday.
The Southwest Museum has been in financial—and literal—shambles for quite a long time. It was absorbed by the Autry Museum of the American West in 2003, but local supporters of the museum’s revival were concerned that the Autry Museum hijacked the project entirely and will do what they want to do with it.
Other California museums are doing well thanks to donations—like Thomas Weisel’s gift of a large collection of Southwestern art to the de Young Museum—but what makes the Southwest Museum special is its age: at 101, it’s Los Angeles’s oldest museum, and it was once a major showcase for art in the city. But because of its disrepair, the museum will be difficult to upgrade, though nearby residents believe that a working museum would not be impossible to achieve. But the Autry believes that bringing the museum to modern building codes would simply be too costly.
The National Trust is creating plans to revive the building and all 12 of its acres, piece by piece, with hopes that the plan can be implemented by the end of 2016. Residents are expected to rally strongly behind the initiative, optimistic about the museum’s restoration and outcome, but the decision on whether to move forward with the revival plan will ultimately be at the discretion of the Autry, which may not be willing to finance the expensive project.
“In general, longtime local residents from the surrounding neighborhoods were much more optimistic about the sustainability of a museum focus on the Native American collection,” the report said, but added that “other interviewees—particularly…museum professionals, political and government leaders and philanthropists—were more skeptical about the long-term financial viability” of restoring the Southwest.
It may be donations that will ensure the museum’s future. While the community and many of the people involved in the project are optimistic, it’s likely that the restoration will depend in part on sponsorship from individuals. Private donors, government funding, and earnings from the museum itself, perhaps through a gift shop or restaurant, are necessary to keep the museum alive.