Southwest Museum building exterior.

photo by: Carmel France

Treasure It Together: Southwest Museum Site

Creating a Shared Vision for the Next Century

The Challenge

The first museum in Los Angeles, the Southwest Museum was opened in 1914 by Charles Lummis, a visionary historian whose unparalleled collection of Native American art and artifacts is considered one of the most important and comprehensive of its kind. Throughout the 20th century, the historic museum building, sited prominently in Mt. Washington and designed by Sumner Hunt and his partner Silas Burns in the Mission Revival style, welcomed visitors from around the world.

However, many years of financial challenges and declining attendance led the Southwest Museum to merge with the Autry in 2003. At that time, the Autry assumed responsibility for the site’s historic buildings (which includes the historic Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the 1917 Casa de Adobe, a large, hand-built adobe structure that was intended to be a replica of a historic early California rancho), its 12-acre campus, an archive, and a collection of over 250,000 ethnographic and archaeological artifacts. While the Autry has undertaken the careful documentation, conservation, and preservation of the museum’s vast collection of art and artifacts in their new Resources Center, and stabilizing the historic museum building to correct earthquake damage, the Autry and the community have not yet been able to reach consensus on the most viable, appropriate, and sustainable use for the historic buildings and grounds.

The Southwest Museum site was announced as a National Treasure on January 22, 2015, to a large and enthusiastic audience. With this designation, the National Trust kicked off a complex, multi-phased planning process that included an intensive stakeholder interview process, an online survey, a year-long event series to draw new audiences and communities to experience the site in new ways, the formation of a talented Steering Committee to make connections and guide our work, and a detailed market assessment and reuse analysis. The end goal of the campaign is identification of appropriate, financially sustainable, long-term uses for the Southwest Museum site that reactive the buildings and grounds and respond to community needs.

More than 150 Southwest Museum site supporters turned out for the big day in January 2015.

If you’d like to know more about the role of National Trust or our planning process, please see our Southwest Museum Site Planning Process FAQ that addresses some of the most common questions.

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