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With an eye toward Google, the Autry has changed its name

With an eye toward Google, the Autry has changed its name
The sign behind Autry president W. Richard West Jr. is due for an update: The Autry National Center of the American West this week changed its name to the Autry Museum of the West. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

The Los Angeles institution that since 2002 has called itself the Autry National Center of the American West is now the Autry Museum of the American West – a change brought on partly by the fact that Google apparently shrugs at the term "national center" but gives priority to the term "museum."

"[Given] what pops up on Google as you look for places, the fact we did not have 'museum' in the name was not helpful to us," said W. Richard West Jr., the Autry's president.

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So starting this week the Autry quietly has changed its name, the new moniker now appearing on its website, with changes to physical manifestations such as signage soon to come.

There's more to it than wanting to be Google's sweetheart, West said.

When it opened in 1988 in Griffith Park, it was the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, named after the singing cowboy and actor. (Jackie Autry, his widow, remains its biggest donor.)

It became the Autry National Center of the American West in 2002 to reflect a merger with – actually an absorption of – the financially crippled Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Mt. Washington.

The reasoning was that an umbrella-like name was needed to enfold a newly tripartite entity consisting of the Autry, the Southwest Museum and the newly hatched Institute for the Study of the American West, which combined the research functions of the two merged museums.

But those three functions no longer seem very separate, West said, and the notion of what a museum does has grown more expansive. The Autry's board decided it would make sense to refer to a single, wide ranging function – being a museum.

"The name Autry National Center is a bit of a misnomer and out of date," West said. "The notion [at the time of the merger] was that the [three wings] would be separate, and I think, happily, that is not what occurred."

Not everybody has been so happy about the Autry's push for a single identity. Its most persistent problem, dating back a decade or more, has been protests by Angelenos who want the Southwest Museum to have its own strong identity and exhibitions.

But the Autry has made it clear it doesn't want to – and can't afford to – operate both sites full scale.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is trying to serve as a sort of referee, conciliator and brainstorm-coordinator, having entered the picture early this year by declaring the 101-year-old, castle-like Southwest Museum building a national treasure and volunteering to help chart a more active and useful future for it.

The process began with interviews with 90 "stakeholders" who have an interest in the Southwest's future. A meeting to present a report on those findings is scheduled for Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. at Ramona Hall, 4580 N. Figueroa St.

Follow @boehmm of the L.A. Times for arts news and features

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