Old West Memorabilia in Griffith Park : Autry Museum Plan Triggers Verbal Shootout

Times Staff Writer

A public meeting called to discuss environmental concerns involving the proposed $14-million Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park turned into a heated question-and-answer session last week, pitting environmentalists and nearby residents against museum officials.

Many in attendance last Thursday night complained that parking and traffic will drastically increase if the museum is built. But William Law, a traffic consultant for the museum, said traffic should increase on a peak day no more than 14% on Crystal Springs Drive, Zoo Drive and Riverside Drive off Los Feliz Boulevard.

Other objections reflected one by the Sierra Club that no study had been conducted of alternative locations.

The city Department of Recreation and Parks last month issued a report, called “A Negative Declaration,” saying that the museum would not have a significant, adverse effect on the park environment.


But the Sierra Club and its members want a “full environmental impact report,” said Betty Reifsnifer, conservation coordinator for the club. In a letter to members of the Recreation and Parks Commission, the club said use of 13 acres of a publicly owned park is significant and that such a report is required.

Alternatives, Legality

The letter said an environmental report would also document a full range of alternatives, and mentions Rancho Simi parkland as a possible location.

The Sierra Club letter also questions the legal ramifications of “charging the public a fee to visit the museum. The park belongs to everyone, regardless of the ability to pay.”


Clyde Tritt, attorney for Gene Autry, said the museum would probably charge patrons the same prices that the zoo charges. “We have not made admission fees yet, but I think it is safe to say that adults’ fees will be $4.50 and children’s fees, $1.50, with discounts to senior citizens,” Tritt said after the meeting.

Other questions concerned the possibility that the museum would presage more construction in the park. “I think that it will lead to a precedent because the politicians are behind it. That’s what I am afraid of,” said Marty Tregnan, president of the Los Angeles Municipal Golf Assn.

View on Precedent

But Joel Breitbart, assistant general manager in charge of planning for the parks department, said: “I don’t think that open space is an issue and I don’t believe that the commission will let this set any type of precedent. They look at each project on each individual basis and the merits of each project.”


Architectural plans place the museum on 13 acres in the Pine Meadows section of Griffith Park, next to the Golden State freeway and beside the Los Angeles Zoo parking lot. The building itself would take 1.46 acres, said Mary Barrow, museum spokeswoman, with the rest set aside for parking and picnic areas.

Museum officials said they will add 430 parking spaces in a fully landscaped area in front of the museum. In addition, officials said a study found that restriping and reshaping the current zoo parking lot could increase existing parking from 3,646 to 4,280 spaces.

Artwork, Artifacts

The museum is being billed as a first-class collection of national treasures that will provide visitors with vast and unusual historical portraits of American Western heritage. It will include art of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, plus artifacts such as clothing, toys, games and furnishings of famous and ordinary people of the West.


Museum officials say that they already have $5 million worth of artifacts and that the structure and its preparation will cost another $14 million. In August, a Los Angeles City Council committee approved construction of the museum over the objection of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department. However, the full council must approve it before construction can begin.

A previous plan to build the museum in Burbank was abandoned in the face of strong opposition by environmentalists and neighbors.