Southwest Museum Controversy

In response to “Southwest Museum’s Decision to Move Is Blasted by Alatorre” (Metro, Oct. 11), the community is also upset at not being included in the most significant decision the museum has ever made.

In 1987, when the board of directors of the city’s oldest museum was quietly planning a merger and relocation of the museum, a coalition successfully countered that effort. Now, as in 1987, there are strong movements within various branches of city government, local businesses, community groups and concerned individuals to cooperate in any way to retain the museum on Mt. Washington.

There are strong currents in the Northeast community that perceive the move as a racial, cultural and economic insult. The ancestral history of American Indians and Hispanic Americans held at the museum reflects the ethnic composition of the community in which it now resides. To seek a new home for the collection would wrest it not only from its historic roots, but from the people whose legacy it holds.

The importance of the building and the site is central to this museum’s location and value. The board states that “the physical plant is not the collection,” but many disagree. The May, 1990, issue of Smithsonian says, “Its architecture a part of the display, the Southwest Museum . . . is one of Lummis’ more enduring achievements.” So important to Charles Lummis that he called the museum his “youngest child”; it was the fruit of his life’s work.


The museum also presents as reasons to move: inadequate space, parking and storage; but these certainly seem solvable. Off-site storage is already happening and new and different storage solutions should be researched. As for expansion and parking issues, the museum owns nearly 12 acres, much still vacant. Also, do we move a landmark to gain parking space? Should we move the Hollywood Bowl or City Hall?

The Southwest Museum is a landmark, and landmarks cannot be transplanted without great loss. The dioramas in museums are always the favorites because they show us the context, the wholeness that tells the real story.

The issue of moving the Southwest Museum is critical to the Northeast community, and we need the public’s help to encourage the board to rethink its present plans and instead work with the community and interested others to keep this museum here where it belongs.

It would be an unhealable wound to history, Los Angeles and the native peoples whose inheritance the museum holds, to pluck this flower from its native soil.




Co-chairs, Save Our Southwest Museum

Los Angeles