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Ailing Museum Declared 'National Treasure' For Its Priceless Native American Collection

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Southwest Museum Pedestrian Entrance (Photo by Matthew Tinoco)
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After at least a decade of neglect and financial struggles, Los Angeles' Southwest Museum has been named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a "national treasure." The hopes are the designation brings a brighter future for one of the oldest museums in Los Angeles.The Southwest Museum of the American Indian was founded in 1907 by journalist Charles Lummis to exhibit artifacts of Native American culture, and moved into its current Mount Washington spot in 1914. In 2003 the Autry Museum took over the floundering institution, but has since been unable to commit resources, leaving it open only on Saturdays. "Our goal is to have a consensus around a shared vision and have a business model in place," Christina Morris, director of the National Trust's Los Angeles office, told the LA Times.

"I see this as an uplifting turning point in this saga that gets us out of the mired past and toward a collective and collaborative future," said Autry president W. Richard West, Jr.

Although the Autry has been committed to preserving the Southwest's invaluable collection of Native American artifacts, it lacks the resources to ensure it remains a viable public institution. Local community groups have put pressure on the Autry to invest more into the Southwest, and even successfully lobbied to prevent an expansion of the Autry in Griffith Park. In 2012, a lawsuit aiming to block renovations at the Autry was thrown out, and The National Trust moved in once the dust had settled.

The National Trust is a D.C.-based nonprofit that works to preserve historic sites across the country, and shines a spotlight on neglected and threatened locations by naming them "national treasures" or placing them on their yearly Endangered Historic Places list. It involves itself directly in the process of revitalizing the sites it targets.

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Autry officials say they have already invested $14.5 million into the Southwest Museum since taking over in 2003, and that it could cost up to $41 million to renovate the building.

The Southwest Museum isn't the first site in Los Angeles to be recognized by the National Trust. In 2012 Terminal Island was placed on this list, but has since been designated a preservation success story.