[UDPATED with reaction from an Autry spokeswoman after the jump]. Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition say the Autry National Center in Highland Park plans to close the Southwest Museum of the American Indian on Dec. 31. The Southwest Museum, the Women of the West Museum and the Museum of the American West (formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage) merged under the Autry National Center banner in 2003.

Critics, including the coalition, have always been suspect about the Autry's motives for the expansion and merger, and the closure, they argue, confirms their stance that the Autry folks want to “begin selling off parts or all of the priceless collection, including the two historic museums – the Casa de Adobe and the Southwest Museum,” according to a coalition statement. The group calls the Southwest institution, established in 1914, L.A.'s first museum.

Autry spokeswoman Yadhira De Leon says that Southwest is not closing and that it will be slowing down to a one-Saturday-a-month schedule in order to facilitate ongoing “conservation and repairs” that will lead to it reopening as a “cultural education” center someday.

“We're doing the groundwork for the future of the southwest museum,” De Leon told LA Weekly. “It's not the end.”

She said the every-third-Saturday-of-the-month schedule, which would leave the museum open to “members only,” is not much of a change, since much of the Southwest has been shuttered for what the Autry is calling conservation work already.

“We didn't have any objects on display, so it's not that much of a difference,” De Leon said. “There was not much access already.”

In August museum boosters became alarmed when Autry shelved its $175-million expansion plans. Board members apparently balked at a city caveat that it vow to keep Southwest alive “in perpetuity” in return for approving the Autry's upgrade.

LA Weekly