When the Southwest Museum opened its doors in Mount Washington in 1914, it was "the Getty of its day," as the LA Times's Hector Tobar once wrote—a big, showy building, placed like a beacon on a hilltop, that demonstrated that Los Angeles was a cultural force, a major city, and a worthy steward of its history. Today, it's been essentially closed for nearly a decade. But, reports the LA Times, the building has now been named a "national treasure" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but there's little information yet on what that will mean for the building, which is in need of costly renovations if it ever hopes to open to the public again for more than its current schedule of six hours every Saturday.
Founded by Charles Fletcher Lummis, a Nineteenth-Century booster and journalist who famously walked to Los Angeles from Ohio in 1884, and designed by the powerhouse architecture firm of Hunt & Burns, the Southwest Museum possessed an incredibly vast collection of Native American artifacts from the Western US, and pieces important to early California history, much of which was gathered by Lummis in the early days of the museum. The museum's Native American collection is still considered one of the world's most extensive and significant of its kind, though no one would know because it's mostly in storage since the Autry National Center, the American West museum based in Griffith Park, took over the museum's holdings in the mid-2000s.
In the announcement of the museum's new status today, a rep for the NTHP says that the next step is to figure out the future of the museum and to prepare a way to fund that future. The Southwest Museum could be revived museum, or be converted to something totally new, like a venue for a mixture of cultural, educational, or even commercial purposes. What better time, then, to look back at how the museum was in its best days? We've gathered a few great shots of the Southwest Museum's heyday, from the decorated tunnel entrance to the castle-like tower.