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Over Environmental Objections : Gene Autry Museum Wins Go-Ahead

July 13, 1986|RICHARD SIMON | Times Staff Writer

Over environmental opposition, a Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park moved a step closer to reality last week with the granting of approvals from a Los Angeles City Council panel.

The Board of Referred Powers, on a 5-0 vote, approved an environmental study declaring that the project "will not have a significant effect" on the park. It also authorized the city staff to negotiate a lease with the Autry Foundation for construction and operation of the museum. The board must then vote on the lease.

sh Loss of Parkland Cited

The board last August unanimously approved construction of the museum east of the Golden State Freeway next to the Los Angeles Zoo parking lot. Since then, substantial opposition has surfaced from environmental groups and the League of Women Voters. All have criticized the loss of increasingly scarce urban parkland.

Councilman Joel Wachs, in whose district the proposed museum site is situated, Tuesday repeated his enthusiastic support of the project.

"We're so lucky to be able to get it," he said, adding that the museum site is now "one of the least desirable" areas of the park.

However, Councilman Michael Woo, whose district includes much of the surrounding neighborhoods, expressed concern about the project.

"Although the Gene Autry Museum may be a wonderful development which will be enjoyed by many, it is once again an intrusion upon precious open space in the city of Los Angeles," Woo wrote in a letter to the Board of Referred Powers. "Mitigation measures should be considered carefully and the worth of the project weighed against the losses."

Woo said he wants limitations placed on the size and height of the project and wants to make sure that the open space portions of the site will be landscaped rather than paved.

Mary Barrow, a spokesperson for the museum, said that most of the parking needs will be met by re-striping existing parking lots at the zoo. The museum site would include a new 330-space lot, but she stressed that it would be landscaped.

The Autry Foundation was created by Autry's first wife, Ina Mae, who died in 1980, and now is run by the former cowboy star's wife, Jackie. It proposes to build a two-story Spanish-style building to house more than 15,000 Western artifacts, including the art of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

The Board of Referred Powers, made up of five council members, was asked to act on the matter by the city's Recreation and Park Commission, which normally decides questions of park use. The board acts on matters that may pose a conflict of interest for a commissioner. In this case, Commissioner Mary Nichols' husband works for the law firm that represents the Autry Foundation.

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