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Southwest Museum loses deal

Casino-owning Pechanga tribe backs away from plan to borrow its artifacts.

November 19, 2002|Christopher Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

The Pechanga Indians of Temecula, who in May paused on the brink of a deal to borrow Native American artifacts from the cash-strapped Southwest Museum in Los Angeles in exchange for up to $1.3 million yearly, have backed away from the bargaining table.

The ruptured deal appears to put the Southwest Museum's leaders near square one in their efforts to find a financial angel. The talks began in 2001, when the Pechangas shouldered aside the Autry Museum of Western Heritage among the Southwest's suitors. But then the proposed pact was placed before the Pechangas' general membership in May, the tribe's members shied away, citing a shortage of details, along with the price and restrictions attached to the deal.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 21, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 347 words Type of Material: Correction
Museum deadline -- The Southwest Museum's deadline for proposals from would-be partners was incorrect in a story in Tuesday's Calendar. Instead of a Dec. 21 deadline, as the story stated, the deadline is today, with a response from the museum's board expected in December.

With the museum's offer effectively unchanged six months later, said Pechanga spokesman Butch Murphy, the tribe's leaders chose in early October to pull back from talks with the museum. Meanwhile, however, the Pechangas have pushed forward efforts to gather artifacts from other sources in preparation for building a new tribal cultural center.

A new proposal from Southwest might change things, said Murphy, but as an example of the tribe's alternative efforts, he noted the purchase of more than 1,100 items (including more than 200 baskets) from Fullerton collector Justin Farmer. The Pechanga cultural resources director, Gary DuBois, noted that though the purchase was made in early 2002, the tribe has been working on that acquisition for about three years, since well before its talks with the Southwest Museum began.

Southwest Museum officials had acknowledged that talks with the Pechangas were stalled in early October, when they announced that the Southwest was soliciting alternative proposals from other institutions. In early November, Southwest executive director Duane King said the museum had received no formal proposals and would extend its deadline to Dec. 21. He added that the museum's day-to-day operations would continue unchanged. King was unavailable for comment Monday.

The proposed deal would have given the Pechangas a chance to borrow thousands of the Southwest Museum's artifacts, 98% of which are held, unseen by visitors, in the Mount Washington facility's storage rooms. To display the artifacts, the Pechangas proposed a museum and cultural center of their own, which would rise near the tribe's hotel and casino on the edge of Temecula. In exchange for the loan of artifacts, the casino-wealthy tribe was to have provided $750,000 yearly to the Southwest Museum for five years, then as much as $1.3 million yearly once the items were on display at the reservation.

The Southwest Museum is the oldest museum in Los Angeles County, and owns a widely admired 350,000-piece collection of Native American art and artifacts from 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. But the institution has suffered staff and board member turnover in recent years, along with lagging attendance at its aged and isolated Mount Washington location.

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