The Autry Museum brings a realistic look at how Californians and Westerners lived life back in the olden days. The time frame presented by the museum spanned from early Native Americans, through Spanish exploration, and eventually Americanization. I went on a tour of the Autry with a friend who happens to be a docent at the museum. He invited my wife and I to join him and, I must say, he showed us some very interesting collections of historical artifacts. The collections represented all the various people who today call themselves Westerners and Californians. Even though each display revealed a slightly different facet into the way of life from the past, we saw a clear picture of life-styles built on self-sufficiency, hard physical labor, and a belief in the future.
My wife and I are both retired teachers and we couldn’t think of any other museum that presented all the segments of history as well as the Autry presented them. What makes this museum even more special was how every school day they offered docents-led tours to help visiting children visualize the real way of life as it was back then. Even a small glimpse of the daily routines seemed to be a wonderment for the youngsters, especially the ones who only know about the convenient technology at their fingertips. Our docent friend assured us that children were always enthralled by what they saw, and usually peppered him with enthusiastic comments and questions.
The museum officially titled the Autry National Center (founded by Gene Autry (1907-1998), a 1930’s singing cowboy) had evolved quite a ways from the original museum founded in 1988 featuring Autry’s collection of Western art and lifetime collection of memorabilia. Also, the focus then wasn’t just on art but the the many films that portray the West, (“Westerns”). There’s nothing realistic about this art form, it was fiction and intended to be entertainment and just a lot of fun. I’m sure you know the Westerns were about how the good cowboy (who could sing-like Autry), a lone drifter- or maybe with a sidekick- rode into town, unsuspecting of trouble, had to restored justice by driving out the bad guys with six-shooters blazing. When he was finished clearing out the bad guys, he usually moseyed on into the sunset- on his horse.
By the way, These cowboy movies (and we kids loved them) were the genre that propelled Gene Autry to early fame and fortune as a “singing cowboy”. I remember seeing him in many old black and white shows.
I mention the cowboy movies because the original Autry museum had an exhibit with a saddle in front of a green screen. This exhibit still attracts the crowds. In fact, the day we toured, the green screen was still a big hit especially with kids. No one could resist the chance to sit on that saddle and ham it up pretending to be a cowboy or cowgirl heroically running after stampeding cattle- all the while watching themselves projected on a screen like it a real movie. Yippee!
By the way, for teachers and parents the Autry put together a strong educational program with resources and lesson plans available including tours for classes from kindergarten up through high school. Their current program booklet titled, Connecting the Cultures of the American West can be picked up at the front desk or viewed at their website, theautry.org.
As I mentioned earlier, the museum evolved into so much more than Autry’s original collection. Today also it encompasses the historic Southwest Museum, Mt Washington Campus, which includes a treasure of American Indian Artifacts. But the Autry National Center in Griffith Park offers more popular fare. The calendar includes music and dance nights, movies on the Autry lawn, and special exhibitions of art and history, picnics, family activities and workshops. The museum is constantly gaining popularity as more and more Angelenos discover what the museum’s calendar has scheduled.
If you’ve never been to the Autry be sure to check it out. It’s located at 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles (in the Northeast corner of Griffith Park, directly across Zoo Drive from the LA Zoo parking lot). I’m sure you’ll find an activity to please you and the kids.
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Here are posts of other Uniquely Los Angeles destinations you will enjoy reading about. If you’re looking for a pleasant outing be sure to take time and plan a visit.
-Friends, Romans, and …Angelenos
-Bradbury Building-A Lasting Gem in Los Angeles
-The Last Book Store
-The Magic Castle
-Grauman’s Chinese Theater
-Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits
-Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
-Rose Bowl Stadium