The Antelope Valley Indian Museum, located on top of a distant, rocky butte outside of Lancaster, CA, is not easy to find, but it’s worth the trip. It’s one of the most unique and magnetic museums on the West Coast. And thanks to a recent rehabilitation by the Los Angeles office of Page & Turnbull Architects with Wiss Janney Elstner Associates, it will survive for years to come. Now the bad news: because of a severe state funding shortfall it is about to be closed to the public despite the $1.3 million just spent on its rehabilitation. And it’s just one of many: barring a budgetary miracle, about 70 significant park sites across the state will be closed by 2012.
The museum was built in 1928 by eccentric LA set designer Howard Arden Edwards. Its strange but beautiful exterior resembles a Bavarian chalet covered with Native American-inspired painting. Its interior uses its site’s existing granite boulder outcroppings as its floors, and, at some points, parts of its walls. It also uses Joshua tree logs as posts, and uses more hand painted set board as cladding. Its extensive collection includes pottery, basketry, instruments, jewels, weapons, and hundreds of other pieces from both local tribes and tribes of the Southwest. The state purchased the house-museum as a state park in the 1970s and later added it to the National Register of Historic Places.
The complex—designed using makeshift construction techniques that made it more of a set piece than a building— had severe temperature problems and was in danger of falling apart until Page & Turnbull and Wiss Janney Elstner’s rehab. In order to preserve the building’s unique layout and interior, stabilization of the roof and walls was carried out largely with a cable stay system that at several points is driven straight into the building’s surrounding rocks. Insulation differs from room to room, but includes tapered insulation, plywood sheathing, and insulation blown straight into walls. The heating and cooling is a geothermal well system that taps into the temperatures far below ground, keeping noise and physical disruption to a minimum.
Because of several starts and stops—most a result of state budget issues—the project took ten years to complete. It re-opened last fall, but it is now likely to be closed for at least two more years because of the state’s planned closure of 70 of its 278 state park sites to help close the state’s budget shortfall. According to the Department of Parks and Recreation the closures will save the state $11 million this year and $22 million the following year. The final state budget could be passed this month.
The timing of the closure couldn’t have been worse. On May 12 the building was awarded an LA Conservancy Preservation Award, and the next day, May 13, the parks department issued a press release stating that the Antelope Valley Museum and other sites had been singled out for closure.
“The closure wastes the team's effort. It makes you want to beat your head against a stone,” said Page & Turnbull principal John Lesak, who has been doubly hit by the news: the Leland Stanford Mansion, which Page & Turnbull finished restoring in 2005, is also on the list of state park projects to be shut down.
“It’s the ultimate insult for a place like this to be closed down now,” said Adrian Scott Fine, the LA Conservancy’s Director of Advocacy. “It’s a squandering of a lot of investment and man hours.”
Courtesy California State Parks
“It doesn’t look like this can be avoided,” noted State Parks spokesperson Roy Stearns. “Unless we find partners to help us operate these parks or find other funding, this is going to be a done deal.” Stearns says the parks would start closing by early 2012 and be completely closed by July 2012. As for how long they would be closed: “I have no idea. There’s no crystal ball. It could be from two to five years or longer.”
Among the other significant buildings that will close as part of that move will be the Stanford Mansion, the state’s 1877 Governor’s mansion in Sacramento, and the highly unique Point Cabrillo Light Station, near Mendocino, which won the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award in 2007 for its renovation. Parks closing are determined by a formula that includes cost to close and how much revenue they bring in, noted Stearns.
But the Conservancy’s Fine notes that the closures wind up costing the state more in the long term. “When they close and don’t have the routine maintenance or proper care given to them we see a great deal of deterioration. The longer that goes that more cost that will entail down the road,” he said. Find suggested other methods like partial closures of the sites and the establishment of public/private partnerships.
“Everything was finally coming together,” said Lesak of the project. “Before the temperature fluctuated between 100 degrees and 48 degrees in here. Now it’s perfect. And you’re gonna turn it off and pull the plug?”