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4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, California
At the northeast corner of Griffith Park across from the Los Angeles Zoo

Closest freeway exits: 5 northbound and 134 westbound, Zoo Drive; 5 southbound, Western Avenue; 134 eastbound, Victory Boulevard (note: the interchange between the 5 and the 134 is marked as the "Gene Autry Memorial Interchange," but if you're trying to get to the museum from any direction and you go through that interchange, you've gone too far)

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., open until 8:00 P.M. Thursdays, also open on some Monday holidays

Admission: $7.50 adults, $5.00 students and seniors, $3.00 children; free on the second Tuesday of each month

Information: 323-667-2000

The Autry Museum of Western Heritage, founded by Gene Autry in 1988, celebrates and preserves "the spirit of the West," with a large collection of art and artifacts from the American West, both the real and imagined versions.

The permanent collection is divided among seven galleries, each including paintings, sculpture, and other artwork, as well as furniture, clothing, weapons, and other items actually used by Westerners.

  • Spirit of Discovery: Native American items, as well as items used by pioneers.
  • Spirit of Opportunity: Items relating to those who tried to make a living in the early days of settlement, including trappers and gold miners.
  • Spirit of Conquest: Items relating to the "conquest" of the West in the years immediately following the Civil War, mainly through the telegraph and the transcontinental railroad.
  • Spirit of Community: Items from the various ethnic groups and religious communities that settled in the West.
  • Spirit of the Cowboy: Cowboy-related items, from both myth and reality.
  • Spirit of Romance: Items that helped to romanticize the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Spirit of Imagination: The gallery everyone seems to linger in the longest, containing items relating to the portrayal of the West in movies and on TV, featuring everything from movie posters to parts of movie sets to Gene Autry's guitar. There's even a fake horse in front of a chroma key screen, giving children the opportunity to pretend to be in a Western.

A separate gallery hosts rotating exhibits; for example, in the summer of 2001, the exhibit was John Jacob Audubon's paintings, sketches, and lithographs of the animals of the West, and at the beginning of 2002, the exhibit was the art and artifacts of the Ute Indians.

There is also a movie theater (separate admission charge when films are shown, usually on Sunday afternoons), a small restaurant called the Golden Spur Café, and the obligatory gift shop.

Finally, musicians occasionally perform inside the museum or in the outdoor entrance plaza, or as museum-sponsored free performances at other locations in the L.A. area.

Because of the wide variety of items on display in the permanent collection, this museum really does have something for everyone, as far as I can tell. For movie, TV, and pop culture fans, the Spirit of Imagination gallery, with its amazing amount of collectibles is almost worth the price of admission by itself.

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