3-D Tour of the Original Bob Baker Marionette Theater

Welcome to the eleventh in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Southern California spaces, created by Craig Sauer of Reality Capture Experts using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

Our love for the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is no secret. It is a zone of pure creativity and whimsy that could only have flowered in Los Angeles. Bob was a dear friend, and in 2013, we were privileged to help see that his visual archives were safely preserved by the Los Angeles Public Library, at a time when the theater’s future was uncertain.

Uncertainty is a funny thing, though. Yes, the original Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a “protected” city landmark which a developer nevertheless intends to demolish for a generic housing development. But the young puppeteers who took up the management strings after Bob’s death in 2014 have proved to be terrific stewards. They’ve nourished a nonprofit arm, built thriving community partnerships, and just last week opened up their lovely new, much larger puppet theater on a busy stretch of York in Highland Park.

The sweet, silly and inspiring shows that Bob Baker created for the mid-century kids of Los Angeles will continue to blow the minds of new generations.

Still, it’s hard to see such a Los Angeles treasure displaced, and we wanted to mark the transition. So we reached out to Craig and asked if he’d be interested in bringing his Matterport camera over and documenting the theater, backstage, workshops and Bob Baker’s personal research library loft (up the stairs, stage left), where Bob selected the music for shows and gained visual inspiration for puppet costumes, backdrops and props.

The results are a time capsule, three-dimensional love letter to Bob Baker’s genius as it manifested in the final days, before the world he made was boxed up for the move to Highland Park.

On a day when The New York Times honors our hometown marionettes with a lengthy feature, we’re sending out this bittersweet remembrance of the funky, original Bob Baker Marionette Theater in its historic home of 56 years. We hope you enjoy the opportunity to creep around this magical place which no longer is a public space, but which welcomes you virtually inside any time you feel its call.

And we heard the funniest thing on opening day in Highland Park: that developer who bought the building and planned to tear it down hasn’t been heard from lately. Rumor has it, nothing’s happening at 1345 West First Street any time soon.

But the marionettes have already moved on, and invite you to come see a show in Highland Park. Bring on the dancing cats and raise the traditional post-performance cup of ice cream to the next 56 years of joy!

 

An Unhappy March for Charles Fletcher Lummis and The Southwest Museum

March was a sacred month for Charles Fletcher Lummis, that remarkable character who gave so much to his adopted home of Los Angeles and to the greater Southwest. It was the month of his birth, and the time of the wildest of the revels hosted in his stone castle home along the Arroyo, honoring himself and his fellow “March Hares.”

How tone-deaf of the Autry Museum of the American West to choose March to announce that, having taken possession of the Southwest Museum’s priceless collections and endowment following the institutions’ 2003 merger, it would be seeking proposals from developers to take over the white elephant on the hill, the institution erected by Lummis as the culmination of a lifetime of collecting, interpreting and preserving the cultural history of the region.

The tale of the decline and erasure of the city’s first museum is long and depressing. It includes artifact theft by administrators, neglected infrastructure and collection care, and a failure by the City of Los Angeles to do its due diligence when the Autry family came calling with empty promises to make all the Southwest’s problems go away.

Since then, it has been a tale of bad faith from the Autry and hard, heartbreaking work by community groups seeking to protect Lummis’ great gift and hold those who control it accountable.

The future of the Southwest Museum will be debated soon, in the court of public opinion, in the press and at City Hall. Before Los Angeles considers what to do with this endangered National Treasure landmark, it’s beholden on anyone who cares to look to the source and understand what has been lost during these dark years of the Autry’s control of the Southwest Museum, and what potentially will be lost forever if the redevelopment plan is allowed to go forward.

We direct you to this 1910 pamphlet, published by the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America: Two great gifts: the Lummis library and collections and the Munk library.

In it, you will find the text of the last will and testament of Charles Fletcher Lummis, explaining his reasoning for gifting his valuable collections of art and artifacts and a library of 5000 items to the newly formed Southwest Museum, a promise made in the sacred month of March on the occasion of his 51st birthday.

The gift was an expression of Lummis’ faith in the potential of Los Angeles to become a great cultural center, and of his determination that the disparate materials that only he could have collected should remain forever intact and accessible in an institution dedicated to their study and interpretation.

If old man Lummis were to stumble today out of a time machine and discover what has become of his beloved Southwest Museum, we would hear oaths and epithets of a vehemence seldom expressed among cultured people. For the incredible gift that he so carefully prepared for the edification and delight of future generations has been squandered and cannibalized, again and again. Lummis would be well be within his rights to demand that his collections, no longer freely available for public use at the Southwest Museum, revert to the possession of his heirs.

Read his will. And if his words move you, as they do us, do not let the story of the Southwest Museum be a slow motion train wreck ending in its complete loss. Say NO to the commercialization of this historic institution. Demand that the Autry honor their commitment to preserve and reactivate our city’s first museum, or step aside and allow the collection and buildings to be cared for by an institution that will.