CULVER CITY — Los Angeles County has begun legal proceedings against the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum after its leaders rejected multiple offers over a decade to help them vacate the old Culver City Courthouse in favor of a more appropriate permanent home for their important collection of rare books, films, documents, photographs, artifacts and works of art related to African American history and culture.
The county leased the old courthouse to Culver City in 2006. Culver City then sublet the courthouse to the museum, with the understanding that the arrangement was for a year only. Until that time, the collection had been housed in a private garage.
The museum’s collection was put together by Mayme A. Clayton, a librarian who worked at both USC and UCLA.
During her career, she collected more than 30,000 items, including rare and out-of-print books by African-American writers and movie memorabilia from black films.
When she died in 2006, her family sought to start the museum in her memory and to house all the items she had collected over the years.
The county’s legal action comes 12 years after the museum’s rent-free lease expired, and six months after the museum rebuffed one final opportunity to remain in a portion of the old courthouse while completing a relocation plan. The rental value of the space is estimated by the county at $93,000 a month.
The county has been working continually with museum officials to understand what is needed to halt the deterioration of the collection, and to potentially identify partners that can help to properly preserve the collection for future generations.
Despite the legal action, the county and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas remain committed to protecting the collection, and endorsed an offer by Cal State Dominguez Hills to receive, catalogue and house the collection within its library.
“This collection is one of the premier assemblages of African-American ephemera, documents and historic memorabilia west of the Mississippi,” Cal State Dominguez Hills President Thomas A. Parham said. “We would be honored to give it a home and are confident that [our] librarians can preserve and present the collection in such a way that protects valuable and delicate items for posterity.”
“It is my hope that the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum will accept this outstanding offer from Cal State Dominguez Hills,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “There is a synergy and suitability to having this collection — so expertly and lovingly assembled by Mayme Clayton, a ground-breaking, African-American librarian — come under the care of one of the best library systems in California so that it is accessible for generations to come.
“Although the museum does have to leave its present location, I remain committed to helping the museum move into its next phase of growth and development,” Ridley-Thomas added.
A group of local civil rights activists is trying to block the eviction of the library.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable said the county’s eviction of the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum is reprehensible and a disgrace.
“The move against this priceless, valued community resource must be vigorously opposed,” Hutchinson said. “The county’s move against it comes at a time when African-American museums and cultural institutions are closing, face severe financial strains and in some cases have been defaced.
The county should be giving full support to promoting, enhancing and expanding a priceless African-American institution such as Mayme A. Clayton rather than trying to remove it.”
Hutchinson staged a rally at the library April 28 that was attended by some Culver City officials and other activists.
He said a petition campaign to save the library had been launched at change.org.
George O. Davis, executive director of the California African American Museum in Exposition Park, said, “The Mayme Clayton Museum should take advantage of every opportunity to preserve its collection, and to think outside the box to ensure that future generations can appreciate its historic and cultural significance.”
Ridley-Thomas said the building housing the library is the old Culver City courthouse and that the building is in need of extensive renovations. There is a long list of deferred maintenance items that require urgent attention, he said.
Wave Staff Report