The sight of cars and trucks being packed with boxes in the parking lot of the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum told the tale; the Clayton is closed.
On July 31, 2019, the staff and administration were still struggling, taking all that they could carry of the collection to storage, vacating the building that they had called home for thirteen years. Executive Director Lloyd Clayton was weary. “It’s a trauma, no doubt about that,” he said, “It feels like a death.”
The modest mid-century design of the former courthouse was home to world class exhibitions that were partnered with institutions such as the Getty and the Smithsonian, jazz concerts featuring top talent, congressional art awards and rare, fragile films that were screened only in the heart of screenland.
The County of Los Angeles was in such a rush to evict the museum, a representative from Edison was there early in the morning to shut off the electricity, and Clayton was forced to protest. “I said, hey, we have until three o’clock this afternoon. We need lights in here to see what we are moving.” The representative of the utility left with a promise to return after 3 p.m.
In a formal statement from Steven Fisher of the Board of Directors, the terrible treatment of the MCLM by the offices of Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas was politely downplayed, and all the support from the community was highlighted. “The Museum and its board have spent the past few month reviewing and planning options for the move and its transition with the goal of remaining in the Greater Los Angeles Area. MCLM is currently working on developing a strategic plan for the next phase of its existence with the support of organizations such as West Los Angeles College and its President, graciously stepping up to offer temporary housing space as the organization works to establish a permanent home.”
Many of Culver City’s organizations and residents have been stalwart in supporting the MCLM through the eviction crisis, and WLAC has become an important port in the storm.
“West Los Angeles College is acutely aware of the importance of the Clayton collection, and we’re glad that we can be good neighbors and provide the necessary space to store the museum’s artifacts and archival materials while a search is conducted for a permanent location.” said Dr. James Limbaugh, President of West Los Angeles College,” said Dr. James Limbaugh, President of West Los Angeles College.”
A long term strategy was already being promoted by The Wende Museum of the Cold War, a local MCLM partner in Culver City. Seeking approval from the City of Culver City for a fully-funded project to develop the vacant AmVets property at 10858 Culver Blvd. as creative cultural space that will provide MCLM free programming access into perpetuity, a move that is designed allow the collection to stay in Culver City, where it has established roots and become a beloved local institution.
“As neighbors, friends, and fellow collectors of important historical artifacts, the Wende is thrilled to join with the MCLM to keep this vital institution in Culver City forever, ensuring diverse constituents from our community will continue to be represented here. Innovative, strategic partnerships like this will serve as a powerful model for equitable access to knowledge, culture, and history,” said Justin Jampol, Executive Director of the Wende Museum.
The official statement also focused on help from outside the city. “Cal State University Dominguez Hills is also stepping up to assist the organization with an offer to provide collection housing and preservation in its premiere library facility recognized as one of the best in the CSU system, proposed through a strategic partnership with the organization that would help increase exposure and access to the collection to scholars and the general public, both locally and on a national scale, while also providing needed logistical support in collection preservation, maintenance, and digitization.
“Other local institutions such as the California African American Museum (CAAM), The Getty Museum, The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California (USC) as well as the California State Library have all also pledged logistical and collaborative support to the organization.
“The Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum anticipates opening the next chapter in the story of the legacy of Dr. Mayme A. Clayton by continuing to support the mission she began several decades ago. Before my mother’s passing, her dream was to utilize her collection of unique and
diverse historical items, all of which reflect the contributions of African Americans to the American story, as a tool to both create awareness and unify people through a common humanity.
“Honorable goals such as these never die, they only strengthen, and I am grateful for all of those individuals that have been inspired by her to continue to support us and her legacy,” said Lloyd Clayton.
What the County will be doing with the property at 4130 Overland Avenue will be a subject closely scrutinized by neighbors and residents, as Culver City has worked hard to prevent the empty buildings that can draw transients looking for shelter. But the building isn’t really empty. There will be plenty of ghosts; freedom riders, poets, jazz singers, black panthers, film makers and one very special librarian.