December 1, 2023 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Constructing History:

The newly renamed Santa Monica History Museum is well underway in building out the 5,000 square feet of raw space that has been waiting for it on the ground floor of the main library building at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 7th Street.

When it opens in about April 2010, it will feature a permanent exhibit gallery that will include interactive displays so visitors can walk into a life-size section of a World War II Douglas C-47 transport aircraft or “ride” the 1920s Whirlwind Dipper roller coaster on the Pier, a changing exhibit gallery that will rotate displays from the museum’s collection and the personal collections of others, and a research library that can be opened into the lobby to create a welcoming space for community gatherings and special events.

As the song has it, “Everything old is new again,” and the new museum will celebrate the considerable history, art, and culture of the Santa Monica Bay area, from Venice and Ocean Park to Pacific Palisades and Malibu. But even the new museum has a history of its own.

Founded in 1975 as an outgrowth of the Santa Monica Centennial Committee, the Santa Monica Historical Society has been looking for a permanent museum home since its birth. In 1988 it established the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum, which is now quartered at 1539 Euclid Street under the watchful eyes and energies of Director of Operations Ho Nguyen. The prospect of a permanent home was given a substantial boost when the City set aside space for the museum in the new main library building and then entered into a 20-year lease for the space in 2006.

But that was just raw space. Enter the Permanent Home Capital Campaign, which for five years now has been working to raise $5 million dollars to build out the museum and endow its operations. Through the generous contributions of Morley Builders, Macerich-Santa Monica Place, the Employees Community Fund of Boeing (successor to Douglas Aircraft), museum spearheads Bob and Louise Gabriel, innovative Santa Monica ophthalmologist Dr. John E. Gilmore, the Evening Outlook’s Ron Funk and his wife Ann, a memorial to bodybuilder/wrestler Baron Leoni, and many others, the museum project raised almost $1.5 million of the $2 million needed for the build-out and installation of exhibits.

After some discussion among the museum board as to whether to hold off until the fund-raising was completed or move forward with construction, the museum – under the simpler name of Santa Monica History Museum and a new logo – decided to forge ahead with the build-out and continue with the fund-raising effort at the same time. “We had to pour a concrete foundation to bring it up to level,” said museum president and CEO Louise Gabriel of the construction “groundbreaking” in October.

Of course, contributions to the nonprofit museum, including some with naming opportunities at various levels, are still being accepted; there will even be a Legacy Tree on which the leaves will bear the names of donors.

The new museum will open with Cirque du Soleil in the changing exhibit gallery. “We have costumes from the original show 10 years ago,” Gabriel told the Mirror, when the performers were given a one-way ticket to Santa Monica, stayed in the homes of local residents, and were told they would have to find their own way home.

The permanent exhibit gallery will feature a timeline containing “artifacts in cases, photos, text, and graphics which trace the origins and inhabitants of Santa Monica from the earliest Native Americans through the 1930s,” according to the museum. There will also be themed rooms depicting Santa Monica’s history At Work, At Play, In the Arts, and In the Headlines, said Gabriel.

The Historical Society itself does more than operate the museum. During the years since its founding, it has worked with UCLA to sponsor an archeological dig in Ocean Park when a homeowner reported finding artifacts, helped to save the historic Rapp Saloon on 2nd Street from demolition, provided research and advocacy for the landmarking of the Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club on 4th Street, and campaigned to preserve the Aero Theater on Montana Avenue (so named because it initially provided entertainment for Douglas Aircraft employees, operating around the clock when wartime shifts built airplanes on that schedule.

The research library in the new museum will support activities such as these, and the new space will also better enable the museum to achieve its mission “to collect, preserve, and make available the history of the Santa Monica Bay area; to advance historical knowledge and information; and to impart to residents and others, particularly children, a sense of community and appreciation for the diverse, multi-cultural past of Santa Monica.”

As museum visitors stroll through the exhibits come next April, they may be humming along to the music of Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager,

Don’t throw the past away

You might need it some rainy day

Dreams can come true again

When everything old is new again

Contact Terence Lyons

310.577.6507 x107


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