Since longtime Lanterman House Executive Director Melissa Patton announced her retirement last spring, the museum's board has been searching for someone who could fill her shoes while charting a new course for La Cañada's nonprofit historic house.
After a thorough search, the board recently reported their selection: Pasadena Museum of History Director of Collections Laura Verlaque will start her new role in La Cañada on April 9.
Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation Board President Mary Lou Langedyke said in an interview earlier this month the selection committee hoped to find a candidate with an interest in historic house museums who could also play an active role in the community.
"We were looking for someone who could revitalize current programs and provide some life and energy through social media and outreach," Langedyke said. "More than anything, we wanted someone who could build on the solid foundation Melissa had built for us and who could move on with the same graciousness she had."
The part-time position, listed at 24 hours per week, pays an annual salary of $46,800.
A Santa Clarita resident and mother of three, Verlaque comes to Lanterman House after 12 years with the Pasadena Museum of History, where she previously served as collections manager from 2005 to 2010.
As director of collections, she planned gallery exhibits, developed educational programs and was a founding member of the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration — an effort by PMH, Pasadena City College and the Pasadena Public Library, among others, to make historical photos and documents more accessible to the public.
Before that, Verlaque was a research volunteer at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and rose through the ranks at Christie's Fine Arts Auctioneers from 1998 to 2003, starting as a junior specialist and eventually becoming vice president of the silver department.
"If you're a geek, lying on the floor looking at the underside of a chair is an incredible education," she said recalled her time there. "I got to see the unseen side of things. It was fascinating, like a detective story."
Despite her varied experience, Verlaque confessed a childhood fascination with historic houses in her native state of Delaware sparked her interest in local history.
At age 8, she began compiling a scrapbook filled with brochures and pictures of the many homes she'd visit. An internship at Wilmington's Rockwood Museum, a mid-19th century Gothic Revival mansion, the summer after her freshman year at Virginia's James Madison University sealed the deal.
"A historic house museum is the total package — you can take in the art or the decorative architecture, but overall it's telling the story of a family, and I find that compelling," she said.
Bob Moses, a former board member and longtime Lanterman House docent, served as interim director after Patton's departure last August. On Tuesday, he said he hoped Verlaque would continue to build bridges into the wider community.
"I'm really happy to see Laura coming on board," said Moses, who will stay on as facilities manager. "I think she's got all the right preparation for this and can take Lanterman House into its next phase."
Verlaque said she's impressed by how well-known the museum is in the La Cañada community and called the immense preservation undertaken by Patton, staff and volunteers over the past 25 years a success story upon which she hopes to build.
"I commend them for getting that done and the city for sticking with this for so long," she added. "Now I can help tell the story and spread that, and maybe discover a few more hidden things in there."