When the Maxwell family moved to this agricultural community from Iowa in 1888, they brought with them their prized possession--a square rosewood piano. That piano, along with an altar dating to the same period and about 1,500 other items of historical significance to Duarte, eventually became part of the local historic museum's collection.
It is a typical small-town museum, housed in borrowed space in the city's former Parks and Recreation Department building at 1414 Buena Vista Ave. Staffed by volunteers, it is open free to the public for only a few hours each Saturday. Traffic is light and the arrangement has worked well until recently, when the group--whose official name is the Duarte Historical Society, Museum and Friends of the Duarte Library--was told it would have to find a new home by Aug. 1.
The building, where many of the group's items have been displayed since 1979, is to be torn down to make room for a new car dealership.
But what might appear to be a simple relocation has not proved easy. The stumbling block for the 65-member organization, as for many nonprofit groups, is money. Stephen Baker, a search committee member, said the group has a monthly income of about $1,400, derived from a trust fund and membership dues. "Our total assets are $150,000," he said, "and we realize we'll have to dip into the capital, but we hope not the extent that it will be difficult to meet ongoing expenses."
The city, not insensitive to the museum's need for new quarters, has offered the use of a portion of Pioneer Auditorium, formerly the City Council chambers. But the space available there will not adequately house the collection.
Baker said only the perimeter walls of the auditorium, where a number of community groups meet, can be made available for display cases. The rest of the collection would have to be stored, he said.
"It is not large enough, it would be shared use, there is no office space available and there could be security problems" in a building that is open to the public much of the time, he said.
"We could rent a store building but only on a short-term basis because the rent would run about $1,500 a month. It would be an interim move so we don't have to close the museum."
One alternative would be to join forces with another historical museum in a neighboring city to form a regional museum.
Most small cities do not have the resources to establish full-scale historical museums, Baker said, "so regional museums would seem to be the answer. But there are practical obstacles. Some Duarte people don't like the idea. They want their own museum."
Monrovia, to the west, would be the logical neighbor to join with, but the reception there has been lukewarm.
Monrovia will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its incorporation in two years, while Duarte is only 28 years old. "Even though we both started with the citrus industry, our history is so different that we don't want to combine with Duarte," said Jan Marugg, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. "We are nearly 100 years old and our city deserves a museum of its own," he added.
Meanwhile, Duarte history buffs are considering approaching Azusa, their neighbor to the east, with the idea of a joint museum. But that idea might be unacceptable to some Duarte residents who remember 1957, when the city incorporated in a panic after an attempt by Azusa to annex part of Duarte.