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Santa Monica History Museum: From Indians to Shirley Temple

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica Historical Society will make a little history itself Saturday when it opens the city’s first museum of history and culture.

The museum, at 2050 Colorado Ave., will feature artifacts ranging from a stone corn grinder used by pre-Columbian American Indians to flapper dresses from the 1920s to photos of Shirley Temple, Lawrence Welk and other entertainers who lived in the city, according to Louise Gabriel, who has spearheaded the society’s push for the museum.

Other attractions include a photo essay depicting the 113-year-old city’s history, wartime memorabilia and a reference library that eventually will include videotaped interviews with descendants of city pioneers, Gabriel said.

“There’s a saying that goes, ‘How would you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?,’ ” said Gabriel, who became interested in local history while working with the city’s centennial committee in 1975. “It’s important that people know the history of the city so they can feel a part of the community.”

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Mayor Jim Conn called the museum “a real asset to the community.”

“It’s a strange phenomenon to have history in a place (the West) that is so rootless,” Conn said. “As a city, we’re just over a hundred years old; as a metropolis we’re less than 40, maybe 50, years old, yet already there’s a sense of wanting to preserve memories. I think that’s one of those things that make us uniquely human.”

The society had searched for a museum site for six years before finding a suitable location, 2,400 square feet in a building owned by Southmark Pacific Corp., which agreed to lend the space to the society without charge, Gabriel said. The site, however, is a temporary one, and the society is looking for a permanent home for the museum, she said.

On Tuesday, the museum was far from what Gabriel said it would be this weekend, in time for the grand opening from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. (Admission is free.) The walls and signs were freshly painted, but most of the displays, made up of artifacts gathered for years by the Historical Society, were still in boxes. “We’ve been trying to do in two months what would normally take a year,” she said.

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Gabriel said the museum’s opening would not have been possible without such volunteers as Richard Adkins, chairman of the board of Hollywood Heritage Inc., Hollywood Studio Museum, who designed the museum, and local businesses and residents who donated their services to build and paint the museum’s interior.

Offer Perspective

Society member Ysidro Reyes, said he hopes the museum will help people remember the past and give them a better perspective on the city’s personality and its explosive growth over the past 50 years. Reyes’ grandfather was one of the area’s original Spanish landowners in 1838.

“The city used to be very small, there were about 3,500 people in the whole area,” said Reyes, who was born 75 years ago in a house at the corner of 10th Street and Wilshire Boulevard. “I remember when Wilshire Boulevard was nothing but a row of eucalyptus trees running from Ocean Avenue to the Old Soldier’s Home,” the forerunner of the Veterans Administration center in West Los Angeles.

“My father and grandfather welcomed new residents,” he said, adding that this is the reason he is disgusted by people who want to keep minorities out of the city. “Everyone is welcome here, as long as they behave themselves.”

Society President Andrew Calkins Carrillo, who is also a descendant of early Spanish settlers, said he is very impressed with the new museum and looks forward to its opening.

“I think a museum is important to any city, it gives it a sense of identity that gives you a direction of where to go,” he said. “When people from Europe come traveling here, they remark about the lack of history in California and America. Well, we do have a history and I’m proud of every bit of it, and I’d like to show it to them.”

What: Opening of Santa Monica’s first museum of history and culture.

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Where: 2050 Colorado Ave.

When: Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.

Admission: Free.


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