Eclectic Collections Span History to Whimsy

Foster is a Woodland Hills free-lance writer

Fanciful crystal hood ornaments, devilish masks, an audio library of recollections from older San Fernando Valley residents--Valley museums are definitely eclectic in nature. Many have captured what life was like a century ago through preserving or rebuilding structures, then packing them with artifacts.

Following are museums and historical collections open to the public, many of them free. Some are surrounded by parks--just the locale for a post-museum family picnic.

* The San Fernando Mission, founded in 1797, contains several museums and gardens, and a cemetery that is the final resting place for early settlers of San Fernando.

The mission church, originally built between 1804 and 1806, was leveled in the 1971 earthquake. An exact replica was built on the site and contains a 15th-Century statue of St. Ferdinand that was sent to California by the king of Spain in the late 1700s.

One building, completed in 1822 and also restored after the earthquake, features 21 Roman arches and four-foot-thick adobe walls. The building contains a collection of altar furnishings, vestments, Hispanic furniture, and a wine cellar and vat where grapes were pressed.

A series of dioramas that re-create carpentry, pottery, saddle-making, weaving and blacksmith trades are near the west garden. An archival center, assembled for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is open most weekdays by appointment and to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.

The mission is at 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills, and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Admission is $1.50 for adults and 50 cents for children ages 6 to 15. (818) 361-0186.

* The Anthropology Museum in Cal State Northridge's Anthropology Department features cultural exhibits that change every semester. The department will show more than 100 Mexican and Guatemalan masks through May 26.

The hand-carved wooden masks in the exhibit were used to celebrate traditional Indian festivals in 20th-Century Mexico and Guatemala. The masks are based on the human face, animals and devils.

The Anthropology Department is in the Sierra South building, Room 219, at the Northridge campus, 18111 Nordhoff St. Admission is free. The exhibit is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. (818) 885-2210.

* The William S. Hart Ranch and Museum in Newhall served as silent screen star William Hart's retirement home until he died in 1946. Hart was billed as "the bad guy who was really good at heart and turned out to be good at the end," said Katherine Child, who manages the collection.

Hart's 22-room Spanish colonial mansion on a hilltop has been preserved as he left it, right down to his boots in the corner and a tuxedo hanging in the closet. A large collection of Western paintings, including those of Charles M. Russell and James Montgomery Flagg, are on display. Navajo rugs, photographs and movie memorabilia are found throughout the home.

A ranch house at the bottom of the hill contains a tack room where saddles, some edged in sterling silver, are displayed. A public park, which Hart deeded to Los Angeles County, surrounds the mansion, and includes hiking and nature trails, a large picnic area, a dog graveyard where Hart's pets are buried, a farm machinery exhibit and a small barnyard with horses, goats and birds.

The museum is at 24151 San Fernando Road. Free tours are given 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. (805) 254-4585.

* The Leonis Adobe museum and ranch in Calabasas, built in 1844, was remodeled into a Monterey-style mansion by occupants Miguel Leonis and his Indian wife, Espiritu, around 1880. "It looks just as if they walked out of it," said Glenn Hiatt, museum director.

The kitchen and dining room of the main house at the museum still possess their original adobe dirt floors. Family portraits line the living room walls.

Plummer House, which stood in Plummer Park in West Hollywood for more than a century until it was moved to the Leonis Adobe grounds in 1983, serves as a visitors center for the museum. John Plummer was a sailor and a major Hollywood landholder in the 1870s. The three-acre Leonis Adobe grounds also contain a picnic area, barnyard with farm animals and a windmill.

Leonis Adobe is at 23537 Calabasas Road. It is open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, and on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Admission is free. Group tours are available by reservation. (818) 712-0734.

* The Gordon R. Howard Museum in Burbank is housed in three buildings that document Valley life since the 1880s.

The Mentzer House, a restored Victorian cottage built in 1887, has period furniture, photographs and memorabilia. Nora Mentzer, who was active in Burbank community service, lived in the house until its acquisition by the museum in 1977.

The vehicle museum features a 1937 Rolls-Royce, a 1939 Daimler, a 1949 Seagrave fire engine and a 1922 bus built by the Moreland Bus & Truck Co. The main building contains a pictorial history of such area companies as Lockheed, Walt Disney and NBC as well as furniture and rugs from old hotels, Indian artifacts and portable offices used by Spanish noblemen in the 17th Century.

The museum complex, named after Gordon R. Howard, a major benefactor, also contains Sandy Colvin's extensive camera collection, one of the largest in the United States. Antique dolls, a fire hat collection and photographs of Burbank resident and heavyweight boxing champion James Jeffries are also on display.

The museum is at 1015 W. Olive Ave. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays and other days by reservation to groups of 10 or more. Admission is free. (818) 841-6333.

* The Valley College Historical Museum in Van Nuys is a repository of Valley history that includes archival material belonging to W. P. Whitsett, founder of Van Nuys. Whitsett was instrumental in bringing water to Southern California from the Colorado River.

Lithographs, paintings, photographs and clothing on display document Valley life in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A geological exhibit provides a record of rocks and fossils found in the Valley. Also on display are artifacts from ships sunk off the California coast, such as an anchor from a pre-Columbian Chinese ship and gear from American sailing ships.

A collection of 70 cassettes and tapes recording Valley history as seen through the eyes of longtime Valley residents is a continuing project.

The museum is at Valley College, 5800 Fulton Ave. (facing Burbank Boulevard at the south end of the campus). It is open 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays except on college holidays and is open other times by appointment. Admission is free. (818) 781-1200, Ext. 373.

* Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga was built in 1913 from rocks gathered from the Tujunga Wash and local hillsides. The building was originally used as a meeting hall for the Little Landers Society, an early settlement, and now serves as a gathering spot for church groups, women's clubs and an arts society.

William Smythe, founder of the Little Landers, named the structure after Bolton Hall, a writer friend. The building, restored in 1980, contains a museum that chronicles the Sunland-Tujunga area through artifacts, photographs and documents. On display are kitchenware from the 1800s and early 1900s, Indian artifacts of the Tujunga tribe and wood carvings by William Nicholson, an early grocer in the area.

Bolton Hall, at 10110 Commerce Ave., is open 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Sundays. Admission is free. Group tours are available by reservation. (818) 352-3420.

* The Andres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills, built in 1834 and restored in 1932, is thought to be the second-oldest adobe home in Los Angeles.

It features Victorian furniture of the style favored by Romulo and Catarina Pico, the occupants who modernized the house in 1874. Various rooms contain an 1880 Weber square piano, Indian baskets, arrowhead collections, branding irons and, in the library, research material on California and Valley history.

"We don't rope off rooms, except for my bedroom," said curator Elva Meline, who lives in the museum. "People can move around inside the rooms, and they really like that."

The museum is at 10940 Sepulveda Blvd. and is open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. It is closed on Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Group tours are available by appointment. (818) 365-7810.

* The Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park was constructed in 1876 as the Grand Union Hotel. A 1970 fire leveled the structure after it was moved in 1965 to make room for the Ventura Freeway. The Conejo Valley Historical Society salvaged artifacts from the ashes and rebuilt the hotel, which reopened July 4, 1976, 100 years after its original dedication.

Artifacts and rare photographs of the Chumash Indians are found in Anderson Hall on the basement level. Also on display are flora, fauna, fossils and minerals of the Conejo Valley. A spool bed belonging to Robert Todd Lincoln is featured in one of the bedrooms.

A nature trail winds through native plantings, over wooden footbridges and a creek, ending at a Chumash Indian village, an early California adobe and a pioneer home.

The museum, at 51 S. Ventu Park Road, is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Guided tours are available by appointment. Admission is free. (805) 498-9441.

* The Merle Norman Classic Beauty Collection in Sylmar was assembled in 1972 by J. B. Nethercutt, co-founder of Merle Norman Cosmetics, and his wife, Dorothy, to showcase and share their dedication to beauty and fine art.

The opulent Grand Salon contains a changing display of 30 antique luxury cars, including a "Twenty-Grand Duesenberg" (Duesenberg Torpedo Sedan) that sold for $20,000 in 1933 and examples from all six of the Rolls-Royce Phantom series.

A music room features antique music boxes, phonographs, a collection of musical watches, an extensive library of music rolls and the "Mighty Wurlitzer" theater organ that was used to play the score of the epic silent film "Napoleon."

The mezzanine houses a collection of 1,100 hood ornaments. Among them are French Lalique crystal falcons and silver coiled cobras that once belonged to Rudolph Valentino.

The museum is at 15180 Bledsoe St. in Sylmar. Two-hour guided tours, which require advance reservations, are given at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. (818) 367-2251.

* The Chatsworth Museum, a repository of Chatsworth and Valley history, features photographs, Indian artifacts and garden implements used by early settlers.

A library and gift shop are next to the one-room museum. Minnie Palmer, who was born in Homestead Cottage on the property in 1886, preserved a pioneer life on the grounds, even forsaking electricity until the 1950s. Her home has been restored and filled with turn-of-the-century furnishings.

The Chatsworth Historical Society, which operates the museum, will bury a time capsule on the property during Chatsworth's 100th anniversary celebration March 10.

The museum is at 10385 Shadow Oak Drive in Chatsworth Park South and is open from 1 to 4 p.m. the first Sunday of each month. Admission is free. (818) 341-1529.

* Los Encinos State Historical Park in Encino consists of a five-acre park that surrounds a nine-room house and museum. The museum features rooms that document historical periods from 1849 to 1945. Each room is dedicated to a different family and culture.

On the property, a garden features herbs and vegetables that were grown in the 1870s, and ducks freely roam, attracting handouts around a spring-fed man-made lake shaped like a Spanish guitar.

"Families love coming out here with their kids to feed the ducks," said Ranger Russ Kimura. He added that the ducks prefer cracked corn, which is sold in the park for 25 cents a bag.

The museum and park are at 16756 Moorpark St. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, and admission is free. Tours, 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children ages 6 to 17, are given from 1 to 4 p.m. (818) 784-4849.

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