For all its makeshift venues, the Long Beach Heritage Museum was never meant to be a roadshow.
Owner and curator Ken Larkey hoped he had found a permanent home for his accumulation of Long Beach memorabilia when he opened the museum in a downtown storefront in 1971. Paying only $50 a month rent, it came as no surprise a year and a half later when he was forced out to make room for a boutique.
Another storefront nearby at 3rd Street and Elm Avenue looked like a good home, too. And for 20 years, it was. But that building was condemned in 1994.
The city’s Redevelopment Agency soon took pity upon Larkey and his collection, offering free storage a few blocks away at a vacant camera shop.
Alas, the museum’s welcome has run out once again: The agency plans to move in a 99-seat theater at the site, and two weeks ago sent Larkey an eviction notice.
Larkey, 68 and retired, says he cannot afford rent beyond what he pays to store some of the more valuable memorabilia at a separate, cramped space elsewhere in the city. If pressed to move the museum’s larger displays, he said, he would probably offer them for auction.
Among the items at the East Broadway building are an antique switchboard from a Long Beach hotel long since demolished, pews from one of the city’s first churches and a display detailing the operation of the city’s original dairies.
Barbara Barnes, former president of the Long Beach Historical Society, said the city would lose many treasures if those items were sold.
"[Larkey] has got a lot of wonderful things,” Barnes said. While the Historical Society displays a few of his relics at its office on Pine Street, “We don’t have that much space.”
They may find help in City Hall. City Councilman Doug Drummond said he may ask city staff to seek donations or space from local businesses willing to support such a museum.
“I would love to open a museum,” Drummond said. “I look at Long Beach as the largest city in America without a historical museum and I think it’s a shame.”
For more information call Ken Larkey at: (310) 433-4156.