Monday, July 27, 2009

New La Habra museum to focus on agricultural history

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The La Habra Historical Museum will highlight the Hass Avocado Tree.

Memories fill the basement of a 64-year-old adobe building in La Habra that once housed a local library.

A couple of oil-burning smudge pots – likely used decades ago in the city to prevent fruit trees from suffering frost damage – lay sideways on a shelf.

They're placed by an antique bicycle with an oversized front wheel, a wooden school desk, a telephone switchboard, a fireman's suit from the 1930s, a piece of the trunk of an avocado tree, old maps, yearbooks and mountains of family photos of folks wearing clothes that were probably stylish in the 1920s.

These artifacts will be displayed in such a way as to tell a story about a community where children commuted to school on the backs of donkeys and ostrich farms were a common sight.

The soon-to-open La Habra Historical Museum will serve as a center for collecting, preserving and interpreting historical artifacts as they pertain to La Habra and the surrounding communities, said museum director Carlotta Haider.

"Local museums are very popular in the U.S.," Haider said. "Every town is invested in its history."

Visitors will get their first peek into the museum, which has been in the works for about six years, during an open house from noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 8 during the La Habra Corn Festival. A soft opening is planned for Oct 17.

The La Habra Old Settlers Historical Society, which founded the museum and has roots dating back to 1898, will operate the museum, said president Kent Roberts. It will focus on La Habra's history from the late 1800s through the 1950s.

"It will give people a place to get a real sense of history," he said.

Most of the artifacts were donated by members of the historical society, which has a membership of about 1,000, including many descendants of the founding group.

One of the exhibits will showcase the history of the Hass (commonly misspelled Haas) Avocado Tree.

According to the historical society, postman Rudolph Hass of La Habra Heights purchased the tree as a seedling in 1926 and planted it in his front yard. Hass named the tree after himself and received a patent in 1935. To this day, all Hass avocados can be traced back to grafts from that mother tree, which died in 2002.

The society also owns nearly every issue of the La Habra Star Progress newspaper from 1916 to 1957.

Roberts hopes to have the issues scanned and available to the public digitally.

Funding, however, is still an ongoing issue.

The museum project received a $30,000 grant from Fourth District County Supervisor Chris Norby, a $45,000 federal grant for community development and about $125,000 from members of the historical society, Roberts said.

The city owns and maintains the building, which it leases to the historical society for $1 per year.

As is the case with many local museums, the La Habra museum will staff itself with volunteers and enlist college students to help with research and designing exhibits.

The museum will likely be open at least three days per week and admission will be free.

"Hopefully, this will make history relevant to people." Haider said. "There is a connection between then and now. … We are here because we were there."

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