History and Founding
The Santa Monica History Museum is a “Santa Monica treasure.” It represents the entire Santa Monica Bay Area. It was founded under the “Historical Activities Committee” of Santa Monica’s Centennial Celebration in 1975 and by a public poll. Its name at that time was the Santa Monica Historical Society and it was designated as the official collector and preserver of the history, art, and culture of the Santa Monica Bay Area. Former Mayor Clo Hoover, the first woman mayor of Santa Monica, was elected the first president.
The society’s historical collection grew tremendously during the first ten years with artifacts, memorabilia, and photos donated by descendants of land grantees and pioneers who were living at that time. The society thought it was time to share them with the public but, lacked the necessary funds to start a museum.
They sought the help of Louise and Bob Gabriel who had been active in the community for years and had a strong love for Santa Monica and its history whom took on the responsibility to make the museum a reality. Within three years, with determination, perseverance, and countless hours of work, Bob headed the fundraising committee and raised the necessary funds. Louise was able to get all the furnishings for the museum donated by companies that were going out of business. Bob found a temporary rent‐free location on Colorado Avenue.
They founded the museum in 1988. The museum was relocated several times due to short‐term leases with low rent. It now has a permanent home on the campus of the Santa Monica Main Library thanks to the City of Santa Monica who provided a long term lease.
The Museum’s historical collections are comprised of over one million items including the personal historical collection of Senator John P. Jones, cofounder of Santa Monica; archives of the Santa Monica Outlook Newspaper (1875-1998); Henshey’s, Santa Monica’s first department store; Santa Monica Bank; Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce; Charles Tegner, business pioneer as well as the photo collections of well-known photographers Bill Beebe, Bob Smith, George Tate, Justine Hill, and author Fred Basten.
The Museum has six galleries and a research library which was generously sponsored by Mark Benjamin, Morley Builders. Its beautiful design is attributed to architect Kristina Andresen. The splendid tile and stone work throughout the Museum was generously donated by Bourget Bros. Building Materials.
With over six hundred thousand rare photographs, the Museum has one of the largest collections in Southern California. The museum serves people of all ages and is handicap-accessible and offers tours, exhibits, special events, lectures, children’s workshops and research services. Also offered are free docent‐led tours to school classrooms and youth groups.
The Museum’s major projects include a six year effort which saved Santa Monica’s first brick building and original City Hall, aka Rapp Saloon, from demolition and subsequently designated a landmark; sponsoring the first Architectural Dig in Ocean Park, co‐sponsored by UCLA, that revealed three thousand artifacts; sponsoring the Monument of Arcadia Bandini de Baker, wife of Santa Monica co‐founder Colonel Robert S. Baker, which stands in the Rose Garden in Palisades Park. The monument was also co‐sponsored by the City of Santa Monica, Bandini families and friends.
The Museum has held many community events over the years including art and essay contests for students, celebrated the “Bi‐Centennial of Flight” with General Jimmy Doolittle and Donald Douglas Jr. and a “Salute to Astronaut Sally Ride” at the Miramar Hotel, both of which had over a thousand attendees; Santa Monica’s major birthdays; “Centennial Celebration for Stan Laurel” of Laurel and Harding who lived in Santa Monica; three “Community Fun Festivals”, co‐sponsored by the Donald Douglas Museum at the Santa Monica Airport and attended by over forty‐thousand people (a figure given by the airport director, Hank Ditmar); and a “Centennial Celebration for the Santa Monica Fire Department” with plaques awarded to the current and past Fire Chiefs.
Some of the Museum’s well received exhibits have covered Lawrence Welk, Marion Davies, The Outlook Newspaper, “Life At The Miramar”, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica Fire Department’s 125th Birthday and the Aero Theatre’s 75th Anniversary.
One of the largest, most exciting and unique exhibits ever held at the Museum was the “Love, Shirley Temple” exhibit. The Museum was one of only five museums in the world chosen by Shirley Temple’s children to display their mother’s personal, childhood collection prior to being sold at an auction held by Theriault’s. The Museum received global recognition and within a week the exhibit was viewed by over two thousand people. A special “VIP” preview event was attended by members, press, various local, city and state officials and celebrities, including former childhood stars Jane Withers, Margaret O’Brien and Jerry Mathers. The exhibit inspired the Museum to start a new permanent evolving Shirley Temple exhibit which will be expanded.