While our resident History Buff, Matt Hormann, works on his next column, we’re starting the new year off with a guide to the best history-focused museums in the area, to inspire you to get out and explore them.
If you’re looking to spend the day enjoying arts and architecture that tell a story, you need look no further than the history museums of the San Gabriel Valley. Here are a few of our favorites.
Casa Adobe San Rafael
1330 Dorothy Dr., Glendale
Reservations, 818.548.2184; events & tours, 818.502.9080
Open daily 8 a.m.-dusk
The Casa Adobe, built in 1865, is listed as a California landmark and was saved from the wrecking ball in 1930 by concerned neighbors. Docents lead tours the first Sunday of the month from September through June and every Sunday in July and August, but you can stop by any day for a self-guided tour. Look for the Fiesta de las Luminarias in December.
El Molino Viejo (The Old Mill)
1120 Old Mill Rd., San Marino
Open Tues.-Sun. afternoons
This first grist mill for Mission San Gabriel is a two-story adobe made from oven-baked bricks. Completed in 1816 over an underground stream, it operated for seven years before being abandoned as a mill. Today it is a small museum run by the city of San Marino, with a welcoming staff; expert volunteers maintain the grounds. This monument to California history is a gem.
Lummis House (El Alisal)
200 E. Ave. 43, Highland Park
Open Fri.-Sun. afternoons
Journalist, activist and adventurer Charles Lummis, who founded the Southwest Museum, hand-built this house over a twelve-year period beginning in the late 19th century. He used local materials, most notably Arroyo river rock, and built many of the furnishings, setting the stage for the Arts & Crafts movement that soon took the nation by storm. Low-maintenance native gardens surround the giant sycamore (El Alisal) on the property.
Mission San Gabriel de Arcangel
428 S Mission Dr., San Gabriel
Within the high walls of Mission San Gabriel are all the signs of 18th-century Spanish life: tanning beds, tallow vats, outdoor kitchen pots, jumbo grape vines climbing the arbor and Gabrielino- painted canvases depicting the Stations of the Cross. Beyond the cool, dark, detail-rich church is the actual Mission Museum, a tidy series of rooms filled to the brim with artifacts, clothing and furniture; it’s a lot to take in, so be sure to ask for a tour. Inside the walled garden you’ll spy resting places of priests and Indians who labored here, but the official mission cemetery is outside the walls; it cradles both average Joes and such local legends as Don Benito Wilson.
Pasadena Museum of History
470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena
Open Wed.-Sun. afternoon
Once the home of Dr. Adalbert and Eva Fenyes, this 1906 Beaux Arts mansion was an early 20th- century salon for the Fenyes’s circle of writers, artists, politicos and industrialists. The mansion served as the Finnish Foreign Consulate from 1947 to 1964. It is now part of the Pasadena Museum of History, offering exhibits, mansion tours, a research library and an excellent museum store with Pasadena-specific books. Don’t miss the on-site Finnish Folk Art Museum, the only one of its kind in the country.
South Pasadena Historical Museum
913 Meridian Ave., South Pasadena
Open Thurs. & Sat.; call for times
This totally cute (and free) hometown museum is located in the old Meridian Iron Works building, just off the Mission stop on the Gold Line. The local history includes displays about Cawston Ostrich Farm and the Raymond Hotel.
2211 Bonita Dr., Glendale
Grounds open daily; house by appt.
The oldest building in Glendale, this adobe features an actual old-school brick under glass. If that doesn’t thrill you, how about a cast-iron bell marked with a sign that says “Bell”? Okay, okay, Verdugo Adobe is on the National Register of Historic Places because in 1847, Mexican Gen. Andres Pico met his brother, U.S. soldier Jesus Pico, right here and agreed to surrender to American troops – so some historians consider Verdugo Adobe to be the birthplace of California. The house is open by appointment only, so call first or you’ll have to settle for peeking through the windows.