The Fullerton Museum Center (FMC) has always been an important part of the community. It’s an institution with a rich history of its own, and was even voted “Best Art Museum” by the OC Weekly in 2019. However, after recently reading that the Fullerton City Council voted to temporarily cut funding for the FMC, I thought it was time to highlight the historical and cultural significance of the Fullerton Museum Center.
According to the city of Fullerton website, in 1888, Mr. and Mrs. William Starbuck, with the help of donations from local residents, began the first Traveling Circulating Library in the back area of their pharmacy on the 100 block of East Commonwealth Avenue. As Fullerton began to expand, so did the need for educational resources. According to the City’s website, in 1904, C.C. Chapman, mayor of Fullerton, brought up the idea of constructing a City library. Land on the corner of Pomona and Wilshire Avenue was purchased, and construction began through the use of a grant given to the City by the Carnegie Foundation. December 16, 1907 marked the opening of the brand-new Carnegie Library. However by 1938, the Carnegie Library no longer met the needs of the community. Funding from the Federal Works Agency Projects Administration, also known as the WPA, enabled the construction of a new building to begin in 1940.
According to the Fullerton Public Library, local architect Harry Vaughn, known for his work in the Spanish Colonial Style and designer of the original Fullerton College campus, was hired to design the WPA building. The new design consisted of a main one-and-a-half story structure with two wings and two courtyards. On Christmas Eve of 1941, construction of the new WPA library was completed. In 1973, the library moved to its current location on Commonwealth.
In June 1971, the Fullerton Museum Association was founded by the members of the Youth Center Board of Trustees, along with other interested citizens, after signing a lease with the City for the old library building. A museum called Muse 9 opened at the site of the former library at the corner of Pomona and Wilshire in April of 1974, with its first permanent collection consisting of bones from the La Brea Tar Pits. To attract a broader audience, Muse 9 was renamed the Museum Association of North Orange County. On February 21, 1985, the Museum underwent major renovations and took on its current name of the Fullerton Museum Center.
The FMC has always been a part of my life. I’ve visited the Museum many times with my family. When I was at Golden Hill Elementary, I even remember going on a field trip with one of my classes to attend a tour and an educational arts and crafts workshop at the Museum where we had a chance to learn more about local history.
Outside of school, I’ve been to many exhibitions and events at the FMC with my parents—everything from exhibits featuring terrible vinyl album covers, to science fiction film posters, to national park photographers, to undersea photographs, to Latin American street art, and more serious subjects. I have attended the Museum’s Haunted Walking Tours on multiple occasions, which offered an in-depth look at some of Fullerton’s oldest buildings, as well as movie screenings in the plaza.
I’ve been to the Fullerton Market and concerts in the plaza with my parents numerous times where we’ve listened to music and found a variety of items over the years. It was an interesting experience as a kid because sellers from different booths would yell out to the crowd to buy their products, mainly freshly-grown fruits and vegetables. Almost every time we went to the Fullerton Market, we would stop by the museum gift shop, which contained a variety of strange, but interesting merchandise.
After reading that, “The Fullerton Museum Center will remain closed to the public until further notice” on their official website, I decided to reach out to Kirk G. San Roman, President of FMC Board of Trustees. Mr. San Roman joined the Board approximately eighteen years ago. His main motivation at the time was to see to it that the Leo Fender Gallery was constructed within the FMC space. At that time, it only existed in concept form. Soon after, he became the first Chairman of the Fender Committee.
When asked via email interview why the FMC is an important part of the community, Mr. San Roman said, “I feel that the Fullerton Museum Center and our surrounding plaza are the very heart and soul of Fullerton’s downtown area. Additionally, the FMC provides a diverse set of exhibits, runs the Thursday Market and Beer Garden, and provides art programs for adults, summer camps for kids, Fullerton Airport tours, Haunted Walking Tours, free art kits, the internationally famous Leo Fender Gallery, and much, much more. The FMC has served over 7,000 of Fullerton’s youth.”
Museums like the FMC can make a big difference in our lives, inspiring and challenging us to think critically about the past. According to museumsassociation.org, “With society facing issues such as poverty, inequality, intolerance, and discrimination, museums can help us understand, debate, and challenge these concerns.” Museums can provide us with interesting learning environments that allow us to actively engage with members of our community as we look at historical evidence.
However, due to the pandemic, some museums are in trouble. Even though the FMC is not certain about its future, educational opportunities are still being offered, such as a virtual tour of their current exhibit Golden Legacy: 75 Years of Golden Books narrated by Museum Curator Kelly Chidester.
Although the Fullerton City Council voted to cut operating costs for the FMC, it was announced as I was writing this column that the museum gallery and gift shop will be allowed to open on Thursdays through the end of July. Hours will be from 4:00pm to 7:00p.m. with only 10 people allowed in the gallery at a time. Face masks must be worn at all times and six-foot social distancing will be observed. It has always been interesting to explore the past and present at the FMC, which I hope will find enough funding to stay open after July is over.
To take a look back at the history of the Fullerton Museum Center and see photos from some of their older exhibits, check out my short video by visiting http://www.fullertonobserver.com and clicking the tab labeled “Local.” Underneath that tab, click on “Emerson Little YouTube Channel,” which will take you directly to my page.