By Michael Aushenker
It’s only fitting that the Santa Monica History Museum will hold its silver anniversary gala fundraiser, celebrating 25 years, at Casa del Mar on Sunday, Sept. 15.
The venerable Santa Monica hotel has a lengthy history that goes back to the building’s original incarnation, Club Casa del Mar, a beach club that opened in 1926. Casa del Mar became a hotel and recreation service for the military during World War II, and post-war, the Italian Renaissance Revival-style building went through a succession of usages, including the headquarters of Synanon and Pritikin Longevity Center.
Local history, after all, is what Santa Monica History Museum has been all about in its past quarter-century.
On Sept. 15, the gala dinner event will honor museum founders Louise and Bob Gabriel, museum architect Kris Andresen, and longtime supporter Mary Ann Powell, CEO of Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier. The casino-themed gala will echo the Rex gambling ship anchored offshore in Santa Monica Bay back in 1939 , with music of the epoch by singer Savi Labensart.
“The first day I saw Santa Monica, I knew I wanted to spend my life here,” Louise Gabriel told The Argonaut.
“We started with nothing,” Gabriel said. “In three years, my husband and I were drafted to start the museum.”
Santa Monica, after all, is where destiny played its hand in 1946, when Gabriel was visiting California with her mother from their native Detroit.
“This was like heaven,” she recalled. “This was like God’s country.”
Sweetening the deal is the fact that she met Bob Gabriel, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy who had fought in the Pacific theater during World War II, right on Broadway and Third Street in the middle of downtown Santa Monica.
Gabriel said she is proud of “what we have accomplished (at the museum). Now we have tens of thousands of original documents and memorabilia.”
Among them were documents and ephemera scored when Santa Monica Bank went out of business and a treasure trove from the Santa Monica Outlook, the newspaper of record since 1875 that printed its final edition in 1998.
“We acquired over 600,000 photographs, most of them are originals, plus negatives,” Gabriel said.
That also includes the personal collection of founding Santa Monican Sen. John B. Jones that descendent Arcadia Bandini had attained. Outlook photographer Bob Smith is another local from whom the museum gleaned mementos, including 25 years worth of his local photography.
“The museum exists today because of Louise’s leadership, determination and especially her enduring love of Santa Monica and guiding passion for preserving its rich, vibrant history to share with everyone,” said Andrea Engstrom, who has worked with Gabriel at the museum since 1998.
“Louise has made a great lasting contribution to the city of Santa Monica by founding the museum and working tirelessly to secure an elegant and permanent home for its history,” Engstrom said.
Originally an appendage of the local historical society with the unwieldy title of Santa Monica Historical Society Museum back in 1975, the Santa Monica History Museum spent 13 years of collecting artifacts before opening its doors in 1988, inside an industrial building on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica which Sony occupies today.
“They gave us free rent,” Gabriel recalled after a $30,000 investment had established the museum.
Since October 2010, the museum has been located on Seventh Street, housed within the same building as Santa Monica Main Library. Before that, Santa Monica History Museum floated around several locations, including a temporary location on Euclid Street.
“Every day, it’s a great pleasure to be part of the stimulating atmosphere at the museum where visitors, volunteer and staff all thoroughly enjoy the many different ways we become immersed in the fascinating history of Santa Monica,” Engstrom said. “We really like to talk history with everyone.”
Local television personality Stephanie Edwards served as honorary chair of the museum’s silver anniversary and annual gala tribute dinner. Edwards, who began her career as an actress, is best known as longtime co-host of the Annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena with Bob Eubanks.
“I was at the original gathering when the museum opened 25 years ago and it seems like yesterday,” she told The Argonaut.
The correspondent, a longtime Santa Monican who today lives in the San Fernando Valley, still has a crush on the Bay City.
“My husband and I lived there for 17 years some while back now,” she said.
“The museum is a lovely one,” Edwards continued. “It continues to grow because of the efforts of people who know how loved it is.”
Engstrom, who works as the museum’s image archive manager and development director (financial management), offered her professional highlight: “The implementation of our online photograph archive with over 3,000 historic images of Santa Monica that the public can access from their home.”
In fact, aside from some shared imagery from the very beginnings of Santa Monica’s history in 1769 (and since its incorporation in 1886), the museum’s online imagery varies (and complements) the images offered by Santa Monica Historical Society and Santa Monica Library. The Bill Beebe collection, comprised of the work of another Outlook photographer, informs a great deal of Santa Monica History Museum’s online inventory, Engstrom added.
Gabriel said she is proud of what Santa Monica History Museum has accomplished in its first official quarter-century for the Bay City, home to some 90,000 citizens today.
“It shows the accomplishments of the city as it developed,” Gabriel said of her museum. “And it brings the community together.
As for Edwards, she can not attend the gala because of a family and class reunion in her native Minnesota. However, she says her heart will be in Santa Monica on that night.
“I love the town,” Edwards said. “I wish I was still living there, frankly.”
The Santa Monica History Museum is located at 1350 Seventh St. Hotel Casa del Mar is located at 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica.
Tickets for the silver anniversary gala are $150 per person. For information and tickets, Danielle Lewis at (310) 395-2290, or firstname.lastname@example.org; santamonicahistory.org.