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Historical Society hosts party to celebrate its new BK home

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historical-society-1.jpgBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

About 250 people attended the Long Beach Historical Society’s housewarming party in Bixby Knolls Monday night. The guests, some of whom were historical figures themselves–including former mayors and longtime community activists–came to help celebrate that for the first time since it was founded 45 years ago, the society has a permanent home.
That home, appropriately, is an historic edifice–the old Harris Furs Building at 4260 Atlantic Avenue. The 7,500-square-foot building has a second floor as well as a basement. In more recent years it had been remodeled to serve as an art gallery, making it a perfect fit for the needs of the Society.
“This will allow Long Beach residents and visitors to better understand the history of our wonderful city and to contribute their own memorabilia for the sake of preservation,” said Long Beach Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal. “As we move toward the future, we must understand the past.”
Lowenthal added that much of the credit for finding a permanent home had to go to 8th District City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, City Manager Patrick West, current Historical Society President Evan Braude as well as his predecessors in that office. “Their hard work put this on the map in Bixby Knolls,” she said.
After four decades of successive relocations, the Society found itself in a dilemma in 2005. With no gallery space, much of its collection was in storage and its offices were located on the 12th floor of the historical Security Building on Pine Avenue. Realizing that neither the offices nor the historical collection were easily accessible to the public, the Society’s board of directors was desperate to find a more suitable location.
“I knew that the Historical Society was looking for a home, and I saw the Harris Furs Building go up for sale so I told Pat West that I thought it was the ideal place and it would be a wonderful win/win for the community,” Gabelich said. “He agreed and started working on making it happen; it took about a year.”
Gabelich has made the Atlantic Avenue corridor one of her priorities, and for years has worked with city officials and business people to increase pedestrian traffic in the Bixby Knolls area. She explained that her vision was that locating the Society there would make its exhibits more accessible to the public and boost retail sales in the area at the same time.
Working together, West, Gabelich and Braude were able to find a way for the city to acquire the Harris Furs building for a little over $1 million without dipping into the city’s general fund or raising anybody’s taxes.
Years ago, Camden Properties, a development firm, acquired the historic Loof building that was once part of the Pike Amusement Park. The company had plans to demolish the old building to make way for new apartments. Because many residents were in an uproar over those plans, the company pledged to spend about $1.5 million toward the building of a new facility for the Historical Society, which would have utilized the preserved top of the old Loof building for its roof.
A number of things prevented that scenario from happening, putting the Camden promise in limbo. But after negotiating with city and Historical Society officials, the company agreed to turn the promised money over to the city’s redevelopment agency for the purchase of the Harris Furs building. Now the city owns the building and is leasing it to the Society.
“The city is charging the Historical Society $1 per year for rent in an agreement that won’t expire for 60 years,” Braude said. “I am delighted by this, and I am delighted that the organization has a permanent home in Bixby Knolls.” Braude noted that even though the new location has only been open for a short time, many first-time visitors have already come.
Braude, who was a Long Beach City Councilman from 1986 to 1994, said he first became aware of the need to preserve history while running for election to the council and many residents were upset over plans to demolish some of the city’s oldest buildings. Later, he learned that preserving historical documents, photographs and artifacts was equally important and that realization spurred his involvement with the Society.
“We need to have a depository of historical items that can be referenced so that we know where we have come from,” he said. “That will help us understand how we got where we are and where we should be going in the future.”
Julie Bartoltto, the Historical Society’s executive director agreed. “Our mission is to promote, develop, exhibit and preserve Long Beach history,” she said. “We have documents, photographs and artifacts that tell the story of how the city became what it is today.” She noted that the Society’s vast collection is available for viewing by students, educators, researchers and anyone else interested in local history.
Gabelich added, “Locating the Historical Society in such a part of town that is already dedicated to historical values is good for the community and good for the Historical Society.
The Historical Society’s new museum and research center at 4260 Atlantic Avenue is only open Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the remainder of December. Beginning Jan. 2, it will be open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays. It will also be open 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for the First Fridays Art Walk.
For more information, phone (562) 424-2220.

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Historical Society hosts party to celebrate its new BK home