The people behind the Alhambra Historical Society

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Community Contributor Anthony Seto goes through the Alhambra Historical Society’s impressive archive and writes about why the museum needs volunteers.

On the corner of Alhambra Road and Bushnell Avenue, amid closed storefronts and a sleepy church, is the Alhambra Historical Society Museum. Inside, one can find a treasure trove of Alhambra artifacts, photographs and curiosities.

In the lobby hangs a large flag of Alhambra, bearing a palm tree straddled between two dark green words proclaiming “ALHAMBRA” and “CALIFORNIA.”

Further exploration of the premises reveals a meticulous attempt to archive Alhambra’s history. A collection of yearbooks from Alhambra High School and San Gabriel High School cover the years of 1912 through 1984. Two brown tiles depicting majestic dogs are exhibited behind a glass. They were saved from the fireplace of a historic home belonging to Captain Francis Gray, the youngest officer in the Civil War to attain the rank of captain. One can also find an entire room dedicated to the Alhambra Fire Department.

The Alhambra Historical Society was founded in 1966 by Alhambra Mayor Norma Yocum, the first female mayor of Alhambra. It was by no means an easy task, as she had to fight for the society against her stubborn male counterparts in City Council. With help from the city, the society was able to secure its first location for the nominal price of $1. A picture of Yocum sits in the front lobby of the current museum, still defiant as ever.

Not all cities have a historical society. “You either have cities so proud [of their historical societies] or you have others that try to prevent them from existing,” explains Rose Marie Markus, the current president of the Alhambra Historical Society.

Ms. Markus first joined the society in 1976 and is a longtime volunteer at the museum. She recalls when the museum was bustling with activity. At its peak, it was open 6 days a week.

Nowadays, fewer and fewer people are visiting the museum, causing it to reduce the number of days it opens. In recent years, the museum was only open two Sundays a month. Now it is down to one Sunday a month. There are some Sundays where not a soul will walk in,” says Markus.

Worse still is the gradual loss of volunteers. Many volunteers have grown old or moved away. Others have died. This leaves Markus, who is in her eighties, as one of the few remaining active volunteers for the museum. There is much work to be done, and Markus finds herself handling just about everything. “I’m getting tired, too old… it’s too much,” she laments.

Without new volunteers, the potential for the museum is unrealized and Alhambra’s history risks being lost.

The museum is a starting point for researchers, curious residents and those with artifacts of historical value. It has guided them with answers to their questions and has given them direction about where to take their artifacts.

There are many opportunities at the museum. Volunteers can help research and catalog the numerous photographs and artifacts in the museum’s archives that have yet to be identified. It’s an opportunity to do detective work on items that often have an interesting story about its previous owners and users. Some items belong to the museum. Others will need to be sent to other museums.

Volunteers can also act as docents to help guide visitors through the museum’s exhibits. They can help prepare publications and press releases, or contribute to the monthly newsletter. In addition, they can help maintain the society’s website.

The perks of volunteering include flexibility to pick a time and day to come in. Researchers receive an assigned tray for which they can collect their research. No one else can touch their tray. Best of all, there is robust air conditioning in the building for the summer months.

“If we can put one item away, answer one question, we’ve accomplished something,” Markus finishes.

The Alhambra Historical Society Museum is open every second Sunday of the month from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and by appointment. Admission is free. Volunteers should contact Rose Marie Markus at (626) 300-8845.

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