23 Aug 2014
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Museum: An open window to Baldwin Park's past

The local museum offers a trip back in time but few residents are taking it.

Museum: An open window to Baldwin Park's past Museum: An open window to Baldwin Park's past Museum: An open window to Baldwin Park's past Museum: An open window to Baldwin Park's past Museum: An open window to Baldwin Park's past

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There is certain information about Baldwin Park you won't find on Google.  

The first In-N-Out burger location was completely demolished before the construction of the Interstate 10, and not just a couple of months ago as some media outlets reported this year.

At the beginning of the century, a river flooded the city before the construction of the Santa Fe Dam. At Morgan Park, people used to rent all-wool bathing suits to dive in “The Plunge,” a kind of artificial lake.

Information such as this about the city's history are displayed on the walls of the Baldwin Park Historical Museum, an iconic entity with just 52 museum members out of a town with 80,000 residents. 

Part of the museum's collection includes a 1912 Bible with birth records from 1796 and a display of rustic agricultural tools used by first settlers. See a photo gallery.

Moreover, there are pictures of local heroes who died in Vietnam and other American wars. Uniforms from that era are displayed on mannequins.

“The active members are growing smaller. Our problem is we have so many members that are getting older,” explained Robert Benbow, curator of the museum and president of the Baldwin Park Historical Society.

“But I know people are more interested in making a living, [especially] with this economy and the lack of jobs,” he added.

Sitting on his desk in the renovated building surrounded by objects that tell the history of this town, Benbow highlighted the need for community residents to understand what happened in the past so they can understand where the city is headed.

“Today, everybody talks about diversity; in the museum, we can show there has always been diversity here,” he said.

As examples, Benbow points to a member of the Baca Family who came in 1906 just after the Mexican revolution and to Marcelo Sánchez, an Baldwin Park native pictured in a vintage photo next to Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchil before D-Day.

“We are a nation of immigrants. But in order to become part of the future of this nation, you need to understand its past,” he said.

“I think more people should come here and know about this,” said Pedro Rodríguez, a Baldwin Park resident who recently visited the museum. “That way people will learn about the first [religious] missions and all that stuff.”

The museum is next to Baldwin City Hall and opens only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since there are no docents other than Benbow, the museum can’t open on more days.

The museum has received as many as 60 visitors on some days, but mostly from school excursions.

The museum relies completely on membership fees and donations to survive. If you want to donate or become a member, call 626-214-1620 or visit the museum at 14403 Pacific Ave. fronting the Metrolink Station.

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