Take a worn down former city plunge, sprinkle in an eclectic mix of early Monrovia memorabilia, Native American artifacts and other assorted accumulated and donated items, add a qualified and enthusiastic curator–and what have you got? The .
Monrovia’s municipal plunge was completed back in 1925. Older members of the city’s ethnic communities may remember times during which the plunge did not afford all residents the same opportunities as other residents. With the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the city budget was cut by 30 percent, and one of the first services slashed was the plunge. The pool was later filled in, but it wasn’t until 1992 when it was designated the Monrovia Historical Museum.
The museum fared badly from the start, with static exhibits and irregular hours. Then in walked Mark Still, who was named curator by the museum board in January 2008. Mark was not a newcomer to Monrovia, having spent his entire youth here. He attended , and schools and graduated from When he married his wife, Peggy, in 1978, however, he left Monrovia, not to return until 2006.
Mark tried a year of college a few years out of high school, but he ended up in the construction trade for 25 years, specializing in making cabinets and high-end office furniture. A return to college in his early 40s awakened in Mark a love of history, which he now brings to his position as curator. He has acquired a personal collection of more than 600 artifacts, ranging from Egypt to Air Force One. This “museum” has become a teaching aid in his position as a speaker/guest lecturer at Chaffey College.
It was his role as a teacher that prompted Mark to write the book, Eban Custison, Citizen, which was published in 2010. The book follows the fictionalized life of a young man who travels from England to Maryland in 1701 to work as an indentured servant. Mark uses the book in the classes he teaches to convey to students this lesser known form of slavery.
When Mark first attempted to visit the museum shortly after he moved back to Monrovia, it took five repeat trips before he found the museum open. What he found inside was in his word, “needy,” with water-stained walls in need of paint and exhibits in need of TLC. He volunteered as a docent but soon realized that Monrovia deserved something better. Although he has been offered a paid curator position elsewhere (his volunteers his time at the Monrovia museum), he wants to elevate the status of the Monrovia museum to be “the best in the San Gabriel Valley.”
Soon after beginning his role as curator, Mark presented the museum board with a five-year plan, to be completed by 2014. With three years to go, most of the modest goals have already been achieved. Under Mark’s guidance, the museum has begun to recognize the culturally diverse heritage in Monrovia’s history.
In 2011, the museum will celebrate its third annual Black History Day, its second Latino Heritage Day and its first Asian Heritage Day. Talks are under way with local Indian tribes to improve the Native American exhibit and to present the artifacts in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner.
With the museum now open for regular hours (Thursdays and Sundays, 1-4 p.m.) and attendance increasing, the museum is slowly giving Monrovia an institution of which it can be proud.