Last week I had a chance to visit with my colleagues at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, California. I was the assistant director there a decade ago and it continues to be a special place to me (if you haven’t visited, it has great architecture and a great story). After a generous lunch with the staff, director Karen Graham Wade and some of her staff took me to see the Workman House, the earliest house on the site. It’s undergoing extensive interior rehabilitation to make it more suitable and attractive as an exhibit gallery. It’s part of a major effort to respond to the changing interests of their visitors by increasing the self-guided experiences. They are also reducing the number of days per week the Homestead Museum will be open for walk-in public tours and increasing the number of days they’ll be open for tours by appointment and for other activities. At La Casa Nueva, the second house on site, they are slowly restoring the exterior and landscape to its appearance in the 1920s. They’ve also produced a 12-minute orientation video that nicely untangles the complex lives of two families over a century, puts it in a regional and national context, shows the ways visitors can be involved, and it notes their goal of connecting the past with the present. It’s shown on site before tours begin but it’s also available online through YouTube.
The Homestead Museum is also trying to overcome the historic site’s invisibility–it’s hidden behind a fence and hard to see from the street. The visitors center is prominent but its modern design doesn’t suggest at all what will be experienced, so they’ve hung large full-color vinyl banners on every corner of the building so you get a sense of what you might find inside. On the walkway, they’ve placed an interpretive panel that describes and shows what was once there but now gone–a nice way to connect the spot where visitors are standing to its history.