Field Trip: Homestead Museum in California

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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.

3 thoughts on “Field Trip: Homestead Museum in California

  1. Monta Lee Dakin

    Luv this kind of story. I would suggest their banners hanging from the corners of the visitor center need to be MUCH bigger. Hard to see what’s in them from the pix; so would imagine it would be hard to see them from the street. Thanks for sharing this story; will definitely visit when I’m in the area.


  2. Conny Graft

    Thanks for sharing this Max. I loved the orientation video. It really made me want to go there for a visit! I am curious about their decision to increase the number of self-guided experiences (which is something visitors to historic sites say they want more of) as well as their decisions to limit the number of days for walk ins and increase the number of appt. only days. What was the impetus behind these changes?


  3. Lillian Choy

    Max: Thanks for stopping by! It was great to see you.
    Monta Lee: Thank you for the suggestion about the banners. We will definitely reconsider the size when it comes time to replace them!
    Conny: Over the years, we have found that our special programs have been more successful in bringing in visitors (4x as many!); scheduled tour visitation has also been higher than walk-ins. While it’s not all about numbers, we have been very happy with audience participation in special programs and are choosing to focus our efforts more intentionally to make better use of our resources, including staffing. As for transitioning part of the site into a self-guided experience, we want to offer our visitors a different type of interaction with the site—hopefully one that is more engaging and visitor-led. (Guided tours of the Workman House will still be available by reservation, while La Casa Nueva will remain docent-led.)


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