Museum Director Musings: The Beginning of a New Era

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today’s my first day as museum director at the Homestead.  But, let’s go back a bit . . .

On this day in 1988, after five months as an intern, I began my first day on the job as a Homestead Museum employee.  The day before I graduated from Cal State Fullerton  in late May with a history degree, but determined to be a high school boys basketball coach, I interviewed for a part-time Education Specialist position.

I thought that if I got the job it would be fun to do for a while, maybe a couple of years at most, and then I would go back to earn my credential and look for that coaching job (I was, in fact, offered one in 1990 and very nearly took it.)

This arched entrance to the architecturally-stunning La Casa Nueva is a literal and figurative portal back to the 1920s.

But, a couple of key factors fell into place.  One was that the management here seemed to like what I was doing and, within nine months, moved me to full-time employment as the museum’s first dedicated staff person for supervising volunteers.  The second was that, as I discovered that little research had been done of the history of the site and the Workman and Temple families, I began, tentatively, to do research on my days off.

In both cases, totally unexpected results came about.

Over the last 28 (!) years, I’ve worked in such roles as Volunteer Supervisor, Collections Manager, and Assistant Director.  I scheduled (and conducted) tours, helped manage and then build our artifact collection and took on more responsibility for managing the museum under our long-time director Karen Graham Wade, who retired yesterday after 30 years as director and 34 years as a Homestead staff member.  I want to pause here to congratulate her on all that she has accomplished and to thank her for the opportunities she gave to me.  She should be proud of her work here and I wish her the very best!

Recently renovated, the Workman House is a distinctive venue for learning about 19th-century family and regional history.

As to those research trips to libraries, archives and other places, an endeavor embarked upon with virtually no knowledge of our area’s history, that work eventually led to a biography of the Workman and Temple families.  It also meant having the opportunity, coupled later with my graduate work at Fullerton, to study and write about other areas of the history of our region and state.

Most of us wind up on journeys that are some variation on that theme.  We often find ourselves traveling on uncharted courses that might, in hindsight, make sense or even seem somewhat planned.  For the most part, though, these trips are a series of well-placed accidents, timely coincidences and fortuitous opportunities.

That’s what I was thinking about just a little while ago as I took a leisurely walk around this remarkable place.  So, it seemed a particularly apt time to write this introduction to a regular feature on the Homestead’s blog that will cover a lot of ground.  My plan is to write about this amazing museum, its curious visitors, its dedicated volunteers, its talented paid staff, its rich and varied history and that of greater Los Angeles from 1830 to 1930, and much else.

El Campo Santo, one of the few private cemeteries remaining in greater Los Angeles, is not just the last resting place of many Workman and Temple family members, but of Don Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican-era Alta California.

Underlying all of it is the Homestead’s purpose statement which I have posted at the bottom of the screen I’m staring at as I type these words:

Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.

Advocacy can mean a lot of things, but in this context, it signifies spreading the good word about the history of our region and doing that through stories that are meaningful, relevant and relatable.

Hopefully, that’s what these “Museum Director Musings” will be able to achieve in this new era for the Homestead.  If you find meaning, relevance, and relatability here, then let me know about it by leaving a comment.


One thought

  1. For you the end of an “era”…and the beginning of another….very well spoken…congratulations…and good luck!

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