HomeCity NewsHistorical Society Commemorates 50 Years of Documenting Burbank

Historical Society Commemorates 50 Years of Documenting Burbank


Everyone loves historical facts, and when it comes to Burbank the city sure has its share.
Did you know …

  • Marilyn Monroe once lived in Burbank. In the late 1940s, she lived in a modest home near Warner Bros. on Rowland Avenue, which is now known as Warner Boulevard. (Yes, the house is still there.)
  • The customized Lockheed Electra 10E that Amelia Earhart vanished in was built in Burbank.
  • Walt Disney intended to build Disneyland in Burbank, on Riverside Drive, right by the company’s studios, but the project was denied by the City Council who didn’t want a “carny atmosphere” in the city.
  • Gangster Mickey Cohen ran a casino out of Burbank’s Dincara Stock Farm, a horse stable on Mariposa Street and Riverside Drive.
    Cohen’s illegal gambling activity ended after a 1948 police raid led by Burbank police detective Harry Strickland. That Cohen bust ultimately uncovered a network of local corruption that ended in a Burbank councilman and the city manager resigning after the police chief was found to have received payoffs from racketeers.
    A quarter of a century after Strickland made a name for himself by taking down that corruption, he and his wife, Mary Jane, would establish a repository for the documentation of the historical facts listed above, and many more, by establishing the Burbank Historical Society.
    Mary Jane Strickland died in 2015. She was a library employee who became the city’s first public information officer and was obsessed with preserving Burbank’s history. She was also credited with having completed an exhaustive search of old records and documents going back to 1911, which determined that the correct term for a Burbank resident was “Burbanker.”
    With Harry by her side, the couple enlisted a small group of like-minded preservationists, including a real estate developer named Gordon Russell Howard to make sure the city’s past would be properly documented with all sorts of ephemera including letters, photos, newspaper clippings, official documents and all manner of memorabilia from vintage vehicles, business signs and equipment, and street lamps, to toys, fashions, quilts and items pertaining to aviation, film and television production.
    Howard, who shared the Stricklands’ passion for preservation, donated land and apartment buildings to the society that were sold to raise funding to build a museum complex, and in 1983, the society cut the ribbon on the Gordon R. Howard Museum, located in George Izay Park, formerly known as Olive Park.
    Today, the museum is composed of two separate structures, a 20,000-square-foot facility, which houses the society’s collection, and the Mentzer House, an Eastlake-style Victorian house embellished with a Queen Anne gingerbread that was built in 1887 by the Providencia Land, Water and Development Company. The house, which originally stood near Palm Avenue and 6th Street, was moved to East Orange Grove around 1920, and then to its current location in 1977 where it was restored under the guidance (and actual work) of Harry Strickland.
    It was on the back patio of the Mentzer House that society members and supporters recently gathered to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary with a traditional Victorian tea.
    Appropriately dressed for the afternoon soirée, attendees nibbled on finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and preserves, while tea was served by society board members from a magnificent collection of tea pots from the collection of Tracy Cusumano.
    Among the supporters and volunteers who made the day a success were Don Baldaseroni, Carole Collins, Barbara Bartman, Maggie Thomas, Ted Garcia, Gary Sutliff, Tony Rivera, Ken and Leslie Smith, Marcia Baroda and Carey Briggs, who serves as the society’s director of operations.
    The tea, attended by Mayor Konstantine Anthony and City Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi, also included an empty place setting with an upside-down teacup in remembrance of longtime museum docent Doris Palmer who died earlier this year.
    The society’s golden anniversary, which has consisted of ongoing events, will next host a barbecue event on July 29, featuring local entertainer Rat Pack Ricky. The organization is also sponsoring an essay contest for Burbank elementary, middle and high school students. Asked to select one of two topics, either about the most significant event that has occurred in Burbank over the past 50 years, or what they believe the city will be like in 50 years from today, six wining essays will be selected with each of their writers receiving $750. The winners will be announced during the last of the 50th anniversary events, “An Evening at the Museum,” a gala with dining and entertainment, which will take place on Oct. 21.
    The Burbank Historical Society and the Gordon R. Howard Museum, located between Clark and West Olive avenues in George Izay Park, are separate entities from the city of Burbank and operate completely on donations and by volunteers.
    For more information on society membership, the museum, and rules for the essay contest, visit burbankhistoricalsoc.org, or call (818) 841-6333.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the June 10 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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