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Burbank Historical Society Marks 50th Year

The Burbank Historical Society celebrated its 50th year this week with a champagne reception, flush with local history buffs and leaders who marked the close of the nonprofit’s fifth decade in operation.

The Burbank Historical Society and Gordon Howard Museum complex, one of the largest historical society museums in the United States, is second only to the New York City Historical Society in terms of square footage dedicated to the history of the city.

“Fifty years ago, when Mary Jane Strickland identified the need to collect and preserve documents containing the history of our city, she probably didn’t think it would become a repository of 150,000 documents and objects nor grow to the size we are today,” said Don Baldaseroni, president of BHS.

Legendary Burbank historian Strickland passed away in 2015, but Baldaseroni said that the framework that she and the original members of the board of directors set “enabled the museum to scale and fully present historical records from the past 200 years.”

Strickland told the Los Angeles Times in 1990 that she was motivated to learn more about the city’s history when she embarked on a quest for more accurate information about her father’s career as Burbank’s police chief.

“After that I just started collecting things, putting things together and talking to people. And pretty soon I was a woman possessed,” Strickland said at the time.

Joined by a small group of individuals, Strickland was intent on preserving the rich history of her community, according to the museum’s website. The group founded the Burbank Historical Society in 1973 and later incorporated it and received nonprofit status in 1975.

Fifty years later, the museum has swelled to include two sites as part of its growing complex. The bulk of the society’s collection is housed in this 20,000 square foot facility, named in honor of benefactor Gordon Howard. All items in the complex, except for those on loan, have been donated. The Mentzer House, a restored Victorian home originally built in 1887, is the second structure that makes up the museum complex.

The museum engages young people in a number of ways. Through its scholarship program, students submit essays on what Burbank will look like 50 years from now. The essays are available on easels in the museum and are also posted to the BHS website.

The $750 awards were presented at the champagne reception on Saturday, Oct. 21. Recipients included John Burroughs High Schools’ Adara Chi, Fiona Knappmiller Gwendolynn Hager, who were joined by Alyssa M. Viviano of Dolores Huerta Middle School, Aneeth Nangunoori of Bret Harte Elementary School, Audrey Lynch of Luther Burbank Middle School, Charlie Bunje of Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, and Siddharta Reynolds of Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School.

The museum also tours 1,100 kids per year through school field ship programs.

“Our 50th year was fantastic, we had a tea [event] in May, we had a barbecue in July, and a champagne reception [this month],” said Baldesaroni.

BHS was awarded a recognition from the city Tuesday marking its 50th year.

“Congratulations on this milestone,” said Mayor Konstantine Anthony at the Tuesday meeting. “On behalf of the City Council, I thank [the BHS] for your dedication to collecting, preserving and sharing the rich history of our community. We wish you continued success.”

First published in the October 28 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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