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Lompoc Museum a link to the past while facing an uncertain future

47-year old facility facing potential closure

Lompoc Museum a link to the past...

LOMPOC, Calif. - Standing tall in Lompoc at the corner of H St. and Cypress Ave. is a beautiful Carnegie Building that provides an important link to the city's fascinating past.

For nearly 50 years, the historic building that dates back more than 100 years, has been the home of the Lompoc Museum.

"Lompoc Museum is a cultural history museum," said museum director Dr. Lisa Renken. "Our mission is to tell the story of the Lompoc Valley and the surrounding area."

The Carnegie Building was the former home of the city's library from 1911 to 1968. In 1970 it transitioned to the museum after a generous donation from Clarence Ruth, a local educator and amateur archeologist.

"The museum was started with a collection from the Clarence Ruth family, a collection of artifacts from the Chumash and other Native American tribes," Renken said. "We have beads, arrowheads, baskets, stone bowls, musical instruments, bone whistles, so we just have a vast array of artifacts."

Visitors may be surprised by the sheer volume of the collection.

"The Native American influence upstairs and seeing all the different artifacts almost looked like they were replicas of how well maintained are," said Daelan Blankfein, while visiting from Simi Valley.

Downstairs, visitors are able to take a look at Lompoc's more recent history, including a large display on the infamous Honda Point Naval Disaster, which happened just off the coast of Lompoc in 1923.

There is also a replica  boardwalk, featuring a number of business storefronts that once actually operated in the city.

"Those are recreating some of the early Lompoc businesses, so if you might recognize some of the names on them, like the Fabing Blacksmith Shop," said Renken. "Mr. Fabing was one of the pioneering families who founded Lompoc."

The museum's newest exhibit is also located downstairs. The "Lompoc Oral History Project," provides visitors an interactive experience with local residents who may be long gone.

"The exhibit has two hours of stories by some of Lompoc's early residents that are available to listen to on an iPad," said Renken. "It's two hours and it's about 80 stories, so a lot there to see."

Vanessa Kensing grew up in Lompoc and once visited the museum as a third grade student. More than 20 years later, the now-Brooklyn, New York resident returned to the museum with her husband and spent several minutes enjoying the oral project.

"Getting to hear personal stories is so interesting to me," said Kensing. "Getting to hear their actual voices and their experience of their first earthquake or Japanese internment, it was just fascinating to hear it in somebody's own words."

Other downstairs displays spotlight natural history, such as a fossilized prehistoric dolphin skeleton. More exhibits spotlight traditional Lompoc Valley businesses, including the flower and mineral industries.

There is also a large display that allows visitors to shuffle through large storyboards of countless old photographs.

"That display features some of the founding families of Lompoc, the pioneering families," said Renken. "You go over there and look at some of the names and you will still recognize the names today."

Located just a block south of the busy intersection of H St. and Ocean Ave., the museum is a popular draw for locals and tourists alike.

"I've had people from other countries," said board member Ted Suchecki. "I've had visitors from Spain, India, Portugal, various parts of the United States, just about every state in the union has visited us."

Many visitors arrive at the museum by chance and are impressed with their experience. It's an experience that costs visitors just $1 admission.

"It's been a surprise and when you're off on an adventure like we have been, surprises make it much more fun," said Carole Harter of Claremont. "We've enjoyed this."

While the Lompoc Museum has been enjoyed by thousands over its many years of operation, it is currently facing a financial crisis and cloudy future.

Earlier this month, the city's proposed budget was introduced, which included a proposal to eliminate museum funding.

"It's definitely a serious situation to contemplate having 62 percent of our budget removed," said Renken. "If that goes to zero, surely the museum as it's currently operating would not be continue."

According to Renken, the museum receives $59,000 annually from the city. It's money the boards says its vital to keeping the operation afloat.

"If we didn't get the basic, the core, the baseline support from the city, this facility, this function would disappear," said Suchecki. "It's irreplaceable in my opinion. You just cannot recover if you close."

But for now, the museum remains open, giving locals and tourists alike a window to a time gone by.

The Lompoc Museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and holidays.

Admission is just one dollar.

For more information on the Lompoc Museum, visit www.lompocmuseum.org

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