LA MIRADA — This city is home to what many historians call one of the area's most unique landmarks--the McNally Ranch in Neff Park--and after grappling for a year with how to display its historical value, the city has decided that small is better than big.
City officials have rejected proposals that would have paved the way for the site to become a major historical attraction and have opted instead to take a cautious approach.
The city, private groups and individuals who have been involved in the debate over how to develop the site, all agree that the area's historical interest should be increased, and want to carry on with plans to restore the park's Neff Mansion. But there is disagreement about what specifically should be done--and at what pace.
Time Period a Question
There is even uncertainty over what period Neff Mansion should be restored to, since three different families lived in the house over a period of nearly 70 years.
"What type of furniture would go in and from what time period is uncertain," C. W. (Bob) Camp, the city's unofficial historian, said. "It's possible that different rooms could reflect different periods in the house's history. We are in the process of working out some of these issues."
All of present day La Mirada is in the boundary of what was once the sprawling, 2,200-acre Windermere Ranch owned by Andrew McNally, of Rand McNally atlas fame. The McNally Ranch site in Neff Park, which dates from 1890, is the only original portion of the ranch that has survived intact.
In National Register
Three acres of the site, including the McNally or Neff Mansion, and the George House were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The park was previously administered by the defunct Southeast Parks and Recreation Commission but came under city control in 1980.
Carol Cooley, the city's public information officer and a member of the city's Historical Committee, said that La Mirada has admittedly taken a conservative approach in developing the site as a historic monument.
"If we start small on a project of this kind then we have the option of seeing what the community interest is," Cooley said. "Not everyone is a history buff or sees value in maintaining a historical site."
Two years ago, the city commissioned a $10,000 study by Martin Weil, the former chief restoration architect for the Canadian government.
But Cooley said the plan was "unrealistic and far too grandiose," and the city did not bother to calculate how much it would have cost to implement all of the proposals. Weil himself would not put a price tag on the project.
Among the options included in Weil's original master plan were proposals to turn a carriage barn dating from the original ranch or the George House into a restaurant or tearoom, with waiters dressed in period costume; permanent exhibitions inside all of the buildings reflecting various historical themes such as domestic life on the ranch and citrus and olive production; various tour programs of the buildings, including slide shows, movies and recorded sounds, and a food and drink service and visitor reception area. Weil proposed staff positions that included a curator, an archivist, an education specialist, public relations representatives and a fund-raising coordinator.
After receiving the Weil plan last year, the City Council appointed an ad hoc committee, which was charged with preparing a scaled-down version.
Now the City Council is considering recommendations from that committee to hire a part-time site director and to appoint a new city committee. This new committee--to be made up of members of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, the Historical Committee and a private group, Friends of McNally Ranch--would be empowered to make long-range plans for the park. Also being considered is a recommendation that the city support an effort to have the entire 10-acre park named a historic site.
Weil, who said he has not kept up with the La Mirada debate, said it "did not hurt" to start with a part-time site director.
"My recommendations were designed to make them understand how they could utilize the site and what structure they needed to set up to do some of these things," Weil said. "The final decisions must arrive out of the community."
Tish Ward, president of Friends of McNally Ranch and a member of the ad hoc committee, said Weil had made "some excellent suggestions."
"We, on the committee, did not really address ourselves to his proposals in minute detail," Ward said. "We felt that the site director and the new committee would be best able to do that."
The proposed committee would act as an advisory board to the site director and would have primary responsibility for fund raising, Ward said.
But Cooley said La Mirada is not necessarily ready for another city commission.