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Obscure Repository of Burbank's Past : The World Has So Far Failed to Beat a Path to City Museum's Doors

January 01, 1987|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

Burbank has a secret past.

Or at least more secret than the city's history buffs would like.

The proprietors of the Gordon R. Howard Museum, west of downtown Burbank, say they wish the institution would attract more people.

"Some folks say, 'Well, if it's in Burbank, there can't be all that much,' " said George Colvin, 65, a member on the board of directors of the Burbank Historical Society, a nonprofit citizens committee that operates the museum. "They say, 'What could Burbank have?' I just wish more people knew about us."

Although it is not now counted among the top tourist attractions of Southern California, the Gordon R. Howard Museum, named after a prominent city real estate developer, houses an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits saluting Burbank's past, as well as other treasures that do not have anything to do with Burbank. Burbank is one of the few independent cities to have its own museum, Colvin said.

"People in Glendale are very envious of us," Colvin said. "They have a historical house, but we have a whole museum."

Pictures of Miss Burbank

The Howard Museum, which is open three hours a week, is the only place in town to see the first electric meter installed in Burbank, or pictures of Miss Burbank of 1948, Debbie Reynolds. A bigger-than-life figure of the late heavyweight boxing champion James L. Jeffries, who lived in Burbank, is poised menacingly in boxing trunks near the door.

Other exhibits include a tableaux of an early Burbank dentist's office, a general store and a hotel lobby. Another tableau shows a figure in blackface--Al Jolson as the "Jazz Singer" in a tribute to Warner Brothers Studios, which was situated in Burbank. Warner Brothers is now part of Burbank Studios, which still is housed in Burbank.

Although its pictures of old schools and organizations, as well as yellowed newspaper clippings, give the museum a hometown feel, other exhibits lift it above the category of the local storefront museum.

Film Studios Honored

Spanish furniture from the 1600s is featured in the museum. Portable desks carried by Spanish noblemen and businessmen are displayed, along with other Spanish furniture. Displays from NBC and Walt Disney studios, which are headquartered in Burbank, show the studios as they used to be.

The museum's centerpiece is an aviation exhibit contributed by Lockheed Corp., which spotlights large-scale model planes suspended above memorabilia from historic flights.

Howard's extensive antique car collection, including a 1937 Rolls Royce, is housed in another of the complex's buildings. Also contained in that building is a bus manufactured at the Moreland Truck Co., the city's first industry, which shut down in World War II. The bus is still used for Burbank parades.

The complex is situated mostly on a side street next to George Izay Park. The museum is only open three hours on Sunday.

"Our goal is to be open more, but we don't have enough volunteers to staff the museum more than that," said Marjorie Colvin, president of the Burbank Historical Society. But, she said, if the museum ever extends its hours, "I hope people will realize what a rich history Burbank has."

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