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Children's, Maritime Museums Gearing Up for Business

June 15, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

In Oxnard, hundred-year floods have been more common than museum openings, yet within two days next week, two new treasure troves will pass significant milestones toward completion.

After a ribbon-cutting Saturday afternoon, a temporary home for the Gull Wings Children's Museum will formally open for business Wednesday in a 7,400-square-foot building on West 4th Street that once was occupied by the USO.

By coincidence, the Ventura County Parks and Harbor Foundation will break ground Thursday on a 5,000-square-foot building for the Ventura County Maritime Museum at Channel Islands Harbor. The museum is expected to open in the spring.

More than two decades (and two hundred-year floods) have come and gone since the conversion of the Carnegie Library to Oxnard's only museum, the Carnegie Cultural Arts Center.

Directors of both new museums say Oxnard is the right place at the right time.

Rare Dockside Space

For Frank Crane, executive director of the maritime museum, it was where he was able to find rare dockside space and a developer, Martin V. Smith, willing to foot the bill for the $500,000 structure. Smith plans to build a commercial complex, including a restaurant, next to the museum.

For Pat James, director of the children's museum, Oxnard was the place where the City Council not only agreed to fund a feasibility study and promotional campaign but also rent her the building at well below the market rate.

A retired teacher, she is hoping that the public will prove as easy a sell. There are about 400 children's museums in the United States, but some 350 have been built in the last three years, James said.

James figures that most people will draw a blank when it comes to the relatively new phenomenon that allows children to learn concepts in science, history and social studies by playing with exhibitions.

"Most people hear the word museum and think of glass-enclosed boxes," said the 35-year classroom veteran. "But children's museums are based on the hands-on concept."

Temporary Facility

Museum directors had originally hoped to hold out for a facility at least twice as large, but decided that opening temporarily on 4th Street would give them an opportunity to get the concept across. They hope to win support for a larger, permanent facility.

So far, the approach has been working, James said. Adults who visited the museum in the past month as the final exhibits were being constructed murmured, "Oh, that's what it's all about,' " she said.

Children, meanwhile, seemed to understand immediately.

They dug enthusiastically for petrified wood and fossils in "Discovery," a sandbox designed to simulate an archeological dig. They took glee in walking with crutches and walkers in "Just Suppose," an exhibit designed to encourage understanding of the disabled. And they frolicked among the museum's collection of costumes and hats, posing before brightly lit mirrors and on a stage where they were allowed to flaunt their new identities.

Debbie Bohan, a Port Hueneme surgical technologist whose 7-year-old twin sons visited the museum Saturday, said it fills a long-overlooked void.

Not Much for Children

"There's the beach and a museum at the Ventura Harbor, but there isn't much to do with kids around here," she said.

In a permanent home, museum directors hope to devote an entire wing to the heritage of the county's ethnic groups. Another wing, which would house an aircraft fuselage, would be devoted to flight.

But the temporary museum, which will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, is by no means sparse. For $1 admission, children can tinker with a model railroad scene complete with a circus train; a scaled-down version of a nipa hut, a Filipino hut made of palm trees, and an exhibition of magnets. "Granny's Attic," a collection of old photographs and mementos, lines the entryway.

By the time of Saturday's ribbon-cutting, organizers hope to have completed a makeup table in the costume area and "Colors," an exhibition that teaches the principles of blending colors by allowing children to overlay differently colored glass squares.

For crafts projects, they plan to have such industrial castoffs as hose fittings, wood chips and Styrofoam packing material.

'Stretch Their Imagination'

"We want children to stretch their imagination," said James, who at 76 still has the verve of a favorite kindergarten teacher. "We want them to use their heads."

Meanwhile, the maritime museum's Crane hopes to stretch imaginations in a different direction.

The institution will focus on the rich and largely overlooked history of the coastal region from Point Mugu to Point Conception, said Crane, 73, a retired computer executive who has been a sailboat enthusiast since his teens.

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