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For The Kids : GULL WINGS MUSEUM : Life Up Close : The renovated children's museum reopens, with plenty of exhibits and activities to intrigue young minds.

June 20, 1991|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At Gull Wings Children's Museum, kids can lay an anatomically correct, life-size doll on the examining table, check its blood pressure and listen to its heart.

If they still can't decide what ails the doll, they can open up its cloth chest cavity and examine the maze of organs and ribs inside.

A room of medical gizmos is one of the new attractions at the museum. During the last couple of months, the museum has been completely renovated and new exhibits have been added. The new and improved museum is now open to the public.

"Everything has been refurbished," said Gig Wishon, director of the museum. "This is a great place. It's all new."

The museum needed a face lift, Wishon said. "It was drab," and some visitors complained it wasn't high-tech enough for today's children, she said.

The museum opened two years ago in the old USO building in the heart of downtown Oxnard. The city-owned building, with its long, bowling-alley feel, was dark and dreary.

With limited funds, museum supporters and volunteers erected exhibits, a stage and a puppet theater. It was small and low-budget but attracted children and school groups.

Then to raise funds, Gull Wings brought the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit to the Oxnard Town Center last December for four months. The museum shut down for renovation while crowds flocked to see the lifelike dinosaur replicas.

"About 75,000 people went through, including 1,500 school groups," Wishon said. How much money the exhibit netted the museum isn't known yet.

But the exhibit gave Gull Wings visibility. The nonprofit organization gained 600 new members, who pay $30 a year for visiting privileges.

The organization kept its remodeling budget to $10,000, using donated help and supplies. The result is new paint inside and out, updated electrical wiring and new exhibits.

But even so, don't expect high-tech glitz or anything the size of the Los Angeles Children's Museum.

Gull Wings' most dramatic improvement is a mural by Oxnard graphic artist Ron Pettibone that covers the inside walls. Part of the mural vividly depicts a view of the Channel Islands from Ventura. To accurately portray the islands, he photographed them and then projected the image on the wall before painting.

Pettibone's colorful touch is elsewhere in the museum. Children can dress up as police officers, brides and firefighters with clothes hung on cabinets decorated by the artist.

A soon-to-be completed farmers market area has 18 bins of artificial fruit and vegetables of the sort raised in Ventura County. At a cash register, children can practice buying and selling.

The hospital area, furnished with donations from the Ventura County Medical Auxiliary, includes a child-size wheelchair and crutches for children to try. They can see X-ray, anesthesia and intravenous equipment, put on plastic gloves and gowns and lug around a doctor's black bag. They also can examine a skeleton and plastic replicas of the human body--even a fetus inside a womb.

A group of first-graders recently exchanged roles as doctor, nurse and patient.

"Let me see your tongue," a girl in a hospital gown told a boy in a wheelchair. He opened wide. "Oh oh," she said.

A hands-on section on fossils includes a prehistoric piece of whale vertebra found on a Ventura beach. Gem and mineral displays were donated by local groups, and a microscope is available to view odds and ends such as grass and pebbles.

A corner of the museum is set up as a campground, where tykes can crawl in and out of a tent and pretend to fish.

In another part of the museum, children experiment with bubbles. Using a large ring and a rope attachment, they can enclose themselves in a giant bubble.

For train fans, the Ventura County Modular Railroad Club has donated a large model train on a raised platform for youngsters to see but not operate.

Some of the old exhibits remain, including the large two-story dollhouse and the puppet theater. The stage has been lowered to the floor and surrounded by carpeted seats.

The revamped museum is not finished, and Wishon already has plans to expand some of the exhibits. Those will have to await an influx of money--a constant problem for the museum, which operates on donations and memberships. But Wishon sees the museum as an ever-changing place.

"A museum is the type of thing that never ends," she said.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Gull Wings Children's Museum, 418 W. 4th St., is open Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, $2.50 for children over 3, and no charge for children 3 and under. For information call 483-3005.

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