The Grier Musser Museum, sitting in a crowded block of Bonnie Brae Street, offers a glimpse into the city's past in a neighborhood where residents work for a better future while battling contemporary urban problems.
The museum is a 13-room house built in 1898 in the Queen Anne-style of Victorian architecture for a man named Jonathan Hill at a cost of $5,000.
Ownership of the house changed hands a few times after Hill, identified in records only as "a man of independent means," sold it sometime after 1900; at one point it was a doctor's home and later a rooming house.
In 1984, Dr. Anna Krieger and her daughters, Nancy Krieger and Susan Tejada, purchased the jade-green house and turned it into a museum in honor of Dr. Krieger's mother, Anna Grier Musser, an antiques dealer and collector of knickknacks from Pennsylvania.
Grier Musser's hobby passed from one generation to the next and the family now has thousands of heirlooms and collectibles, including 19th-Century dolls, games, trinkets and clothing gleaned from yard sales and auctions.
A fascination with history and an impulse to share it with others proved impetus enough for the family to establish the museum.
"We've done this for our own enjoyment but also to show people what a house in this neighborhood might have looked like around the turn of the century," Tejada said.
Few houses from that era remain in the neighborhood, and the museum is overshadowed by large apartment buildings on the block.
The neighborhood changed in other ways too. For example, drug dealers and their customers have used the corner of Third Street and Bonnie Brae Street to do business. But a recent police sweep that netted dozens of suspects and the creation of a three-block no-parking zone in front of the museum on Bonnie Brae Street have reduced the level of visible criminal activity.
For a time, the museum also hosted meetings of the neighborhood group More Advocates for Safer Homes (MASH), which works with police officers assigned to the area and sponsors regular trash and graffiti cleanups as part of a campaign to improve the neighborhood. Although MASH now meets at a larger site, Tejada, who lives near Koreatown, still attends the meetings and lends a hand during cleanups.
But the outside world never intrudes on the museum. "It's really quiet inside," Tejada said. "It's like a whole other world."
Every inch of the two-story house contains its own treasures: antique furniture, cupboards of blue and white willowware, ostrich-feather fans, music boxes, life-size dolls in Victorian clothing, stained-glass windows above the stairway, chandeliers, a spinning wheel and a wood-burning kitchen stove.
Special exhibits throughout the house alternate monthly and feature items to commemorate holidays such as Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. Some months there's even room for more contemporary collectibles by which to remember luminaries ranging from President Kennedy to Elvis.
On Saturdays, Tejada's uncle, John Krieger, presents a 15-minute show featuring postcards of Los Angeles in the 1930s.
"We've had a lot of older ladies who used to live in the neighborhood come by and they say (the museum) brings back a lot of nice memories," Tejada said. "We're just doing it to have fun. That's the whole purpose."
In 1987, the city designated the house at 403 Bonnie Brae St. a historic-cultural monument. It is open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is a $5 admission fee for adults, $3 for senior citizens and students. There is a small parking lot. Call before visiting.
Information: (213) 413-1814.