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Burb's Eye View: A docent day at the museum

June 07, 2011|By Bryan Mahoney

The conversation with my barber suddenly veered from the cats living at Warner Bros. and into a more historical context.

“I’m thinking I might visit the Burbank Historical Society’s museum next,” I said underneath the black smock that showed more expelled gray hairs than I’d like.

“There’s a museum in Burbank?” the stylist said between snips.

“Absolutely. It’s over off of West Clark Avenue; one of those streets you don’t normally drive unless you live there.”

People do find their way to the Gordon R. Howard Museum, though many times visitors only find the 1800s-era Mentzer House that sits in front. That building has better street exposure on Olive Avenue, and I’m told some visitors are surprised to learn that behind it sits a unique memorabilia collection of the more notable people and events of the last century.


When I showed up Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t prepared for the history lessons I was to receive that aren’t even part of the tour.

Upon entering the main gallery space with the museum’s collection of vintage vehicles, I was mesmerized by the green truck built at the Moreland Truck Factory in 1920s Burbank. There’s something to look at everywhere — Burbank’s history of trucks and drag racing cover just about every surface of the main room.

To my left was the docent on duty, Ann Frescura, who at age 94 could recall stories not because she was trained by museum staff to share them with visitors, but because she lived them.

Ann’s father owned many vineyards “on the hillside” — and still lives in the house she grew up in. She told me what it was like in the mid- to late-1940s when farmers like her father sold their lands to developers. Their business was booming thanks to a big rush of GIs who wanted to relocate to Burbank after they were stationed in the area during World War II.

She remembers the family land selling for $2,000 an acre — and they had 70 acres. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $1.25 million in 2011 dollars for the land that eventually became entire Burbank neighborhoods.

“Who was to know the price of land was so cheap then?” she said. “It was unbelievable.”

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