Since its humble beginning over 40 years ago, the Carlsbad Historical Society (CHS) has stayed true to its core mission: to preserve, restore, and display historical resources, increase knowledge of the area’s history, and maintain unique cultural traditions within the community. The organization is active in the Carlsbad community, collecting historical anecdotes from longtime residents, conducting research, writing books, giving community outreach talks, and hosting tours for local students. And as the only organization that is dedicated to preserving all of Carlsbad history, board members take their responsibilities very seriously. Join us as we talk with CHS about how the organization is involving the community in its own rich heritage.
Q&A with Carlsbad Historical Society Board Members
Can you briefly give us the history for the Carlsbad Historical Society and Museum? When was it founded and by whom?
Mayor Robert Frazee invited significant old timers to dinner at the Twin Inns on July 18, 1975 to launch the Carlsbad Historical Society (CHS) as part of the town’s Bicentennial Celebration. Prominent citizens and founding members of the CHS were B.M. Christiansen, Allan O. Kelly, Manuel Castorena, Ray Ede, and Dolores Hutflex; they established our financial, political, and philanthropic standing.
One of their first important contributions to the community was to get the train depot on the historic preservation priority list. Money was obtained from the federal government and the State, as well as from local donations, to restore the train depot. Before the society had any offices, they used to meet monthly at Denny’s coffee shops for breakfast. Then CHS was given some space in the back of the depot and finally at Magee House. The City Council asked the CHS to manage the Magee House, with the idea that it should be refurbished and operate as a museum of local history.
What is the mission of the Carlsbad Historical Society? How has this changed or developed since the organization was founded?
CHS truly fulfills its mission statement to “increase and enhance the knowledge of the area’s history, maintain cultural traditions of the community, and work with the City of Carlsbad on cooperative preservation, restoration, and display of historical resources.”
Although our society has been through different modes of operation, starting with a preservation idea, then becoming more of a social activities organization, and more recently running a museum and holding educational tours and teas, all along the interest and support by our members in the preservation of history is what has kept the society going.
How does the historical society stay connected with the Carlsbad community? Does the historical society host or participate in regularly occurring events?
Members of our society have volunteered their time in many ways to help preserve local history. In addition to collecting, maintaining, and interpreting physical artifacts of Carlsbad history, we maintain a document and photographic archive. We interview longtime residents and collect oral histories. We have several dozen videotapes and some audiotapes recording significant details of the history of Carlsbad. Members of the Carlsbad Historical Society made several professional videos with the local cable TV company. Our members wrote two nonfiction history books about Carlsbad and two historical fiction children’s books. Other important functions of the CHS include giving historical talks to local organizations, supply answers, and research to many State and local government agencies, and hosting tours for local third grade students.
“We interview longtime residents and collect oral histories. We have several dozen videotapes and some audiotapes recording significant details of the history of Carlsbad.”
How does the historical society fund its programs and projects?
The Carlsbad Historical Society funds its programs and projects through private donations and investments.
Does the historical society need volunteers? If so, what kinds of volunteering positions are available and how can people sign up and get involved?
Volunteers are always welcome and especially needed for our third grade school tours, museum displays, community outreach talks, and contributions to our newsletter.
Besides volunteering, what other ways can community members get involved with the historical society?
Community members can become involved with the historical society by contributing to our collection of historical knowledge through donations of archival material such as photos, letters, or other documents, or by joining and participating in our activities such as guest lectures and historic tours.
When and where does the historical society meet?
Our board of directors meets at 4 p.m. on the third Monday every other month starting in January at the Magee House Museum at 258 Beech Drive.
Please give us a little bit of the history behind the museum building where you are headquartered.
The Magee House was originally built as a family home by Samuel Church Smith, one of the town founders in 1887. The house was sold to Alexander Shipley in 1890 and remained in the Shipley family until his daughter Florence Shipley Magee willed the house to the City of Carlsbad upon her death to be used for historic and recreational purposes. The building and accompanying barn are original to the site and two of the oldest structures in the City of Carlsbad.
Can you tell us a little about your board of directors? Why are their positions crucial for the historical society’s success?
Our president oversees the board of directors meetings, suggests events and programs, and makes contact with interested community members. Our first vice president substitutes for the president when necessary, works on increasing our membership, and contributes to our third grade tours. The second vice president contributes as necessary with special events. The treasurer maintains our budget and investments, and our secretary keeps our records and minutes, and contributes to the newsletter.
“What I love most is getting to see actual artifacts of historical significance to Carlsbad.”
Why do you think this organization is an important part of the Carlsbad community?
We are important because we are the only organization that is dedicated to preserving all of Carlsbad history. We are the only organization that interacts with other local and State historical organizations, which allows us to build our body of knowledge on our city’s past.
What do you most enjoy about working with the historical society?
President Virginia Unanue: What I love most is getting to see actual artifacts of historical significance to Carlsbad, having grown up here, and seeing all the new displays put up, as they change periodically. So, if someone has visited before, six months later there will most likely be new displays. We also host field trips by school classes to share our history.
What are the organization’s short-term and long-term goals?
Our goals are always to acquire artifacts or written or oral histories, and preserve and protect the history of Carlsbad. We operate our museum at Magee House, which is owned by the City, and the physical plant is maintained by the City. We also work at increasing membership, and very importantly, sharing the city’s history with the public.
If you could grant one wish for the Carlsbad Historical Society, what would that wish be?
Virginia: If I could have one wish for our historical society, it would be to increase public knowledge of our museum’s existence, and to have more of our citizens visit the museum.
“The City offices received a phone call from a man in Vista, who told them that there was a giant chicken in the dumpster in front of his apartment building, and he’d been told it belonged to Carlsbad.”
Are there any fun facts about Carlsbad history that our readers might find interesting or amusing?
Virginia: One of my favorite stories involves one of the giant Twin Inns chickens, which were a landmark for travelers wishing to stop at the Inn for one of their famous chicken dinners. When the Twin Inns closed and Neiman’s opened their restaurant there, the chickens were dispersed. Two of the four were put on a plinth at Rotary Park in Carlsbad. One day, the two of them disappeared, and it was assumed that they’d never again be seen. But no! The City offices received a phone call from a man in Vista, who told them that there was a giant chicken in the dumpster in front of his apartment building, and he’d been told it belonged to Carlsbad. The City sent a truck, picked it up, and put it in the care of the historical society. It was repaired by some of the members, and has been on display at our facility ever since! One can come to the barn at Magee Park and see it. Visitors who are longtime residents are always so thrilled when they see it. “Oh, it’s one of the chickens! I used to play around them when I was a child.” What a wonderful addition to our museum, and it’s so much fun to see how excited people are to see it.
Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about the Carlsbad Historical Society?
Virginia: The museum run by the Carlsbad Historical Society is truly a treasure, and it’s largely unknown by the city’s residents. We hope that more people will discover this amazing place, and visit it often. It’s open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We also arrange a private tour that ends in a high tea in the Victorian dining room of the house, which is by appointment only and not just for drop-in visitors. There’s a small fee of $15, and tea visitors will be hosted by people dressed in Victorian costume. It’s a lovely experience, but a visit during one of our open-to-the-public days is also a wonderful thing to do. We hope to see you all there soon.
At-A-Glance | Carlsbad Historical Society
Name: Carlsbad Historical Society
President: Virginia Unanue
Phone Number: 760-434-9189
Address: 258 Beech Street
Hours: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; private tours given on Tuesdays and Thursdays