Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The GLBT Museum: A Model for an Ideal San Francisco History Museum?

Last year San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society found a home in the Castro when the GLBT History Museum opened up on 18th Street.   This week I finally made a visit.  In recent years the Castro has evolved from being a gay tourist destination to being a tourist destination.  The neighborhood has really needed something beyond rainbow themed souvenirs.  Not that you have to be a tourist to take away something from the museum.  The museum does a great job and that could be the end of the story, but it really made me think about other museum possibilities.

I have always loved history and some of that love goes back to a childhood in Buffalo.  Buffalo has the Historical Society.  It’s a grand museum with room after room of exhibits and (if it’s still there) a recreation of olde time streets on the lower level.  As a kid, it was one of my favorite museums.  I have always wondered why San Francisco doesn’t have such a museum.  We have the history for it and we even have a place.  The Old Mint on 5th and Market is slated to become that museum.  But unless we find an über-wealthy history nerd as a backer, it’s still years away.  We do have the California Historical Society on Mission Street.  It’s small, but their exhibits are always worth checking out, in particular their current show on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Across the Bay the Oakland Museum’s History Department was good, and now, since the renovation, it’s fantastic.  Currently it’s the closest thing we have to a grand history museum in the Bay Area,

My visit to the GLBT Museum got me thinking.  I still want to see that BIG museum happen in the Old Mint, but at the same time we need something more.  The GLBT Museum’s space is in a renovated, large storefront.  Why couldn’t we have museums like that in different neighborhoods?  A sort of branch library model for a history museum spread across the City.  The Mission, Chinatown, Jackson Square, Japantown, and the Haight are just some of the neighborhoods that would have locations.  All the individual museums would be modest in size.  They would be ideal for a small dose of museum time.  Or, one could make a day of it, adventuring to different museum spots all over San Francisco.

As much as I love the big museum concept, perhaps the best way to experience San Francisco’s history is to have to explore the City and it’s different neighborhoods at the same time.

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