Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan discusses History Museum renovations, new exhibits and much more on the Voice of Los Alamos radio show airing noon to 1 p.m., Friday on 101.5 FM. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan stopped by the Los Alamos Daily Post Wednesday to talk about the recent renovations of the Los Alamos History Museum, new exhibits and more in an interview airing noon to 1 p.m., Friday on the Voice of Los Alamos radio show on 101.5 FM.
McClenahan revealed that Friday, Dec. 30, Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of President Harry Truman, will join the Los Alamos Historical Society in celebrating the grand re-opening of the museum and a new partnership with the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Grand Opening festivities will commence at 10 a.m. in Fuller Lodge, followed by a ribbon cutting outside the museum.
After several years of planning and $2 million in investments from Historical Society donors and the community, the Los Alamos History Museum will re-open with all new exhibits, including an expansion into the Hans Bethe House, a second historic building on Bathtub Row. Exhibits will include information on early settlement of the Pajarito Plateau, the Los Alamos Ranch School, the Manhattan Project, the Cold War, and post-war Los Alamos.
McClenahan said she is pleased with the renovated spaces that offer greater exhibit flexibility and a more comfortable and conducive environment in which to explore the community’s history.
“In addition to the Museum, visitors will learn that the Historical Society offers other resources that open windows in time, and we are delighted that people will be able to expand their knowledge about the community, the people of the Laboratory, and the roles they have played in the world,” she said.
Every community is unique, but the history of Los Alamos is particularly complex. “In keeping with that point, our exhibits offer multiple dimensions, stories, and points of view,” says Judith Stauber, History dimensions, stories, and points of view,” says Judith Stauber, History Museum director. “Acknowledgment of diverse perspectives offers visitors a multi-faceted view of the people, events, places, processes, and issues that built our history. At the same time, our exhibits are not presented based on today’s values but seek to understand history within its own context,” she added.
Los Alamos County Council Chair Rick Reiss said, “We’re very proud of the Historical Society’s work and the Museum. Work undertaken by both the Society and the County have unquestionably enhanced the Museum’s ability to attract visitors and to ensure that it will continue to be an outstanding and valuable asset to this community.”
A Museum tour begins in the Ranch School’s Guest Cottage where exhibits focus on the area’s history from Ancestral Pueblo people to its homesteading history and through the Ranch School era into the Manhattan Project.
Next, the Hans Bethe House on Bathtub Row includes the new Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery, exhibits highlighting more than 70 years of post-World War II laboratory and community history. Scientist profiles, a Nobel Prize, and community-oriented displays are blended with information about post-war to contemporary life in Los Alamos, including the town’s early role as a model community for civil defense.
Finally, as weather permits, visitors can step back 100 years in time when viewing the Romero Cabin on the Museum campus, one of only three homestead cabins remaining in the area and the only one open to the public.
The new Los Alamos History Museum campus includes exhibits in original Los Alamos Ranch School buildings on historic Bathtub Row, as well as outdoor interpretative signs and exhibits in the homestead-era Romero Cabin. All exhibits, the Hans Bethe House, and the Romero Cabin are owned and maintained by the Historical Society.
Remaining Museum buildings and grounds—Fuller Lodge, Guest Cottage, and the Power House or Red Cross building—are owned and maintained by Los Alamos County, which has partnered with the Historical Society on the museum renovation and expansion.
Not surprisingly, the almost 100-year-old Ranch School structures, though periodically updated, did not meet many of today’s standards for health and safety.
Following extensive study, Los Alamos County undertook a $5 million renovation of both the Guest Cottage and Fuller Lodge. Significant changes to the Lodge include removal and replacement of the east patio, including lowering it to the original elevation and exposing the building’s historic steps; refurbishment of the windows in all wings; replacement of the elevator; refurbishment of the Green Room; improvements to and relocation of the main public restrooms; improvements to the reservation office; replacement of the west entrance flagstone, sidewalk, stairs, and ramp; and the addition of wood flooring to the Zia and Throne Rooms.
The Guest Cottage received all new plumbing, electrical, and air handling systems as well as modifications for ADA compliance.
“Fuller Lodge has long been considered a historic treasure for our community,” Reiss said. “The restoration of the patio in particular received a great deal of public support and accolades this summer. Returning the Lodge to its original grandeur, while concentrating on making the building more accessible for all to enjoy with modern day improvements such as the new elevator, is key to our efforts to bring more tourism to Los Alamos and visitors interested in the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.”
Another $1.2 million raised by the Historical Society was used to create all new exhibits in the Guest Cottage and the Hans Bethe House (renovated in 2013), as well as revise, expand, and enhance existing exhibits throughout the campus.
“The transformation took place without sacrificing the character of the old buildings,” McClenahan said, “and, together with our expanded exhibits, we’re much better prepared for anticipated increases in visitor traffic now that we’re officially partnered with the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.”
The Historical Society signed an agreement with the National Park Service in October that created an educational and interpretive partnership.
Museum and Museum Shop hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends, and closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. General admission is $5, but admission is free to members of the Los Alamos Historical Society, Los Alamos County residents, children 18 and under and active duty military.
Since 1967, the Los Alamos Historical Society has collected, preserved, and shared this community’s distinctive history via multiple venues including the Los Alamos History Museum, additional historical collections, document and photographic archives, educational programming, events, and a variety of outreach programming.
In 2016, the organization became a partner with the National Park Service for educational and interpretive programs.