Some 70 preservationists, scholars, museum experts and community members spent 3.5 hours Sunday afternoon brainstorming the ways to use J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous Bathtub Row residence to tell his story “in his own words.”
“Historic houses throughout the country are closing down … I don’t want this to be a velvet rope museum where a guide takes people through and they hear the same thing every time … I want it to be a dynamic, living, ever-changing museum … ,” said Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan.
Participants gathered at Sunday’s event held inside Fuller Lodge ranged from UNM-Los Alamos Executive Director Cedric Page, Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt, Council Chair Sharon Stover, Los Alamos Commerce and Development Director Kevin Holsapple, local history experts Hedy Dunn and Nancy Bartlit to Bradbury Science Museum Director Linda Deck.
Helene Suydam has owned the Oppenheimer House since the 1950's. Photo by Carol A. Clark /ladailypost.com
Another participant, Helene Suydam, has owned the Oppenheimer House since the 1950s. With permission to live in the home for as long as she desires, Suydam and her husband Jerry donated the home to the Los Alamos Historical Society in 2004.
That same year, Los Alamos National Laboratory received a Save America’s Treasures grant for Manhattan Project Preservation, $50,000 of which was used for restoration work on the home. Workers stabilized the house’s foundation and chimney and conducted some much-needed repairs to the ceiling.
In September 2010, the Historical Society hosted a symposium to explore future uses of the Oppenheimer House. Sponsored by the New Mexico Humanities Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the symposium looked at ideas about making the house into a public history institution.
The participants developed a list of short-term goals for the Historical Society, such as the development of a historic structures report and an interpretive plan, as well as a list of longer-term goals that include developing vibrant public uses for the Oppenheimer House.
The symposium considered a broad range of questions, from how to tell the story of a complicated man like Oppenheimer to what preservation issues need to be addressed for the house.
“My favorite saying about Oppenheimer comes from Richard Rhodes who said, ‘He was a jerk before the Manhattan Project, he was a jerk after the Manhattan Project. Everyone loved him during the Manhattan Project,’” McClanahan told the crowd Sunday.
McClanahan and her staff will process the dozens of ideas that emerged from Sunday’s tea and planning session.
To learn more about the Oppenheimer House, visit http://www.losalamoshistory.org/
The Los Alamos Historical Museum is at 1050 Bathtub Row, just north of Fuller Lodge. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat., and 1-4 p.m. Sun. Admission is free. Call 662-6272 for more information or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.