Visitors to Pacifica can’t miss the “Little Brown Church” that serves as the city’s history museum as they make their way down Highway 1. It’s a lot harder to see all the work that goes into keeping the museum afloat.
Inside, visitors could explore an exhibit of the Ohlone culture, a commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Portolà expedition, and development and demise of the Ocean Shore Railroad. But at the moment, the doors to Pacifica’s rich history are closed, as the Pacifica Coastside Museum suspended operations within the old church building. It’s just one of many institutions affected by the pandemic.
As the COVID-19 virus swept the country, many small institutions faced unprecedented challenges. With the issuance of statewide shelter-in-place orders, the Pacifica Coastside Museum closed in mid-March. Along with the closure of the museum, an abrupt halt was put on the local rummage sales that members hosted along with other fundraising efforts.
“We’re OK financially for a while. And hopefully we can start up again and start fundraising efforts again so we can make up some of the deficit we spent,” said Pacifica Historical Society President Judy Heldberg. “It costs us about $100 a day to be open, even when we are closed, with utilities and insurance.”
The PHS offers valuable insight into the history of Pacifica and serves to preserve the deep local history and culture. The group has developed a close relationship with the Sam Mazza Foundation, headquartered in the remarkable castle owned by Sam Mazza. Recently, the castle has been undergoing garden renovations, which prompted the foundation to donate some of its outdoor art to the PHS for fundraising purposes.
“Over the years, things we are no longer using at the castle, or we never use, we donate them because it’s part of the history,” said foundation Executive Director Jeanette Cool. “They are a wonderful group of people and they really work hard. They have a motivation that’s ages long, as any historical society would, of creating and maintaining a very important area in their lives, which is Pacifica, which has a long, interesting and colorful history.”
In 1959 Mazza, a painting and interior decorating contractor from San Francisco, was walking to a restaurant near Rockaway Beach when a castle in the distance caught his eye. Mazza bought the castle and, after fixing it up, lived there and filled it with art and his collections over 43 years.
Sixty-one years later, amidst a global pandemic, the art from his garden has made its way to the PHS, which has been selling it to members of the historical society and the general public.
“It’s been very successful,” remarked Kathleen Manning, past president of the PHS and current member. “They try to help us that way. They’ll make donations whenever they are getting rid of something. It’s fun to sell because it’s got a certain cachet. Because it’s from the castle, people like it.”
This donation consisted of ceramic benches, statutes, plaques and garden art. The funds raised from the sales of these items are to be used for the group’s efforts to restore a historic Ocean Shore Railroad car which was discovered in a backyard in Sebastopol.
“It was just wonderful of them to think of us,” said Cool.
Cool hopes that, in line with county regulations, the museum will be able to reopen at partial capacity in the
coming months. Members plan to have safety guidelines in place, including mask mandates and available hand sanitizer. The gift shop will not be open anytime soon, but the group hopes to continue selling the cheese they make.
— Emma Spaeth