It looks like a military antique store where nothing is for sale. Unfortunately it’s a museum trying to tell us a story. And quite a story it has to tell—from before the Navy arrived in Alameda to when they left, and the wars and military missions the Naval Air Station was a part of. But after a decade and a half of all-volunteer efforts, a recent free open house attracted only a trickle of interested patrons.
A change of strategy is necessary, and attracting corporate, philanthropic, or individual benefactors could help. The addition of archiving, exhibition, technology, and grant writing skills could transform the museum into a must-see stop for visitors to Alameda Point.
Board Chairman Kin Robles sees the museum’s potential storytelling experience, attractiveness as a student field trip destination, and success as a self-sustaining museum as all integrally linked. “What we really need is direct linkage to the school system. We’ve got to build the educational program that meets the state curriculum needs that are currently in place. Once we can do that, our mission here is really going to, I think, hit full stride. It’s a critical need right now, and it’s difficult to plug yourself into that system.”
The museum is located next to the Seaplane Lagoon in Building 77, one of four former command centers at the base. The building and its contents, along with the nostalgic music playing in the background, capture the feel of an era.
The museum showcases artifacts and exhibits, such as model airplanes and famous ships, uniforms, weapons, automobiles, etc. It displays fascinating framed photos of the City of Alameda’s development, illustrating that the base was once a bustling area. Newspaper clippings and magazines covering the current events of the day are sure to pique one’s interest. The museum also continues to accept additional donated memorabilia.
The most remarkable donation to arrive recently is a three-foot long, radio-controlled scale model of the PanAm China Clipper, capable of flying with its own engines. The China Clipper, classified as a flying boat, departed from Alameda Point on its maiden voyage to Manila in November 1935, inaugurating the first commercial transpacific air service delivering passengers and mail.
The museum wants to one day tell a professional cohesive story of the former base’s history, including the role the Coast Guard and Marines played there. It has made headway in organizing its collection, but many artifacts are not yet in any particular order. “You can’t organize it until you know exactly what you have,” says board member Cmdr. Alan Tubbs.
The museum’s board has recently enlisted a librarian and an archivist to catalog items. But managing the inventory is a huge undertaking and, as of now, the museum has no access to databases and no equipment to scan materials. They need interns from accredited library or museum science programs, those who can do historical research, and grant writers. More volunteers, visitors, and new members are welcome.
The museum is currently open every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5, but it’s free for children under 12, for active military personnel, and for organized youth groups (by appointment). All donations are tax deductible.
Originally published in Alameda Sun