The Burbank Historical Society celebrated their Member Appreciation Day on Saturday, July 16.
The three-hour afternoon party took place at the society’s museum, which was founded in 1973 by Mary Jane Strickland in partnership with supporters like Gordon R. Howard. Critically-acclaimed musician “Rat Pack Ricky” Medlin entertained the crowd and performed a setlist of Golden Age songs while attendees ate food from What-A-Dog, plus treats like popcorn, ice cream, and cotton candy. A free opportunity raffle was conducted, for which prizes such as Burbank illustrations by artist Ron Regalado and a signed copy of She Persisted in Sports by writer and advocate Chelsea Clinton were up for grabs. These prizes were secured by Sue Baldaseroni, who was the chairperson of the festivities.
Don Baldaseroni is the current Burbank Historical Society President and leads their board of directors, which is presently made up of 15 contributors. All volunteers at the museum, he stated, are unpaid in their positions and dedicate their time “just for the honor of doing it.” The gathering provides a chance to express gratitude to these workers, as well as the additional nearly 700 financial donors who consistently do their part in supporting the location.
“Every year people donate, or they just renew a book subscription, but they don’t get anything out of it,” Baldaseroni said. “Here, we’re giving it back to them just to say thank you.”
Another board member is Gary Sutliff, who has been involved with the museum for around 40 years. He calls the Burbank Historical Society “Burbank’s best-kept secret,” and he was instrumental in creating many displays of the museum. One of his favorite areas of the building is Kong’s Speed Shop, which showcases various pieces of memorabilia from players in the hot rod and racing industry. This includes keepsakes from the Burbank Road Kings, who have been members of the Burbank Historical Society since its inception and have given over $20,000 to the museum thus far.
The speed shop setup is named after a close companion of Sutliff’s, the late Kong Jackson, who was a well-known local ignition specialist. Numerous relics Sutliff has helped incorporate at this exhibit are reflective of his own Burbank memories and have made his service to the museum a gratifying undertaking.
“It’s just been a labor of love,” Sutliff said. “It’s something I enjoy doing.”
Local dignitaries Burbank City Councilmember Sharon Springer and State Senator Anthony Portantino were in attendance at the celebration. Springer stated her joy in supporting an institution that honors Burbank’s past and sets the standard for the city’s future goals.
“It’s a wonderful community event and a celebration of Burbank history,” Springer said of Member Appreciation Day. “I think it’s a connection to where we were and an inspiration to where we want to go.”
Portantino, who recently became a Burbank resident, likewise visited with Burbank Historical Society members and addressed the crowd with a greeting upon his arrival. During the ceremony, Portantino touched upon his admiration for volunteers who continue to make the educational and enjoyable experience of the museum possible.
“I’ve always had an appreciation of the history of this community,” Portantino said. “It’s one of those legendary places that has made California what it is, and to have a group of folks dedicated to preserving local history, California history, and Burbank history, that’s an honorable pursuit. I’m happy to be able to be here and say thank you to all the volunteers and everybody who makes it happen.”
The goal of the Burbank Historical Society Board of Directors is to reach a total of about 22 members. As they approach their 50th-anniversary celebration in 2023, Sutliff says he and fellow board participants hope the next generation of Burbankians will soon become more active in preserving the city’s history.
“We’d like to see more young people involved and kind of taking over,” Sutliff said.
Some recently-added items at the museum are a neon purple and gold Road Kings sign donated by the Tadlock family in honor of Larry Tadlock, the Invincible Morris fire hose nozzle, and an LAPD 2022 Car Show award from Jim Nicholson, and a Magnolia Theatre ticket booth display. The booth is a tribute to a Burbank movie house that opened in October 1940 and was later closed in 1979 when the land was sold to Barbra Streisand, who created a recording space, Evergreen Studios, in its place.
Many locals may recognize the Mentzer house, a blue Victorian structure on Olive Avenue that serves as just one section of the museum. A larger space is the Gordon R. Howard complex, which sits behind the Mentzer building and contains a majority of the donated Burbank collectibles that are presented to the public.
Although Baldaseroni has been a member at the Burbank Historical Society for over two decades, he consistently finds new and exciting information about the city at both locations.
“It’s a 20,000 square foot building, and it has so much history,” Baldaseroni said. “After 22 years, I walk around and go, ‘I don’t remember that,’ and I read it. It’s a constant learning experience.”
The Burbank Historical Society receives utility funding from the City of Burbank in addition to the efforts of volunteer staff members. This Member Appreciation Day not only reflected the enduring importance the site holds in the city but also acknowledged how members of the community are deserving of credit for the museum’s longevity.
“The city provides the electricity and the water, and we’re very appreciative of that,” Sutliff said. “But the rest of this is all done by volunteers, who you see here today. These are all people who have volunteered in one way or another [to] the success of this museum.”
To learn more about the Burbank Historical Society and Gordon R. Howard Museum, visit its site here.