Marin History Museum awarded $25K from San Rafael developer
Author: Mathew Pera
Publication: Marin IJ
The San Rafael Planning Commission has selected the Marin History Museum as the recipient of a $25,000 donation from a developer that plans to demolish two historic buildings.
Monahan Parker Inc., a San Rafael-based development firm, agreed to make the donation in connection with its plan to build 41 apartments at 815 B St. City officials approved the plan in 2016.
Constructing the four-story apartment building will require demolition of two historically designated Victorian-era houses. The money is aimed at compensating for the loss of historic resources, officials said.
The Planning Commission was tasked with choosing an organization to receive the money prior to the city issuing a building permit.
“The most appropriate recipient for the charitable contribution would be an organization with focus on historic preservation,” the city Planning Department wrote in a report to the commission.
Members of the commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to select the Marin History Museum as the donation recipient.
Commissioner Barrett Schaefer said he supported awarding the money to the museum because “San Rafael doesn’t have its own historical museum, unlike a good number of other cities and towns.”
“They’re our de facto historic preservation entity here in San Rafael,” he said.
The museum’s director, Michelle Sarjeant Kaufman, told the commission that the museum’s collection includes roughly 25,000 artifacts, 80% of which are San Rafael-related.
“It seems very fitting that monies given to offsetting the razing of historical resources would be donated to an institution that values and proactively preserves the county’s and San Rafael’s remarkable history,” she said.
She told the commission that the money would be a major boost for the nonprofit museum, which is “still recovering from some very turbulent times.”
The museum hit financial troubles in the early 2000s, after spending more than $7 million on staff, consultants and failed projects.
Plans to open a new museum building in 2006 at Boyd Park fell through after expenses that totaled more than $1 million. Later, the museum spent more than $2.5 million on a planned rock ‘n’ roll exhibit and museum that was scheduled to open in 2010, but the project was eventually abandoned.
The museum’s IRS 990 forms disclose it spent $3.5 million from 2007 to 2011, but raised only $1.6 million over the period.
As museum funds dwindled, its board cut staff and slashed operations. In 2015, the museum began selling donated artifacts to make ends meet, sparking protests from history buffs. Sales were halted amid growing controversy, and the museum temporarily shuttered that year.
In 2016, a new board headed by former San Rafael mayor Al Boro took control of the museum and pledged to give the organization a fresh start.
According to Boro, the museum’s finances are stable but slim.
“We’re very frugal and we have a lean staff,” he said. “That $25,000 will certainly help us go forward.”
The museum, located at 45 Leveroni Court in Novato, includes a research library and a collection of more than 200,000 photographs. It was founded in 1935 and is funded by membership fees, private donations and grants.
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