Volunteer coordinator Kim David (center), curator Amalia Kozloff (left) and registrar Heather Schaub (right) pause in one of the Everett Museum of History’s storage rooms with items they have carefully catalogued, wrapped and boxed in the Culmback Building basement. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Everett Museum of History seeks a forever home

This is part of The Daily Herald’s annual report on charity in Snohomish County. Complete list of stories

The saddest story. That’s how the Everett Museum of History’s board president recently described the saga of the homeless institution.

A nonprofit organization with a massive collection, the Everett Museum of History has been without a permanent display space for nearly a decade. In 2007, when it was called the Museum of Snohomish County History, the group closed its downtown Everett display space at 1913 Hewitt Ave. There wasn’t enough money to keep the doors open.

“It’s the saddest story. People wonder where we are. We’re in storage,” said Gene Fosheim, president of the museum’s board of trustees. Fosheim spoke to The Herald in April, when the Everett Museum of History hosted a fund-raising event and tribute to Everett’s Ed and Betty Morrow. The Morrows are longtime museum supporters and board members.

“We don’t have a home for what should belong to the public,” said Kim David, the museum’s volunteer coordinator.

David, along with museum curator Amalia Kozloff and Heather Schaub, the group’s registrar, talked recently about the challenge of being visible in the community without having a permanent space.

The museum has had informal displays at the Everett Farmers Market, which brings vendors to the waterfront every Sunday May through mid-October. People at the market ask often about the museum. David said her answer is “Yes, we’re still here.”

“It’s a shame. Why don’t we have a home?” David said.

The collection is mostly out of public view, stored at three sites in Everett. Large items are in a 6,000-square-foot space on an upper level of the Everett Mall. The mall’s management leases the space to the nonprofit for a tiny fee, $1 per year.

“There’s big stuff — appliances, film equipment, canoes and tons of boxes,” David said.

Several rooms in the basement of Everett’s Culmback Building, downtown on Colby Avenue, are filled with museum items, photos and records pertaining to the collection. The city, which also stores its own artifacts in the Culmback Building, allows the museum to use the space rent-free.

Other items — among them a phone booth damaged by a mystery bullet hole — are kept at an Everett storage business. Those costs cut into the museum’s budget.

The museum’s recent past is a hard-luck story.

Established in 1953 as the Snohomish County Museum and Historical Association, the organization has had at least three homes in Everett that the public could visit. In the early years, exhibits were in a city-owned building at American Legion Memorial Park.

For a time, the Snohomish County Museum was on the lower level of the Betty Spooner School of Dance. The studio on Everett’s Rockefeller Avenue was operated for many years by Spooner’s son, the late Mike Jordan.

By 2007, the Hewitt Avenue storefront museum was forced to close for budget reasons. Later that year, an Everett warehouse where the museum’s collection was stored caught fire, and water used to fight the blaze damaged old newspapers, insurance maps and antique clothing.

In 2008, the museum collection was moved into the basement of Snohomish County’s Carnegie Library building at Oakes Avenue and Wall Street in Everett. But by 2011, the museum’s initial $1-per-year lease arrangement with the county was scuttled when the terms of a more costly contract proposal became clear. Once again, the collection was on the move — into storage.

Yet the dream of a permanent home hasn’t died.

At the Culmback Building, Kozloff talked about a wish list for the perfect museum site. “Our home should be in the city’s core, with room for every single item under one roof,” she said. An ideal site would have space enough for exhibits, public programming and storage, she said.

In the meantime, Schaub and the others are working to properly care for and document thousands of museum pieces.

There are cast-iron toys from the early 1900s, steel ice skates that once clamped onto shoes, and military uniforms from past wars. Among artifacts in labeled boxes and file cabinets are an antique hair crimper, century-old kitchenware, and photos and records of early local businesses. A rare flag from late 1860s, the post-Civil War era, needs conservation work.

Schaub is a San Jose State University graduate student seeking a master’s degree in library and information science. Heeding strict rules related to nonprofit museums, she checks and documents accession records for the collection. It’s a daunting task. Some of the Everett museum’s original accession papers are short on details. “Mrs. Smith, black dress, black shoes,” said Schaub, is an example of a record lacking a date or full name of the items’ original owner.

“We are being more strict to properly care for things. And we review every object we can for the potential to be exhibited,” said Kozloff, who has worked with museums for 25 years. Items not deemed suitable for exhibition could be used for educational programs.

“It’s kind of exciting. Things are starting to happen,” David said. “Every effort gets us one step closer.”

Although the museum is homeless, this summer brought the opportunity to see some of its old photographs at the Schack Art Center in Everett. That exhibit, “Seeing Ourselves: Historic Portraiture Inspired by Chuck Close,” is on view through Aug. 28 at the Schack. The art center also has the “Chuck Close Prints” exhibit, featuring works of the New York artist from Everett, through Sept. 5.

In September, the lobby of Snohomish County’s Robert J. Drewel administration building is expected to house a month-long display of the museum’s antique shoes.

David said she worked with Wendy Becker Poischbeg, the county’s economic and cultural development manger, in planning the exhibit.

“It’s mostly little kids’ and ladies’ shoes. Men back then must have worn them until they fell apart,” David said. She believes every public display is a chance to tell the museum’s story.

As the museum works to inventory its collection and explore possibilities for a real home, items keep coming in the door.

Unwrapping one prized artifact, the women guessed at the age of a handcrafted wooden cart made to carry a child. It was given to the museum by Everett’s John Mattson, who told them it was made by his father with lumber from Lake Pleasant.

Built with love in the early 20th century, it’s a unique piece of Snohomish County’s past.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

How to help

The Everett Museum of History is raising money to preserve its collection, which is in storage. The nonprofit is also in search of a permanent home in Everett. Learn more at: https://everett-museum.org

Donations may be sent to: Everett Museum of History, P.O. Box 5556, Everett, WA 98206

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