Walls and displays highlight the famous people who grew up in or visited Hawthorne, the police station, the aerospace industry and the people who have made
Walls and displays highlight the famous people who grew up in or visited Hawthorne, the police station, the aerospace industry and the people who have made the city great. (Brittany Murray/Staff Photographer)

There's a seventh-grade class photo with Sonny Bono, a street sign bearing the name of the smallest man in the world, a tribute wall to Marilyn Monroe and a giant plastic Santa Claus with a bullet hole, courtesy of the Charles Manson clan.

No, the collection isn't part of Ripley's Believe It Or Not! It's the city of Hawthorne's first museum.

The memorabilia is on display two afternoons a week in a room at the city's former police station, which closed in 2005.

A few of the city's old-timers joined forces to collect historic photos and artifacts, and they leased the room from the city for $1 a month. It opened this summer across from the library, on the southeast corner of West 126th Street and Grevillea Avenue.

"It's whatever fits," city spokesman Tom Quintana said about deciding what makes it into the displays. "We have over 380 items, counting individual pictures and display items."

Walt Dixon, the city's longtime historian, amassed most of the items before his death in 2010. But now that the materials have a public home, residents are actively contributing their own mementos. A collection of 1960s-era scarlet-and-gold Hawthorne High School Cougars gear is behind a display case, beneath a lighted "Thrifty Hand-Dipped Ice Cream" sign.

There's a red velvet movie-theater-style chair taken from the city's former Masonic Lodge and a wooden podium from the old Cockatoo Inn, famous for drawing celebrities and Mafia members alike.


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"The Cockatoo started as a chicken-and-ribs place before becoming a hotel," Quintana said. "It was the cultural center of the city. All the service clubs met there in its ballroom."

The Beach Boys, perhaps the most well-known Hawthorne natives and Hawthorne High School graduates, have a strong presence in the room. Other celebrities who have called Hawthorne home are actress Marilyn Monroe and Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe.

Women in cat-eye glasses and men donning bow ties stare out from hundreds of photos along the museum's walls. A green Michu Lane street sign is a testament to the only time the city allowed someone to buy a street name, Quintana said. The world's smallest man, 33-inch-tall Mihaly "Michu" Meszaros, purchased the honor.

A 5-foot-tall plastic Santa statue with a bullet hole is a reminder of the 1971 gunbattle between police and five Charles Manson disciples outside the former Western Surplus. Police intercepted the Manson family members as they robbed the store for guns and ammunition. Three of the robbers suffered minor shotgun wounds.

The old police station property was vacated in 2005, when a new $30 million facility was built nearby. Since then, the old site has been used for filming while city leaders have tried to find a new use for it.

In 2006, the City Council voted to seek developers to buy it for $7 million and build a mixed-use project there. Some council members argued it should be transformed into a city-owned park, but that plan didn't materialize because it was too expensive for the cash-strapped town.

Instead, the council reviewed several proposals from developers in 2008 to erect condominiums, retail stores and offices - but no one offered as much money for the property as the city wanted. The council decided to wait for the economy to improve before selling the valuable property, in hopes it will fetch more money.

Norb Huber, Don McIntire, Dick Huhn and Lynn Vaughn are some of the volunteers who have joined a group of residents that have started a museum for the city
Norb Huber, Don McIntire, Dick Huhn and Lynn Vaughn are some of the volunteers who have joined a group of residents that have started a museum for the city of Hawthorne in the former police station. (Brittany Murray/Staff Photographer)

"As soon as the city sells this to a developer, then we're packing it up," Quintana said. "It's a happy coincidence that the economy went south and the developers aren't lining up. But if the termites stop holding hands, it'll be a problem."

Until then, the room - which served as the City Council chambers in the 1960s - is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays. A 1949 panorama of Hawthorne Boulevard stretches across two walls, a relic of an era when the street was a vibrant destination for teenagers to cruise between the A&W Root Beer drive-in and the Wich Stand diner in Windsor Hills north of Inglewood. The Hawthorne Plaza mall opened in 1977 and was the main draw for residents and visitors to the city. But it stagnated in the mid-1990s and has since been vacant and dilapidated.

The museum reflects the area's glory days in the 1950s and '60s, when the aerospace industry was booming, the city had its own float in the Rose Parade, and The Beach Boys were playing on everyone's car radio.

Quintana said he is planning for the museum's next display to be of Robert S. Hartman, who is credited with founding the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce and attracting Northrop Corp. to the city in the 1930s.

One recent addition to the museum comes from present-day Hawthorne, and reflects the political turmoil and financial instability that have slowed growth.

Frances Stiglich, a 93-year-old avid attendee at council meetings, has her own display. It features a T-shirt she made for a failed bid to run for a seat on the council in 2011. The shirt reads: "Stiglich Against Hawthorne Council," and it is signed by her: "We the people voted them in. They are not listening to us. Help me keep them in line."

sandy.mazza@dailybreeze.com

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