“From millionaire’s colony to sunshine suburb” is the motto that greets visitors to the Burlingame Hillsborough History Museum, a collection of treasures housed behind a door in a special room in Burlingame’s original train station, one of the area’s oldest, most historically significant buildings.
Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of red naugahyde seating (from the defunct Shoe Clinic) to watch more than 200 “then-and-now” slides of notable Burlingame sites, as well as view photographs, maps and memorabilia on walls, in exhibit cases and on banners.
Among the museum’s changing exhibits is “Duck and Cover: Civil Defense in Burlingame,” a collection of 1950s images, artifacts and stories from the time of duck and cover drills, “when fears of atomic warfare gripped the nation.” A genuine Burlingame Civil Defense metal armband is for sale for $10.
In the bathroom, from Burlingame’s original city hall, is a medallion depicting Marianne, the national symbol of the French Republic and an allegory of liberty and reason. Exhibits are just the tip of the iceberg. Archives located in a nearby facility are available to researchers – including film directors, authors, students, real estate brokers, business owners and homeowners – by appointment.
The museum, which hosts about 50 visitors per month, is run by the all-volunteer Burlingame Historical Society, according to vice president Russ Cohen, who calls it a labor of love. Committed to education, the society receives and solicits donations to augment its holdings, and is supported primarily by membership dues.
To mark the city’s centennial in 2008, the organization published a book by Joanne Garrison, chronicling the city’s history decade by decade.
Burlingame’s rich history also is prominently displayed on the wall of a nearby building, in a large, colorful ad for Severn Lodge Dairy featuring a smiling boy driving a milk delivery cart across a stylized silhouette of San Francisco. Painted sometime between 1917 and 1925, the mural was hidden for more than 75 years, visible only after the adjacent building was demolished in 2000.
The sign’s restoration is documented on the historical society’s informative website, which offers more online exhibits, a seven-minute video about the organization’s origins and mission, and a place for community members post memories of growing up in the area.
The group also heads up a free Passport Program, teaching local history to local third graders, as well as sponsors a series of historic bronze plaques along Burlingame Avenue. Sites marked include “California Hardware & Grocery Store, 1908, replaced by Burlingame Hotel, Lorton Rehe Bldg., 1925 – Ernest I. Norberg, Architect.”
IF YOU GO
Burlingame Hillsborough History Museum
Where: Train Station, 290 California Drive, Burlingame
When: 1 to 4 p.m. first Sunday each month (except July)
Admission: Free, donations appreciated
Note: Tours are offered for groups of five or more; call (650) 340-9960 for details.