March 2016 Newsletter

President's Message


Our February Conference in San Juan Capistrano was OUTSTANDING. The Conference was presented a certificate of recognition from the County of Orange. The Native American tribe of the Acjachemen (ah-ha-she-mon) gave the CCHS a small hand-made pine needle basket. It was an honor to accept these gifts for the CCHS. For now they will be placed at the offices of Arrowhead Management in the Board room for all to see. I also want to thank the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society and Spurs and Satin for their outstanding job in making this Conference so great. 


Some of the things that interest me are California History, dates of historical events and places, statistics and maps. Here are some of these items.

*To date there have been 39 California governors (1849-2016).

*CCHS has been in business since 1954, and there have been 45 presidents (17 still with us).

*CCHS has 6 Executive Committee members: President, 1st VP, 2nd VP, Secretary, Treasurer, and Immediate Past President.

*CCHS Board consists of +/-20 members including the Executive Committee, Group Regional VPs, Committee Chairs (including a Past President representative) and Member(s) at Large.

*There are 58 Counties in the state of California.

*CCHS has 40 possible Regional VPs (currently 24) serving the 58 Counties. There are 8 possible Group Regional VPs (currently 6) that represent the RVPs on the Board.

*CCHS has an Administrator and his staff at Arrowhead Management who set up our Conferences (and so much more).


What all of this adds up to is that under the federation of the CCHS are a great many people that are working to make this organization the best it can be. With the help of all of you history-minded people, we will strive to continue to meet your needs.

Check out our website ( to see the complete listing of our committees.

If you would like to be on one of our committees, please contact me.

All concerns and compliments are welcome.



John Lenau


Conference of California Historical Societies

[email protected]

(760) 249-4650


First Vice President's Message


Well, I got my February wish… It’s been raining all weekend.  My yard is soaked, the plants are happy and, so far, my sump-pump has kept my cellar relatively dry.  All good news!  And, my month-long jury duty finally came to a conclusion.  As difficult and emotional as it was, I think justice was served, and the defendant was found guilty on all counts.  This experience made me really appreciate our judicial system.  So, back to work!

On the home front, the small 126 year-old Victorian, known as The Borland House and the current home of the Martinez Museum (located in Martinez, California), finally has a foundation.  This first-ever foundation will enable the building to survive a 6.5 earthquake on the Concord Fault or a larger quake on the Hayward Fault.  The Community College District owns the museum building and is funding the foundation work – for which the Historical Society is most grateful.  This project is an excellent example of community organizations collaborating and working toward a common goal.

We are now going to give our museum a completely new look.   A crew from The Martinez Shell Refinery has volunteered to paint inside and out, and we may have the hardwood floors refinished.  Most challenging of all, my committee of 3 will design and execute new displays and exhibits. We want to infuse new life into our museum:  bring in new engaged audiences and volunteers, attract new sources of revenue, develop state-of-the-art interactive displays and thought-provoking exhibits, and address the needs of Millennials -- while staying true to our mission as we share the varied and interesting history of our community, Martinez, California. 

Preparation for this new venture has prompted me to do a lot of reading about the current status and the future of small museums.  According to, I’ve learned that the “1900s were good to museums and historic sites.   Massive population growth meant there were more people to fuel the economy.  Economic growth birthed new industries, including expansion of travel options such as railways, affordable cars & highways, and air travel.  The growth of the middle class and the “9 to 5” work-week enabled those with money and time the flexibility to travel.”  Also, during the mid-1970s the United States celebrated the Bicentennial with a series of celebrations and observances designed to pay tribute to the historical events leading up to the creation of the United States as an independent republic.  There was an infusion of federal dollars into community projects recognizing that proud history. The outcome:  the creation of local historical societies and museums and hundreds of millions of museum visits, more than any during any other recorded period.

Forward to the 21st century.  Times have changed and museums are now challenged with the fact that most were built for 1900s audiences.  They don’t match the lifestyle, energy level and attention span of today’s population, especially that of the generation that is coming of work age now -- the Millennials.

Visits to museums and historic sites are declining.  New technology is partly responsible for this change. In order to survive and continue to attract and engage our visitors we must adapt.   As boards of directors and curators we must stop expecting people to be interested in what we have been offering during the last forty years and be willing to re-think the types and methodologies that shape our visitor’s experience and, at the same time, ensure that what we offer is both socially relevant to our surrounding neighborhoods and personally compelling.  In designing exhibits and displays and developing events and programs, we must be sure that understanding our community is a top priority.

As the Martinez Museum embarks on this challenging but exciting journey, I will share with you our efforts to make our museum experience for our visitors engaging, transformative, meaningful and relevant to today’s world.  I’ll share our failures, as well as our successes, as we can learn from both experiences.

On another note, and to continue our on-going conversation about Volunteering –another important component of the over-all challenge of today’s museums – I’ll share a few ideas that I’ve garnered through my reading.

  • “Understand and be aware that the individuals who make up your volunteer pool, and the things that drive their participation, are significantly different than in the past.  We must acknowledge these differences, but capitalize on them with quicker, more productive learning-based opportunities that directly benefit the operation of your organization.  Connect with the “new” older adult volunteers to make the most of their business knowledge, while also recognizing younger voices and their newer skill sets.  Both will help your organization maintain its viability into the future.”


  • “Change your thinking.  Recognize that your organization is not offering an opportunity so much as it is identifying a need that can be addressed in a definitive manner in a specific time frame.  Also, it’s critical that your organization make your volunteering opportunities known across a wide spectrum of methods --- especially through social media and local school groups,  if you are looking to attract younger volunteers.”
    • AASLH HISTORY NEWS, Autumn 2015, Vol 70, #4, “Revisiting Volunteering”.

If any of you readers have embarked on a similar program to re-examine your museum’s audience and how best to engage and reach out to that audience, please share your experiences with the CCHS community and newsletter readership by contacting me at [email protected].  We can learn from each other.

In the meantime, I‘ll continue to share our experiences and how the Martinez Museum is meeting these challenging times.  Wish us luck!

Cheers,  Andrea

Andrea Blachman

1st Vice President

Conference of California Historical Societies

(925) 387-5385


Second Vice President's Message

California, Here I Come

Don’t you love those self-paced trips that take you out of your daily routine and put you on sensory overload the whole time?

Such was the occasion at the Spring Symposium in late February in San Juan Capistrano. Wow!

The city brags it is Orange County’s oldest. We learned it was founded twice in 1775 and 1776 during the American Revolution on the other side of the continent. San Juan Capistrano’s actual incorporation didn’t come until some 185 years later (April 19, 1961).

I’m a fellow from Auburn in Maidu country. My town was named after an English poem village and founded by a Frenchman in May 1848. Thus, it was an interesting change of pace in this coastal community of nearly 36,000 that was founded by the Spanish far earlier. Their influence is omnipresent to this day particularly in its architecture in homes and businesses alike. The 10-acre mission, after which the city is named, derives its name from a 14th Century Italian Saint (St. Giovanni da Capistrano).


Like Huell Howser in his California Gold TV series, I and others were on the lookout for the swallows that once regularly returned to their mission nests beginning in late February in such mythological fashion that March 19 became known as St. Joseph’s Day. The swallows’ variable returns spawned that hit song “When the Swallows Return to Capistrano.”

Alas, I too saw none. The closest I came was the fake swallow nests put up for tourists at the mission after all the nests had been removed. A couple of the attendees reported seeing a couple of the birds in flight but no nests. However, there were reports of building a special $300,000 wall on nearby property and luring them back with swallow mating sounds and pheromones. To see Howser’s visit for free, go to:

The trip to the spacious Chapman University in nearby Orange brought us face to face with the life of Howser, who found something amazing wherever he looked in the Golden State. Chapman benefited from Howser’s entire estate of films, notes and other memorabilia. They are housed in the campus’s Leatherby Libraries along with a Holocaust Memorial Library, a huge collection of wartime servicemen letters home, a unique Disney memorabilia collection and more.

The viewing of Chapman’s A Golden State of Mind left us laughing and crying at the same time at “the storytelling genius of Huell Howser.’’

Save the Dates: June 23-25 and October 20-23

We brainstormed about making the annual meeting one you won’t want to miss. Save the dates: June 23-25 in Diamond Bar, about 45 miles away in Los Angeles County where the Orange (57) and the Pomona (60) Freeways intersect.

Whereas at our fall 2015 Symposium hosted by the Shasta Historical Society your leadership focused on bringing more Millennials into CCHS for the future, this time we are looking at the Baby Boomers for our recruiting. Our goal this year is 100 new members. The theory? Baby Boomers like to explore and learn new things once they retire. So plan to hop into the RV and head for Diamond Bar in June and the fall symposium Oct. 21-22 in San Ramon or stay at the host hotel.

If you are like me, you return home with pockets full of notes, bags of books and souvenirs, memories to last a life time about myths, histories and controversies explored and lots of great food in historic places. Best of all you’ll discover more about our wonderful and beautiful nation-state and the diversity of its people both old and new.

There were compelling stories about Saint Junipero Serra from the standpoint of both the church and the Acjachemen Nation, whose manpower was used in the building of the San Juan Capistrano mission, the seventh of the 21 built in Alta California. The Acjachemen were given the Spanish name Juaneño.

This clash of cultures that may be more historically explored at the annual membership meeting.

Make Sure Your Community is Invested in CCHS

Join CCHS. Join the conversation. It will be compelling, as will the people you meet and dine with. Better yet, become a regional vice president. Some of these positions were vacated for not participating in at least one of three annual meetings. Consider sharing a position, too.

Some of us tried to give our best Al Jolson rendition of California Here I Come on Feb. 26 at the Judge Richard Egan, unofficial “King of San Juan Capistrano”, Fandango. It started with the Acjachemen sage blessing, song and prayer. We learned how descendants of this early coastal tribe are resurrecting the native tongue, heritage and telling their version of the Spanish arrival.

The Spurs and Satin historically-costumed troupe entertained us with the likes of Rattlesnake Dave, Orange County’s first sheriff, Richard Harris, 1818 Privateer Hippolyte Bouchard and a show of whips and juggling revolvers. The next day at the O’Neil House picnic, they returned with a 19th Century fashion show and demonstrated how to communicate in fan language and put on a melodrama.  

What brought down the house was the play put on by Girl Scout Trip 2901 recreating the legend of “Modesta Avila.” Avila is renowned for being Orange County’s first convicted felon and first state prisoner for the crime of trespassing because she hung her clothesline across the railroad tracks. She was upset because the trains caused her chickens not to lay eggs. Sentenced to three years in San Quentin, she died there before completing her term at the age of 22. Her ghost is said to still haunt the railroad tracks that run San Juan Capistrano. The Scouts told the story complete with chickens, clothesline and an audience circling train. “I laughed so hard, it brought tears to my eyes,” said one at my table.

See you at Diamond Bar in June for more fun and stories.


Michael Otten

2nd Vice President

Conference of California Historical Societies

[email protected]

(530) 888-7837


Board.jpg Dolo_and_Emily.jpg

Regional vice presidents meeting, and Emily O'Brien making Facebook images.


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Conference of California Historical Societies
Bringing together California's historical community to share California's heritage, learn from one another and strengthen our communities.