Celebrating the Muckenthaler’s 50th Anniversary

by Emerson Little

The year is coming to an end and winter is almost here. Pretty soon, Fullerton residents will be on vacation. With lots of free time on their hands, residents can visit the Muckenthaler Cultural Center to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. I received permission from Ms. Allison Town at the Muckenthaler to film at this historic landmark and have made a video to show the citizens of Fullerton the grounds and exhibits of the mansion. The Muckenthaler mansion (the Muck) has had a long history, dating back to 1924 when the house was built by Walter and Adella Muckenthaler. According to the book, Muckenthaler Cultural Center, the “18-room villa was designed by architect Frank Benchley,” who also worked on other downtown locations, such as the California Hotel (Villa del Sol) and the Pomona Bungalow Court. Built by E.J. Herbert, the same person who constructed Fullerton’s historic Santa Fe Depot, the Muckenthaler “far exceeded the design of a normal ranch house.” Walter Muckenthaler had always had an interest in Mission-style architecture and Italian villas, and he helped guide this work. Standing at the top of a hill, the building has a spectacular view. Overall, it took six months to complete the home. The Muckenthalers also bought a half acre on top of the hill behind them and drilled a well, where the water was “gravity fed” to the grove and irrigation pond that lay at the bottom of the rise. This can be seen as you walk up the hill to the driveway. The circular driveway, not always paved, led from Buena Vista Avenue to the east side of the home. Automobiles could drive directly to the porch by the solarium. The palm trees that tower above the driveway also have a story of their own. Years ago, an artist decided to use the palms for an art project, where he put bicycle wheels up in the trees. Now, the trees have grown over the wheels, making it appear as if the bicycles are budding out. The Muck was given to the city in October 1965 and “it took three years before the center foundation was incorporated to help raise funds,” according to the book. Renovations completed by 1970 made the house accessible as a cultural center. Plans were made in 1989 to add a grand entrance and theatre space, which were not finished until 1995. Also in 1995, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center Foundation was “formed by contract with the City of Fullerton to manage the facility.” The Muckenthaler continues to draw visitors. To honor its 50th anniversary, the cultural center has held numerous events. In fact, the Muckenthaler will host its annual Holiday Festival on Sunday, December 20th, where admission is free. This is a family-friendly event, where kids can attend art workshops and meet Santa Claus. There will also be live entertainment, and home and gallery tours. The Muckenthaler is located at 1201 W. Malvern (just west of Euclid in Fullerton). Earlier in the year, the Muck held a 1960s Beatnik poetry slam, a Summer Solstice Festival, and a fundraiser, which included a special Arts Legacy Award ceremony to commemorate the late artist and Fullerton resident Anthony Trasport. Visitors to the cultural center will find themselves parking in a back lot that is behind the house and in front of a small art studio where workshops are held. From the parking lot, you can see a back entrance labelled “Service Entrance.” As you hike up the driveway, notice the palm trees. Look for any spare tires embedded in the trunks. Back when I was in first grade in Mrs. Mazza’s class at Golden Hill, we used to take field trips to the Muck. I will always remember the tires in the trees from when I was little, although this time, when I filmed for my video, there seemed to be fewer than before. The second half of the 50th Anniversary exhibition is currently on display, which includes selections from five decades of art at the Muckenthaler. The presentation offers a history of the many and varied exhibitions, featuring catalogues, posters, and other documents, along with actual artwork from some of the shows. The artwork is displayed in different rooms at the front of the house. As I was walking in through the main entrance with my dad, we couldn’t help but notice the ornate staircase that was originally imported from Italy leading up to the top-stories of the house, which are not open to the public. There is also a stained glass window on the landing above the staircase that was shipped from Italy as well. A Christmas tree with a Santa hat stands next to the staircase for the holiday season. In the room behind the receptionist’s desk, my dad and I saw authentic lights that were from the days of Walter Muckenthaler. As we moved along further into the house, we saw various pieces of art that seemed quite impressive. In the hub of the house, a grand piano stands, surrounded by walls covered with artwork. Peeking through the windows, visitors can look out to see an open field of grass. The Muckenthaler used to be bordered by an expanse of lemon, walnut, and avocado groves which once stretched all the way to Commonwealth. Down the hill a bit further is an amphitheater, which has hosted dozens of music, dance, storytelling, and drama performances. Each seat in the outdoor theater has its own little table. Work to create the Muckenthaler Cultural Center began in 1990. The theatre was dedicated to the city in June, 1993. Strolling around the grounds, visitors can find a small Center Circle courtyard. With lights tied tightly from the walls to the roof, I’m sure the place would look spectacular at night. Ferns and other plants grow in the courtyard. If you walk down a small stone stairway leading down from the main entrance, you’ll come across a gazebo, which the Muckenthaler family used for cooling down in the hot summers. Now, this is an ideal spot for photographers. Back at home, I made a video using photographs and videos of the Muckenthaler. My video is currently viewable on You Tube at https://youtu.be/cxaauXVdgVU