City Council approves California Oil Museum transfers to foundation

December 02, 2016
Santa Paula News

The California Oil Museum is no longer under the city umbrella after the City Council approved a transfer of the entity to a special foundation.

At the November 21 meeting Elisabeth Paniagua, assistant to the city manager, noted the transfer process has been ongoing. 

The California Oil Museum was started in 1950 by Union Oil Company in the downstairs portion of the museum located in the landmark Queen Anne building located at the corner of 10th and Main streets. The incorporation papers for the company had been signed by its founders in the second floor office.

In 1990, to celebrate the founding centennial of the company, the museum underwent a $2.1 million renovation and improvements including the Rig Room, high-quality exhibits and a complete restoration of the upstairs offices to its Victorian glory of 1890. 

In the mid 1990’s Unocal decided they no longer wanted to run a museum and the city took over the operations, leasing the museum for $1 a year, an arrangement that continued after Chevron Oil purchased Unocal.

In the early 2000s it was known as the Santa Paula California Oil Museum and funded under redevelopment grants. 

According to the staff report, at that time the museum was generating two-thirds of its own funding from admissions, gift store sales and memberships, with redevelopment funding making up the remainder.

More than two years ago the state dissolved redevelopment agencies and the museum now receives only in-kind services such as maintenance and insurance from the city. 

In 2011 Santa Paula Historical Society President Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson and then Museum Director Jeanne Orcutt conceived the concept of forming the California Oil Museum Foundation to help ensure continued operations. The board started with four members: Judy Triem, Paul Skeels, Steve Mulqueen and Henderson. 

“Now nine members strong,” states the report, “mostly from the petroleum industry, the board is committed to promoting and fundraising for the museum. By moving the operations under the California Oil Museum Foundation, a non-profit, charitable organization, it is strongly believed that the fundraising efforts will be greatly improved.”

The foundation made a presentation to the council in February and requested the permanent transfer of the California Oil Museum operations to the foundation. Such a move would enable the nonprofit foundation to seek more private grant funds to ensure the museum’s long-term financial stability. 

In May the council directed staff to further address any and all pending issues related to the possible transfer of the museum and over the past few months, staff and the foundation’s president have worked closely to provide definite answers to all related items.

“The art collection,” Paniagua told the council at the November 21 meeting, “is also an issue.”

Paniagua was referring to the now defunct Santa Paula Memorial Hospital Art Collection that the city had acquired during the hospital’s bankruptcy in lieu of community damages. The art was added to the city’s collection, which is part of the hundreds of works that make up the Santa Paula Art Collection, more than 400 paintings owned by the city, art museum, library and school district. 

Portions of the collection are stored at the museum but Paniagua said the Santa Paula Art Museum has offered to store all the paintings including those now in locations other than the oil museum. 

“Once all are transferred we’ll get that lease finalized,” she noted.

The city will be donating the computers being used by the museum and the website and other aspects transferring operations have been addressed.

“Foundation board members are here and they are very excited to get this moving along,” said Paniagua.

Mayor Martin Hernandez had several questions, including the legality of the city donating computers to the museum.

Noting that some could allege it was a gift of public funds, Hernandez asked if there was a minimum price that must be paid, “So nobody screams at us as we walk into Vons.”

After assurances there were no conflicts he addressed foundation board members present, noting “Thank you for working so diligently with staff, I hope to see that museum,” continue to be successful.

The new website for the museum is ?

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